Monday, January 30, 2017

Yeehaw Junction Florida and the historic Desert Inn

My reason to visit ‘Yeehaw Junction’ was to explore more of the history surrounding one of "Old Florida's" rural areas. Who am I kidding, it was just because of the funny name.  

Anyway, I also really wanted a full day trip, one of those “oohhh my body aches, but what a ride” type of cruise. 235 miles (378 km) later I had gotten what I asked for. 

(FYI: If we had come in from the other way we might have seen a town sign, but we didn’t so I had to rummage through the Internet to find one.  The Yeehaw Junction Welcome Sign –Photo by Jim )

Our road trip started like so many of ours do when we venture north, using the starting point in Alva and heading out along North River Road we connected onto FL-29. From 29 through 27 it is mostly Orange groves between flat open fields. (Note to self: check wind velocity before leaving) Eventually all that gave way to the open range of Cattle Ranches along FL-70 with the air getting a little ‘ripe’ in spots. 

Shortly after passing the Cracker Trail Country Store, (which by the way, had gas pumps) my gas light came on. Really, it couldn’t have warned me before. 

I was resolved to cross my fingers and hope that another gas station would appear on the horizon. A good lesson to learn, it is always a good idea that when riding a back country road, don’t pass up a gas station. You never know when you will find another. 

As I was running on fumes it would be 22.4 miles (36 km) later until we would finally come across a Sunoco Gas Station on US 441. Totally relieved that I made it we filled up and took a few minutes to stretch. Little did we know that it would only be a short ride, 13 miles (21 km) before we pulled into the Desert Inn Bar & Restaurant.  

History of the Desert Inn Bar & Restaurant
The Desert Inn dates back to the 1880’s when it was established as a trading post along a four-corner trail system used by the areas cowboys and loggers. The Desert Inn serviced the locals in more ways than one as it also doubled as a brothel.

Eventually actual roads made their way to the Desert Inn in the early 1930’s, and the area became known as “Jackass Crossing” or “Jackass Junction” in honor of the ranchers and lumbermen who relied on mules to work the cattle or haul lumber. It wasn’t until the 1950’s when the Florida Turnpike passed through that the state legislators felt that the name was a little too risqué for the influx of winter tourists and changed the name to ‘Yeehaw Junction’ which also tied it into the nearby railroad depot. 

There are several versions of how the origin of the name ‘Yeehaw’ came to be. One suggests that it was named for the Seminole language word meaning "wolf".

But I am more inclined to believe the version that suggests that “yeehaw” is similar to the noise a mule makes. It even ties in nicely to the original name from when the area was referred to as ‘Jackass Crossing’. See,even the Desert Inn agrees.

A plaque stands proudly in the front of the weather-beaten building proclaiming a bit of its history (Funny there was no mention of it having being a bordello on the sign) and in 1994 was registered in the National Register of Historic Places. 

Click to enlarge image

Exploring the grounds
We had no intention of eating there, so we didn’t venture inside for a photo op. I imagine it would have been interesting judging by the exterior – “C'est la vie” (That's life), opportunity missed.

Met a few chickens wandering the grounds out back. 

-Fresh eggs or chicken for the restaurant?  

The motel out back has recently (how recent I can’t say) undergone an exterior face lift by adding a painted log wood façade. 

Not sure how the inside of the rooms look.  (I got the feeling that it is more likely used as an “hourly” stop over – remnants of the ‘good ol’ days’ perhaps). 

But their website does proclaim to have clean rooms  and it is good to know that it always “passes the health inspection”. 

Well in that case, who wouldn’t want to vacation on a busy road smack dab in cattle country…

Homeward Bound, but first let’s eat
On the way back we varied our route to take us through Okeechobee and then on into LaBelle. 

The wind had really started to pick up and extreme gusts pummeled at me making for a very hard ride back through the vast openness of the countryside. (I just held on real tight).

We stopped for supper at The Log Cabin in LaBelle on FL-80.  We got there shortly before 5pm and already the place was filling up fast.  As its name would suggest, it looks exactly like a log cabin on the inside, with rows of picnic tables and rustic decor. However, they seem to be a little slow on taking the Christmas decorations down. Even the inside was decked out in Christmas garland. 

The restaurant offered a nice selection of smoked BBQ fare. The prices were reasonable and I was amazed when they offered a free cup of soup for a starter and free ice cream for desert. How often does that happen now a days? (For the record, I declined both)

“Hog” Parking  - reserved for Harleys - haha

Yeehaw Junction Florida Route

Cruising Through Life & Enjoying The Ride...

History Sources: 
Florida Rambler  Studio Hour Glass  Wikipedia  Desert Inn Restaurant 

Monday, January 23, 2017

Ave Maria… a little town in the middle of nowhere

At first glance the sign that proclaims Ave Maria looks like all the other gated communities that boast 'resort style' living in Florida. 

Most gated communities around here usually have tropical names like Pelican Preserve, Gulf Harbour and Majestic Palms so when I had seen ‘Ave Maria’ (Which is a Catholic prayer to the Virgin Mary – Hail Mary) It sparked my curiosity and warranted further investigation. 

After a little digging, it became apparent that this place wasn’t at all like the other gated housing developments that hide behind lush landscaping throughout Florida.  

It was in fact a bonafide fully functioning town established in 2007. The town sprung up basically in the middle of nowhere between Immokalee and Naples. Its entire concept is based around it being a Catholic University Town and was the vision of the devout orthodox Catholic Tom Monaghan who is the founder of Domino’s pizza. 

Upon entering, the streets are immaculate, flowers in bloom and perfectly manicured grass flows alongside the road. Not one leaf is out of place. We even passed a crew pressure washing the sidewalk.

Parked in Town Center across from Church

We made our way to the Town Center where all the shops and businesses are situated around the main focal point, the Catholic Oratory (private chapel owned by the Towns Catholic University). 

The front of the Oratory is reminiscent of a monolith with a 30-foot sculpture depicting the Archangel Gabriel greeting the Virgin Mary created by Marton Varo. 

[Fun Fact: 54 tons of Carrara marble was extracted from the same quarry used by Michelangelo to construct the sculpture. The sculpture was unveiled at the Oratory on March 25, 2011. – On Jan 19, 2017 Ave Maria University sold the Oratory to the Diocese of Venice making the transition from a ‘quasi parish’ to regular parish.] 

The shops and professional businesses were of what you expected in a small town, from a lawyer to a bank, a clothing store, a little coffee shop with a sidewalk patio, along with a local ‘watering hole’ called The Pub, (What else would it be called) and of course a religious gift shop.
It had the feel of a small village that I had visited when we had gone to Italy, which obviously was the way Tom Monaghan had intended. 

The big difference was that there was very little traffic or people for that matter. I certainly wasn’t complaining

The 4,000-acre town is Golf cart friendly which also just happens to be a popular mode of transportation for the community inhabitants.  (Golf cart garages are even an option for a new home here)

I found it to be a surreal little town making me feel strangely peaceful yet leaving me with an unsettling under current as we sauntered around the town centers quaint streets. As we wandered along the ‘Stepford Wives’ flashed across my mind. (A horror thriller movie about an idyllic town where the women have been turned into obedient robot housewives). Maybe I just watch too many horror flicks…

But seriously, walking around this town truly felt like I was walking around on a movie set, it was so picture perfect it just felt like a fictional town. Don’t get me wrong, I could see the real sense of community pride and the few people that we did come across were very polite and genuinely happy to see us. A family pulled up in a golf cart as we were about to get on our bikes to explore more of the town. The woman struck up a friendly conversation about motorcycling with us while she waited for her children who had gone into a store to get back. 

We continued on our bikes exploring some of the neighbourhoods . All of which have a specific designation, from family friendly to 55+ and even one for the more affluent offering luxury estate homes. Each section offering its own unique form of recreation within the neighbourhood from private golf courses to nature trails. However, most of the development is still heavily under construction and the town is only at 10% of its capacity. (That explains the lack of people)

We then drove over to the far end of the town where the recreation facilities, North Park and the Water Park is located. This area is for the exclusive use of the residents of Ave Marie. However, there is no restrictions on driving around to have a look.

A sign caught my eye on the way to check out the Water Park,
and then I noticed something in the background… 

 FYI, this is NOT the water park
The sign read – “...The feeding, harassing, or other disturbance of alligators is strictly forbidden”. Really, do you need a sign to tell you to leave an alligator alone!

the resident alligator

A Bit Of Ave Maria History  
A ‘Gated community’ that becomes a complete town ….

After a decade since its inception this small town is still not without its controversy. Ave Maria is actually a planned community based on strict Catholic ideologies. It is owned and governed by Tom Monaghan in partnership with the developer, Barron Collier Company.

When Tom Monaghan first announced his plans for the town he expressed that there would be a complete ‘ban on contraception and pornography’. He later rescinded that comment when construction got underway. To this day, some still consider the town a “religious-centric” community and “unconstitutional”.  According to the town it welcomes everyone regardless of religious denomination.

My personal thoughts after reading the opinions and stories that surround this little community and actually visiting it,  I just think that it comes down to people wanting to live within a safe community. This one just happens to have a strong Catholic presence and for some they actually like a more controlled environment in which to live.  - After all no one is forced to live there or are they…. 

Ave Maria motorcycle route

Article: Ave Maria 
Article: Ave Maria Herald 
Article: Daily Mail 
Article: Daily KOS 
Article: Wired 
Article: Wikipedia  

Cruising Through Life & Enjoying The Ride...

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

A mixed bag… of rides

I have been in Florida almost 4 weeks and I haven’t really been on any epic rides yet. Or at least none that are blog-worthy. So, in order to give you something, anything to read about I will attempt to write about them anyway. 

Cape Coral
I was over to Cape Coral twice, once to find out about getting a new back tire and the other to get it installed when it came in. 

Naturally the route taken back home was more along the lines of the ‘scenic’ route, so at least it made for a couple of nice little rides from there to here.

North River Road
Then there was the trek along River Road, that has become a yearly venture and one that we always seem to do a few times when here. We did the “long version” going through Buckingham and covering the entire river route from 31 to 29 into Labelle.  As always it is a nice ride, but it is not like I can say anything new about it after doing this route for the last eight years. Wow, I can’t believe it has been that long already.  

A Jaunt To The Motorcycle Dealers…

Last week, we decided to check out a couple of motorcycle dealers, other than Harley. (Really, it doesn’t always need to be about Harley, does it?) 

We had a failed attempt at going there last year, lucky this time around I remembered that motorcycle dealers are like hairdressers and closed on we headed out on a Friday instead.

We first went to Gulf Coast Motorcycles. They deal with BMW, Ducati, and KTM. We were more interested in looking at the BMW adventure style bikes. I eventually came to the conclusion, all the models they had in the showroom I would need a step ladder to even try to sit on it. Also, if I would even consider this style of bike I would have the added expense of purchasing a lowering package, especially if I were to truly feel comfortable on one. 

Don’t think it is fair really. Short people are penalized for being “height challenged”.  I know what you are thinking… I have also read that no matter how short you are you can ride any size bike. Sure, you can ‘ride’ it, but eventually you have to stop! What are you going to do when you get to a stop light and your feet don’t touch the ground, jump off? 

The next place we stopped at was Sun Sports cycle and watercraft offering Honda, Yamaha, and Suzuski.  My interest was in the new 2017 Honda Rebel. I came across it on Twitter and it sparked my interest. Just our secret... I am still thinking about getting another motorcycle for back home in Canada. If you recall, I was seriously pondering about getting a bike last summer.  Obviously I never did. 

2017 Honda Rebel
Anyway, I started checking the Honda Rebel out online and found that it has a seat height of 27.2 “ (691 mm) Short people let us rejoice!! It is about time that motorcycle manufacturers took notice that not everyone has long legs or likes them stretched spread eagle over a seat. The Rebel is considered a ‘starter’ bike with a 300 but to my surprise it also comes as a 500 (471cc) which I think is decent enough to give it a bit of ‘get up and go’. Also, I like the price, even in Canada. It would be an affordable alternative to, dare I say, Harley. I also like that it has a sleek narrow frame and over-sized tires. I really like its sporty look and for exploring on my home turf it would be perfect! I think I have almost convinced myself…

So, there I was all excited to see it in the “flesh” and perhaps even test it out. I have been drooling over it for a week on the Internet and now I would be able to actually touch it… NOT… I was crushed, they didn’t have any in yet. I was told to come back in a couple of weeks…I hung my head and shuffled back out the door.

Bike Night in Fort Myers

Sat. Jan 14 the first Bike Night  of 2017 was held in Fort Myers. We got there around 5:30 pm and it was already in full swing. Start time is actually 6 pm and finding parking was already getting tight. We at least found our usual spot, seems we always get a spot there. (Maybe I shouldn’t jinx myself by saying that)

The most photographed statue... Man & Dog pee on post

There were the usual booths set up along the closed off roads selling their trinkets. The restaurants and bars spilled onto the sidewalks and set up booths offering beer to the masses. Motorcycles roared and weaved through the thick throngs of pedestrian traffic while the bands blasted through large speakers trying to be heard above the din. 

Motorcycle pup striking a pose...
We made our way along and seen what there was to see. As night began to descend we started to get hungry. Since we have been coming to these Bike Nights we have always managed to snag an outside table from some restaurant and grab a bite to eat. It is also a chance to sit and people watch, there are always a lot of interesting characters at these events and the entertainment is endless. However, this year there was just way too many people, and every restaurant we tried had a two hour wait. 

After roaming the streets for another half hour, we gave up and decided that we would leave and stop at Mugs N’ Jugs before going home. We have eaten there once before and the food is ‘eatable’. We sat at a table in the patio bar area and I had the wings, a little too saucy for me, but there is always a roll of paper towel that sits at the tables, so problem solved. The BF had the Meatloaf dinner, he had no complaints. Don’t worry, I have no intention of posting food pics. 

I actually enjoyed the night ride home this time. Come to think about it, this was like my 3rd time riding at night in my 8 years of riding. The last two times it had rained on the way home and nothing dampens the mood of a nice ride faster than when you are soaking wet. 

It would have been even nicer if my BF’s tail lights were working. I actually had noticed as we left Bike Night that he had no tail lights. Not much we could do, so I rode directly behind him to make sure any car coming up behind could at least see my tail lights. Made me nervous for him but we made it home. [FYI: If you are wondering, he ended up having to replace the tail light and fix his brake lever].

I sure hope my adventures get a bit more interesting for you and for me too…

Cruising Through Life & Enjoying The Ride…