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Have you been down the Tamiami Trail?

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That's the main chorus line of a song that was made at the opening of the Tamiami Trail in 1928. The Trail was thought to be an impossible fete of the day. It changed south Florida forever. It is also one of the most scenic highways I have ever been on, with sweeping vistas of the Everglades as you drive along.

It was built from Tampa to Miami, and completed after the help of Barron Collier who financed the last 50 miles to be connected in Collier County. Because of the highway, untold people have seen the beauty of the Everglades or Big Cypress. They have also been introduced to the Seminoles and Miccosukees who remain independent from any tribal incorporation.

The road was an engineering marvel, using dynamite, and then many dredges to dig up the lime rock and use it to build the road bed. Unfortunately building the road bed created environmental problems and stopped the flow of the Everglades. Work has been done in the past 20 years to correct this by creating more bridges and culverts for the water to flow.

The roadway was designated a scenic highway in 1998, but a group in Collier County is seeking to take the designation away. Mostly because of misconceptions about what the scenic highway designation is. The designation has nothing to do with lower speed limits, preventing access to private property, or limiting off-road vehicle use. Those are issues that are controlled by other state agencies.

This is one of the most beautiful roads in Florida. And if I see a scenic highway designation on a map, I will go out of my way to travel that road.

If you want to enjoy the highway as a scenic vacation, here is what you can do, from leaving Naples and heading towards Miami.

Gas up the car and carry enough supplies. It is mostly all natural Florida from here.

First, Collier-Seminole State Park. Here is the walking dredge that constructed the roadway. And a tropical hardwood hammock that is unique from the native royal palms. $4.00 admission to the park. And a big campground.

After Collier-Seminole, your sweeping vistas of sawgrass begin.

A few miles down is Port-of-the-Islands. A housing and resort development with gulf access that started in the 1960s, failed, and they are turning into expensive condos now. Really out of place from the natural Florida.

A couple miles beyond is Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk. A half-mile boardwalk into some original cypress swamp with some huge trees. Boardwalk dead-ends at a gator pond. A Miccosukee village here has a craft shop. One of the last remaining Indian craft shops off the reservation that is still open along the Trail.

Eight miles further you get to the intersection of highway 29. Several miles to the south, east, and west, are numerous airboat rides or eco-tours. There is a tourist information center here, and a gas station where the gas is way over-prices. A few miles north is Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park with Janes Scenic Drive in the community of Copeland. To the south is Everglades City and Chokoloskee Island. (I talked about them previously.)

A couple miles east of highway 29 is Ochopee, with the smallest post office in Florida, and the much talked-about "Skunk Ape Research Center" at the Trail Lakes Campground.

A couple miles more you reach the Turner River with the Turner River Road, a canoe launch point, and H.P. Williams wayside park. (Best gator watching spot in south Florida.)

There are campgrounds in Big Cypress National Preserve in the area at Burns Lake, Monument Lake, and Midway campground further down. All are seasonal, but I couldn't tell which seasons.

At Monroe Station is the Loop Road, a 25 mile gravel road the dips down off the trail and connect back onto it at Forty Mile Bend. Usually safe to driver out, but you are really jumping into the wilderness from here. The strange and remote community of Pinecrest on the Loop Road is a throwback from another era.

Along the Tamiami Trail after Monroe Station is Kirby Storter boardwalk. A great boardwalk into some dwarf cypress and then a pond apple slough (swamp).

Then you reach the Oasis Visitor Center of Big Cypress. A great little place to visit. A few miles beyond is the Clyde Butcher Art Gallery. Clyde is world famous for his black & white photos of the Everglades.

After here the trail becomes more like a bridge. The canal along the road become filled with more cypress. The area seems to be wetter, and stays that way year-found. You cross over into Miami-Dade County and soon get to Forty Mile Bend.

Only a few miles further and you reach the Miccosukee Reservation, with airboat rides, the museum and culture center, and the famous Miccosukee Restaurant built in the 1960s with a tall iron arch frame. After that is the entrance to Shark Valley of Everglades National Park.

For about the next 20 miles is open sawgrass country, a few airboat rides, a few private Miccosukee villages (not open to the public) until you reach the beginning of the city of Miami at the Miccosukee casino.

That is the end of the tour. Go a mile or so down to gas up again, get a BBQ sandwich, and return home. All of this is impossible for one day. You can actually take a few days doing all of this along 75 miles of roadway.
Current Location:
the Hammock
Current Mood:
awake awake
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