Since returning from our sailing adventure, we’ve been staying in an RV park in a remote part of Florida. The park is right on the border of the towns of Moore Haven and Lakeport, on the northwestern edge of Lake Okeechobee. How remote, you ask? From the little town of Moore Haven (which doesn’t have a Walmart or name brand grocery store), you turn onto Route 78 where the correctional facility is located. The speed limit is 60 with a dotted passing line most of the way, so people do 70 and pass multiple cars, pickups and sugar cane trucks at a time. For 12 miles, you see acres and acres of sugar cane fields, and thousands of cattle. All day and all night, sugar cane and cattle trucks roar back and forth down route 78. Then, suddenly, there is an RV park! Hopefully you are not doing 70, or you’ll blow right past it. Beyond the RV park, you’ll drive another 24 miles past thousands of cattle, possibly tens of thousands, and dozens of run down fish camp trailer parks before you get to the big town of Okeechobee. Plan well, because this is where you must go to run errands … Okeechobee has a Walmart, Publix, Winn-Dixie and THREE liquor stores!! We visited all three looking for some decent craft beer, and I think the best we were able to find was Fat Tire at one of the stores. Other than that, you choose from the Buds, Millers and maybe a Corona if you’re lucky. Coolers were half empty as restocking doesn’t appear to happen on a regular basis.
This area is a fisherman’s paradise, and that really is ALL there is to do here. Okeechobee, or “The Big O” as it’s known locally, is the third largest lake in the U.S. (that is, fully surrounded by U.S. soil … only one of the Great Lakes is fully within the U.S.) measuring 730 square miles – that’s almost half the state of Rhode Island! The amazing thing about this lake is the average depth is only 9 feet! There are at least 46 different types of fish, 8 varieties of bass, plus various pike, pickerel, gar, drum, catfish and even something called a paddlefish, which has a long “sword” similar to a swordfish. It’s no wonder people flock here to fish. The unfortunate thing is that last year brought a big blue-green algae bloom to the lake, deeming the fish unsafe to eat.
Yes, there are also alligator in that lake, and all of the canals and irrigation lanes, and even in the ponds within our RV park. We have only seen one small gator in our park, and it was inside one of the water reclamation pools, which is surrounded by a high chain link fence. How the heck it got in there is a mystery … by swimming through large underground piping, I guess! They can’t climb fences!
Back to the surrounding countryside, this part of Florida is the sugar capital of the country with 52% of the country’s sugar cane being grown around Lake Okeechobee. Let me tell you that seeing the cane fields here really drives home that we are consuming WAY too much sugar!!! There are 400,000 acres of sugar cane harvested every year down here, second only to oranges (569,000 acres). Because it’s so flat, when you drive here you see plumes of grey-blue smoke rising from the fields in the distance where the cane fields are being burned to remove the outer leaves prior to harvest. The air has an oddly sweet smell. Tom Steyer should bring himself down here to investigate climate change, because I’d say the sugar industry plays a big role in that issue!
Fortunately, it’s not all sugar cane. There are also massive cattle ranches. One of the largest ranches in this part of Florida is the 337,000 acre Lykes family ranch. That family-owned property is dwarfed by the 600,000 acre Deseret ranch about 100 miles north of here, which is owned by the Latter-Day Saints church. (Surprised that a church owns a cattle ranch? Here’s another piece of religious trivia: the Church of Scientology owns 185 pieces of property totalling about 100 acres in the city of Clearwater.) Although Deseret is the largest spread, the county of Okeechobee holds the distinction of having the largest population of cattle at 185,000 in 2017. Beef, it’s what’s for dinner!
One of the more interesting things in this area is the Seminole reservation, which is only about 8 miles from the RV Park. We were fortunate to be here during their biggest annual event, the Brighton Field Days and Rodeo (Brighton is the name of their town). The Seminoles call themselves the “Unconquered People,” descendants of just 300 Indians who managed to elude capture by the U.S. army in the 19th century. Now, there are about 2,000 Seminoles living on 6 reservations in southern Florida. A few still live in palm-thatched houses, but on the reservation near us they all have at least one thatched-roof structure on their property, a carport, shed, or picnic area paying tribute to the old ways.
The Seminole people earned the right to call themselves unconquered. In 1817, America invaded then-Spanish Florida pushing the Seminoles farther south into Florida. After passage of the Indian Removal Act in 1830, the U.S. government attempted to relocate Seminoles to Oklahoma, causing the Second Seminole War. For seven years, the Seminoles defeated the U.S. in battles, until U.S. troops called for a truce to talk peace but capturing Seminole leader Osceola instead. More than 3,000 Seminoles were moved west of the Mississippi River, but roughly 300 fled to the swamps where they hid for the next 20 years. Many remained hidden in the Everglades until the late 19th century when they began to feel safe enough to venture out and trade.
The Seminole are proud people and excellent businessmen. They are not afraid to jump into businesses that will bring a profit, and have quite a modern complex of town offices, schools, safety services, a trading post, craftsmen and, of course, a small casino. I’m glad we had a chance to visit their event.
Last weekend, we attended a Red Sox spring training game against the Tampa Bay Rays. The Sox built a new stadium down here a few years ago called “Fenway South,” modeled after Fenway Park complete with the green monster and a manually-updated scoreboard. The Sox won, and we had a great time. We also spent a day visiting Lake Placid and Sebring area of Florida. Lake Placid is famous for the 60 murals that are painted in their downtown buildings. Other than that, we’ve just been hanging around reading, visiting the pool and taking Tessa for walks and playtime at the little dog run within the park. Tessa made a friend named Jack. It’s very funny, because Tessa’s met and played with so many dogs, and she gets along with everyone, but there’s something about Jack … Tessa knows where he lives and she’ll drag us past his RV to see if he is home. She’ll cry if we tell her she can’t go see Jack right now. It’s going to be sad to take her away from her friend. But, we leave here tomorrow … c’est la vie. Tomorrow we begin our slow journey back to Connecticut, visiting friends and family along the way.