Off the Beaten Path from Port Charlotte: DeSoto County, Fla.
Images of galloping horses and grazing cattle adorn the billboard welcoming you to DeSoto County. But had you visited 25,000 years ago, the sign may have featured mastodons roaming the land. Twenty million years earlier, the billboard may have promoted megalodon sharks swimming in the then-submerged county. Prehistoric fossils are just part of what you’ll discover in this most interesting place.
1. Building Blocks
In and around downtown Arcadia’s 3,400-acre National Register Historic District, architecture reveals such a variety of styles and periods that walking through it is like walking through the pages of a Florida history book. Take a look at the Arts & Crafts-style DeSoto County Chamber of Commerce, the Classical Revival architecture of the 1912 DeSoto County Courthouse, and the ornate railroad depot opened by the Atlantic Coast Line in 1914.
Blocks away the District’s retail options are just as diverse, with ice cream parlors, a tearoom, cafés, florists, an Old West saloon, and antique dealers filling the historic Old Opera House. Downtown’s a great place to get lost for a few hours because chances are you’ll find what you’re looking for -- even if you’re not looking for it.
2. Paddle Royal
Florida’s oldest and largest canoe outfitter is just a few miles west of Arcadia on Highway 70. From the rustic Peace River Canoe Outpost, you can put in at the dock here or pack you and your canoe aboard their bare-bones bus for a ride upriver. Start a five-mile journey at Oak Hill, put in at Brownville for an eight-mile run, or begin at Gardner for a 12-mile trip that, like the others, goes with the flow all the way back to the outpost. Along the way you may see river otters, black bears, deer, alligators, and bald eagles -- but you won’t find any services (so use the restroom in advance and be sure to pack some drinks and snacks).
3. Dig It
When the water level’s low on the Peace River, fossil hunters are ready to dig into the exposed sand and gravel for remains of camels, sabre-tooth cats, sloths, giant armadillos, and sharks’ teeth. A hand-sized tooth from an 80-foot long megalodon shark (which swam above the still-submerged Florida peninsula between two and 26 million years ago) is a prized discovery. Even more rare are mammoth and mastodon fossils, teeth, and tusks; so rare you’ll need a special license to remove them. For help knowing where to look (and what to look for) contact Arcadia’s Fossil Expeditions or Sarasota’s Paleo Discoveries.
4. Giddy-Up… and Go!
Having been around since 1928, the Arcadia All Florida Championship Rodeo has truly earned the right to call itself “The Granddaddy of ‘Em All!” The nation’s top cowboy athletes compete in bronc riding, calf roping, barrel racing, and bull riding during the four-day event that takes place each March in the new-in-2018 $9 million, 7,796-seat arena. If springtime’s not a good time to travel, youth rodeos and other special events are held here throughout the year.
5. To Air is Human
Airboat rides are thrilling just about anywhere you can find them, which means an airboat ride on the Peace River is about the biggest thrill as you’ll find in DeSoto County.
Propelled by a 450-hp engine, the airboats of Arcadia’s Peace River Charters slip and slide atop the surface, carrying you farther and faster than any kayak ever could. Join a regular tour or call ahead for a custom tour with a few friends or a large group and discover the land that time forgot.
For more information, visit desotobocc.com.
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