Off the Beaten Path Near Lake Okeechobee in Glades County, Fla.
Parts of Old Florida look as if they’d been pressed between the pages of a book. Glades County is one of those places. When the interstate system routed traffic away from the region, the towns and landscape and roads were left largely as they had been. Perhaps that’s what compels travelers to visit. With a tank of gas and a thirst for discovery, they can look forward to a trip that will take them into the past. Here a few things to see in Glades County.
1. Of Grave Concern
Long before the arrival of online genealogical sites, reading headstones at a cemetery was a way to detect clues to dynastic families, a town’s growth, and disasters or epidemics that swept through the area. That’s what you’ll find at the Ortona Cemetery. Cracker cowboys, ranchers, cattlemen and their families lie at rest beside the Billies, Osceolas, and Jumpers of the Seminole and Miccosukee tribes. Look for the marker of Billie Bowlegs III (born Cofehapkee) who became a respected tribal elder and historian before passing on in 1965 at the age of 103. Others weren’t destined to live as long. The year 1928 is etched into hundreds of markers. That was when a hurricane overwhelmed the banks of Lake Okeechobee and took the lives of thousands of victims.
2. The Canal Zone
After soaring across the Mamie Langdale Memorial Bridge above the Caloosahatchee Canal, Highway 27 sweeps into Moore Haven, a town whose fortunes slowed when I-75 took cross-state traffic 45 miles south. The bridge likewise bypassed a good chunk of the town’s business district that, despite a current lack of businesses, retains an unusual appeal. Riverside Drive skims along the canal’s west bank for a few miles, with picnic pavilions near the bridge, Cracker-style cottages along the way, and a boat ramp on the banks of Lake Hicpochee. Back in town, the prominent Glades County Courthouse is a Florida Heritage Site and, across the street, an old filling station has been resurrected as Café 27 where you can get your fill of meat loaf, steak, beef tips, and roasted pork along with a steady menu of wings, beer, burgers, and homemade desserts.
3. Unlock a Secret
It’s always a thrill to follow a remote path and discover something new at the end of the road. At the end of C.R. 78A the discovery is the Ortona Locks Recreational Area, a small park with a boat launch ramp, restrooms, and pavilions beside the Caloosahatchee Canal (the same one that flows through Moore Haven). Walk east along Lock Lane and you may see boaters clearing the locks as they travel between Lake Okeechobee, the Caloosahatchee River and, if they go the distance, to the Gulf of Mexico. A pleasant setting that may inspire you to embark on a similar journey.
4. The Great Outdoors
Fastened to the western shores of Lake Okeechobee is Highway 78, a great country drive that passes the east entrance of the Fisheating Creek Wildlife Management Area which is comprised of tens of thousands of acres of dry plains, forested wetlands, and floodplain marsh. At the west entrance near Palmdale, the Fisheating Creek Outpost is where you can pitch a tent, park an RV, hike, bike, fish (bass, crappie, catfish and bream), watch for wildlife (alligators, turtles, deer, wild boar), and catch a glimpse of birds of prey that fly in and along the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail.
5. Make A Reservation
From Lakeport near the northwest shore of Lake Okeechobee, CR 721 leads to the Brighton Indian Reservation. Near the entrance, the Trading Post and Brighton RV Resort is there for folks ready for rest and relaxation. For others, the draw is draw poker as well as slot machines, blackjack, and bingo at the Brighton Casino. At the nearby Florida Seminole Veterans Building a statue of Chief Osceola stands among figures of uniformed Seminole men and women who’ve served the nation that could never conquer their people. Down the road at the Seminole Arts and Culture Center, tribal elders teach kids and teens generations-old craftmaking skills, with items such as colorful handmade beaded bracelets, necklaces, dresses, shawls and vests available for sale.
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