Off the Beaten Path from Naples: Immokalee, Fla.
Named after the Miccosukee word for “My Home,” Immokalee is where the Seminoles and Miccosukee planted their flag in the form of an elegant casino, and where a pristine natural sanctuary looks like a land the original Seminoles would recognize as home. So if you’re a backroads explorer eager to discover seldom-seen places, Immokalee is a good place to start.
Without a doubt, the Seminoles endured more than their fair share of hardships, which must make it that much more satisfying to see their fortunes have improved. Each day, their net worth increases at the Seminole Casino and Hotel, an 80-room, 19-suite resort where players find 1,300 ringing, spinning slot machines and 38 tables for poker, blackjack, Texas hold-‘em, mini-baccarat, and pai gow. There’s entertainment daily, with name performers slated for the 800-seat Event Center. Playing a starring role at the EE-TO-LEET-KE Grill, the resort’s signature dining room, are fresh farm-to-table ingredients plucked from the fields of Immokalee and purchased at the Immokalee Produce Center. Speaking of which…
2. Foods for Thought
From workers in the fields comes a rich harvest of fresh fruits and vegetables. Located at 114 New Market Road West, the draw of the daily farmers’ market at the Immokalee Produce Center are vine-ripe tomatoes as well as field- and grove-fresh cucumbers, bell peppers, potatoes, oranges, lemons, limes, plantains, bananas, watermelons, cantaloupes, corn, strawberries, and beans. Call ahead for hours (239-657-3020).
3. Relive our Pioneer Past
In the days of trail-ridin’, bull-ropin’, cattle-pushin’ Cracker cowboys, one of the most successful of all was cattleman Robert Roberts. In 1914 he began purchasing land around Immokalee until he had acquired 160,000 acres bordering the Big Cypress Swamp. A century later at the Immokalee Pioneer Museum at Roberts Ranch, a portion of the original ranch is on display to show visitors how ‘cow hunters’ and ranching families lived. Check out the special exhibits, living history programs, and 20 original structures including the hidehouse, bunkhouse, and ranch house.
4. Flowers and Forests
About eight miles west of Immokalee is the world’s largest remaining stand of old growth bald cypress; the centerpiece of the 13,000-acre Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. The organic design of the visitor center (which includes a café, theater, gift shop, and bookstore) blends in effortlessly with its natural surroundings that you can explore via a boardwalk that loops through a portion of the sanctuary. Whichever path you choose – either the 2.25-mile trail or a shorter loop of about half that distance – you’ll be amazed at the preserved world of immense cypress trees, spiral-shaped air plants, ghost orchids, and America’s largest population of wood storks. A must-see destination.
5. Woods and Waters
Because the waters of 1,500-acre Lake Trafford are filled with bluegill, crappie, catfish, and bass, the lake offers an endless buffet for alligators as well as wading and predatory birds such as egrets, ibis, herons, and bald eagles. From the marina, take an airboat tour and let the guide fill you in on the natural environment around you. Since the lake backs up to the neighboring Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, after speeding across the waters you’ll explore the borders of the swamp for an even closer look at where the wild things are.
For more information, visit Immokalee Chamber of Commerce or Naples-Marco Island-Everglades Visitors Bureau: Immokalee
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