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POSTCARDS FROM FLORIDA

Seminole museum worth the ride

Jim Abbott on Travel

Postcards from Florida

July 20, 2013

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Dirt roads. Beaches. Rush-hour interstate highways. Thread-the-needle parallel parking on South Beach. Lonely stretches of rural blacktop that time and cell-phone towers forgot.

Your correspondent and his rapidly aging 2003 Ford Mustang have experienced all of those conditions on the weekly excursions that become the fodder for this column.

A reliable car that I bought lightly used with 13,000 miles on it eight years ago, the red beast recently topped 260,000. It leaks almost every fluid required for operation and the automatic window on the driver's side won't go down when the weather is hot. That wouldn't be so bad, except that it's occasionally necessary to blast the heater because the engine tends to overheat in city traffic.

I just call it a mobile sauna, which sounds like a luxury feature.

All that aside, I'm rarely fearful that I won't return from my off-the-beaten-path road trips, but I had a brush with that emotion on the way to the Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation on Interstate 75 between Fort Lauderdale and Naples.

It's a formidable road trip from the Orlando area, roughly 270 miles one-way. My route took me west on Interstate 4 to I-75 south to State Road 80 (exit 141), just north of Fort Myers. Then, I traveled 60 miles east on State Road 80 to the sign for the reservation, south on County Road 833.

It was on that county road's 40 miles of nothing but empty horizon that I started to worry: Am I going to run out of gas before I run out of road? I stopped to fill up at a desolate convenience store, where a kindhearted beef-jerky salesman assured me that my destination, the Seminole Tribe's Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum, was roughly 30 miles ahead.

The museum (ahtahthiki.com) is worth the drive into the reservation's 82,000 square miles. The air-conditioned museum features 5,500 square feet of exhibits about Seminole food, games, lifestyle and fashion. A highlight is historic portraits of Seminole tribe members taken between 1905 and 1910 by photographer Julian Dimock.

Behind the building, a milelong boardwalk beneath a 66-acre cypress dome leads to a living village where tribal members sell crafts and souvenirs. There's also jewelry and clothing at the museum gift shop, along with dozens of books on Seminole history.

Sorry, no road maps.