Jim Abbott on Travel
Postcards from Florida
August 17, 2013
What's in a name?
Consider the origins of Yeehaw Junction, an unincorporated rural community in southern Osceola County that boasts one of Florida's iconic roadside attractions. Even for longtime Floridians, the Yeehaw Junction exit on Florida's Turnpike is one that can be bypassed for years, despite that crazy name.
And that name might have been even worse: In the 1930s, the spot was originally named "Jackass Crossing," a reference to the burros that ranchers rode to the Desert Inn, the historic building that remains Yeehaw Junction's lone, distinctive landmark.
As early as 1889, the Desert Inn was a barroom and brothel for cowboys and lumber workers and the look of the place hasn't evolved too much since. On the restaurant's website (desertinnrestaurant.com), an essay on its history states that the Desert Inn didn't install full-service water and electricity until 1978.
Through the years, the Desert Inn has been a trading post, gas station and dance hall. In 1994, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and unused rooms above the restaurant were converted into a modest museum that featured a bordello suite with red carpet, lace pillows and a swing. Plenty of ghost tales also are tied to the place.
Alas, the upstairs museum is closed now, and there are no plans to reopen it, according to my friendly waitress on a recent lunch stop. Some of the historic memorabilia has been moved into glass cases in the tiny dining room and bar, where graffiti from Florida travelers adorns the ceiling beams.
I didn't encounter any ghosts, but I did enjoy my cheeseburger and thickly cut onion rings ($7.10) before scrawling my own message on the ceiling. Apparently, the motel is open ($45 nightly), but it looked a tad rough, even for a no-frills guy.
The Desert Inn, at the corner of State Road 60 and U.S. Highway 441 about 55 miles south of Kissimmee, is midway between Vero Beach and Lake Wales on S.R. 60. It's a convenient pit stop for a scenic afternoon drive.
I went west on 60 to County Road 630, which heads south through the Lake Wales Ridge to the citrus groves of Frostproof. From there, go 13 miles north on State Road 17 to Lake Wales, home of serene Bok Tower Gardens, another historic landmark.
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