Go West!

Palm Beach County is the second largest agricultural county East of the Mississippi River and Lake Okeechobee is the second largest fresh water lake entirely within the confines of the continental United States .  There are people who’ve lived here for decades and have only traveled to the middle of Florida when they have needed to get to the other side (by which I mean Ft. Myers or Sarasota…not the afterlife).   Take Southern Blvd. West past I95 and the Turnpike and Royal Palm Beach and Lion Country Safari and the Turner Wallace Pumping Station (the world’s largest) and make a left turn over the little green steel bridge at 20 Mile Bend.   Do not believe those that tell you Old SR80 is dangerous.  They lie.  Ride West….feel free to use the left side of the road, years of use by trucks carrying cut sugar cane West to the mill have made the right side about as smooth as the Atlantic on a windy day.   On the left is the Northern most part of the Everglades and sod farms.  On the right?  Cane, rice, corn.   This area used to be the winter vegetable capital of the US…back in the day, crops like tomatoes and squash and onions went to market in barges traveling canals South to Homestead.   Now, it’s all sugar land owned by big corporations and rich Cuban expatriats.    On the right, a canal follows the road.   Look for alligators.   After a while (20 miles +/-), you’ll arrive in Belle Glade.   Belle Glade was the setting for (the original) investigative reporter Edward R. Murrow’s TV documentary HARVEST OF SHAME.   Back in the day, white labor contractors drove the roads of the rural South looking for black men who, with nothing to do and no future, agreed to drive with them back to the Glades for the promise of work.  Once here, they found they owed the larbor contractor more than they had earned and the local Sheriff arrested them for the debt if they tried to leave.   Drive around Belle Glade for a while then find your way to West Canal Street and ride West past the 9 hole golf course and over the one lane wooden bridge to Slim’s Fish Camp.  You won’t be able to see the Lake from here but, worth a stop.  Ride back to SR715 and head North (left) towards Pahokee on SR98.  You’ll be riding near the dike that is supposed to keep Lake Okeechobee from flooding the surrounding towns like it did in the 1928 Hurricane.  In West Palm Beach, there is a mass grave full of African Americans who died in the storm.  It is unmarked.  It appears that the white folk got proper burials.    Anyway, ride up onto the dike and you can see some the Lake’s rim canal (alligators?).   On the way to Pahokee, you’ll pass the airport (now used mostly for local student pilots practicing touch-and-gos….but, years ago, used by one of the dentists in town who flew over most days from West Palm Beach…one day, he ran out of fuel and landed in downtown Pahokee).   Ok, Pahokee.   When you come to the traffic light go left, up the dike and down to the Marina.  It’s doubtful there will be many boats there (though there are always rumors….Guy Harvey is going to take it over….an African prince is in a deal to buy it and turn it into an amusement park) but you will be able to see the Lake up to the horizon.   Head out of town on the same road.  In a moment you’ll be in Canal Point.  Everything to the East will be sugar cane.  Everything.   Ride North along the dike to Port Mayaca.    When you reach the intersection of 98 and DR76 (the road NorthEast to Stuart…which runs along the Intercoastal Waterway), look left and find a place to park….on one side or the other of the bridge.   If you were traveling West from the East coast by boat, you’d have to go through the locks here to enter Lake Okeechobee (then, it’s across the Lake, into locks to lower you into the other half of the Intercoastal then past LaBelle and on to the West Coast).   Had a look?  Now, head East along the Intercoastal on 98 either all the way to Stuart or make a right at the foot of the bridge to Indiantown and ride the BeeLine which will take you SouthEast back to I95.  Along the way on the BeeLine are some huge wildlife areas so, if you’ve brought your rifle and hunting license, you’ll want to stop and kill a boar.  Later on, on the right side of the road, Pratt and Whitney builds jet and rocket engines and Gruman builds helicopters so you’ll want to stop off and buy one of those (though you aren’t getting anywhere near without a security clearance).   Having accomplished this (around 100 miles) when friends who’ve visited here tell you what a great time they had at the beach you can say: “Really, they have beaches there also?”

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