I confess that National Day of the Cowboy isn't a big deal around my house, despite the presence of several well-worn pairs of Western boots in my closet.
Until a few weeks ago, I didn't realize the national holiday existed. Established by the U.S. Congress in 2005 and celebrated on July 26, the goal is to preserve cowboy heritage. A lot of that history is generally considered to be part of the western United States, but Florida has as much claim to cowboy history as Wyoming or Montana.
Florida Cracker cowboys — so named for the sound of the whips used to move livestock — were herding cattle as long ago as the 1700s. To celebrate that cowboy spirit, this week's road trip covers uncluttered two-lane roads that pass working ranches in Osceola and Indian River counties, a couple hours south of Orlando.
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Fellsmere, FL, USA
I traveled Interstate 95 south from the Orlando area to Fellsmere, a farming city with a population of roughly 4,000 residents. The cozy business district, a four-block stretch of North Broadway Street, is three miles west of I-95 (exit 156) on County Road 512.
The Marsh Landing Restaurant (marshlandingrestaurant.com) offers a most tasty introduction to Fellsmere, with a menu of Cracker dishes that includes catfish fillets, BLT sandwiches made with fried green tomatoes, and sides that range from hush puppies to collard greens. My catfish lunch plate was in the $12 range.
After lunch, I strolled next door to ¿Ditch 13 Gallery and Gifts (ditch13galleryandgifts.com), with its homemade jellies and jams, crafts and items by local artists. It also sells books with a focus on Florida history, such as "A Land Remembered" by the late Brevard County author Patrick Smith.
Enjoy a fine view of miles of unspoiled Florida farmland by heading west on C.R. 512, as it bends south to intersect with State Road 60. Take S.R. 60 east about 30 miles through more rural territory to reach Westgate River Ranch (wgriverranch.com), a resort that features polished-up cowboy-themed camping, cabins and diversions such as horseback riding, nature hikes, hayrides and cookouts.
I finished my cowboy loop by heading west on S.R. 60 to U.S. Highway 441, the intersection where the historic Desert Inn in Yeehaw Junction is ready to reopen in August. Look for an update on that renovated landmark in a future column.