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Take the back roads through Florida
On the road with Joe
The Original African Queen at Key Largo
Joe and Chong Gillam stand next to the African Queen, which was used filming the 1951 Humphrey Bogart movie of the same name, in Key Largo. - photo by Photo provided.

I had a lot of feedback from last month’s "road trip" on US-84 to Texas. Seems that some of the baby boomers enjoyed it, while some of the younger crowd is looking for something with some brighter lights.

OK, can do. A trip with a little more excitement is a nice easy three-day drive to Key West, Florida. I’m sure it will fit the bill for all of us, including the kids.

I-95 south to I-10 west then exit onto US 301 south. US 301 is a nice, scenic ride to South Florida right through the middle of the state. You go through orange grove country and Florida horse country.

Lunch and snacks should be the fruit and veggies from the many stands along the road. US 301 passes through some old towns untouched by the clock. Stark, Belleview and Zephyrhills are all small towns full of mom and pop places. And, if one is going through withdrawal and can’t stand the temptation there are a couple of McDonalds and Burger Kings along the way.

US 301 hits the west coast of Florida south of Sarasota and you continue on US 41, named the Tamiami Trail. The trail runs inland a few miles from the ocean as you make your way south. One can hook right over to some of the coastal drives and seafood restaurants, of which there are plenty. Either way is an interesting and beautiful ride. If you want to see how the other half lives, take a side trip to Pine Island or Sanibel Island. You will see some beautiful homes and elegant resorts. But be careful: A small ice cream cone can hit $12.

Back on route, heading south, it’s I-75 east across the Florida Everglades to the East Coast. This route is known as Alligator Alley, and rightly named. The Everglades are loaded with gators and you will often see them on the road. There are pullouts along the way for wildlife viewing.

Also, along the Alley are a lot of souvenir stands, many operated by Seminole Indians, the first Floridians. There are some motels and restaurants at the interchanges along Alligator Alley. Spend the night and take a day trip on an Everglades airboat for a closeup look and the animal life and scenery

Just west of Miami, it’s State Route 997 south that takes us on to Key West. This route goes through the Florida truck farm country. Hundreds of roadside stands with all kinds of fresh fruit and vegetables. Wait and load up on the return trip home.

Rt. 997 ends in Homestead, where you hit US 1 and on to the Overseas Highway to Key West. This is my favorite part of the trip. For almost all of the about 100 miles out to Key West, you will see the water on both sides of the road. The route is dotted with roadside fish restaurants and markets. Sit-down eateries right on the water or to-go meals for in the car or at one of the many pull outs along the way.

At the end of the line is Key West. A 100 percent tourist town. Everything from Earnest Hemingway’s house and related history to the most modern upbeat clubs. All kinds of motels in town and for us military types, there is a camp ground on the Navy base where you can pitch your tent and use the bathhouse and other facilities. The highway connects the chain of islands at the tip of the state. All along the way are motels, RV parks, stores, restaurants and many other attractions.

The trip home can be a nice little 10 hour drive up I-95 or, for slow pokes, a ride up the East Coast of the state on Route A-1-A.

Enjoy your trip and maybe we will see you along the way.

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