We spent a wonderful day on the bike today. The goal was much the same as it usually is, we set out to explore back roads and see rural America. Today the ride went to Cross Creek Florida, the home of author Marjorie Rawlings.
North of Orlando we joined state route 19 at Altoona, population 89. Altoona sits on the southern end of the Ocala National Forest, an area that I enjoy riding for the chance of sighting a black bear. There were none today, but there are always many types of birds to be seen. That could explain why I seldom see the bears, I am always looking up at the birds.
At Salt Springs, we turned west on 316. This road exits the forest and enters what everyone calls horse country. There are many beautiful horse farms in the area. The roll of the terrain and the pristine horse farms are reminiscent of parts of Kentucky. Yet the area is all its' own. 316 is lined with live oaks dripping with Spanish moss and in many places this forms a kind of canopy over the road. It is like riding through a moss covered tree tunnel.
Turning north again on 200A, we slipped through the small town of Citra. Population not mentioned on the town welcome sign, but this is a bigger town that Altoona, I'd say it has closer to 100 residents...
It is a true pleasure to ride through this area and to enjoy the small rural towns. We turned northwest on 325 and after about 4 miles, we found a sign that welcomed us to Cross Creek Florida. It is good the sign was there as there is little else to let you know you have entered a town. Cross Creek seems to be more an area than a town and there are very few houses in the area. If I must live in a town, somewhere like Cross Creek would be about right.
What there is in Cross Creek is magical. There is a very small creek that runs between Lochloosa Lake and Orange Lake. Sitting right on this short creek is the Yearling restaurant. This place is a glimpse of Cracker style old Florida. Florida Cracker is a term used for a native Floridian, but most likely the word Cracker came from the crack of the whip the early cowhands used to herd and guide the cattle. The cattlemen were called crackers and eventually people born and raised in Florida became known as "crackers".
|Outside "The Yearling" restaurant|
We stopped for a sandwich at "The Yearling" restaurant. The menu includes many local favorites. I suspect the menu changes a bit with the season, but while we were there they offered; Venison, Quail, Alligator, Cooter, (that's turtle), frog legs, catfish, as well as more typical land and sea food. They also have live entertainment. There was a blues singer sitting on a chair singing the blues and chatting with the patrons. We noticed they also have a small stage that could accommodate a small band in the main dining area. The decorations are perfect for enhancing the atmosphere and include many items that a country family would have put to daily use back about sixty years ago.
|Inside The Yearling|
There are a few small cabins on the grounds that can be rented at very reasonable prices. They have the appearance of being either small tourist cabins from years past or possibly the homes of people that worked the orange groves or hunted and fished for their living. This would be a perfect and very quiet get-away.
|The above photos are from the grounds around The Yearling|
|One more picture of the bikes outside the restaurant. That is a US Motors generator in the background, used before electricity came to the area.|
After leaving the restaurant, we rode about 200 yards and stopped at the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings homestead. Rawlings was an author that wrote much about the life of rural Floridians and in particular, those that lived in and around Cross Creek. Florida really has two very different personalities and histories. The coast and coastal history is very exciting and interesting. At the same time, the inland history and the lives of those that made a living there is equally interesting and exciting, but very different. There is so much history here and you can get a good look at life in central Florida by reading some of Rawlings stories. The Yearling, the book the restaurant is named for is one of her most well known. All are good reading though.
|Above from the Marjorie Rawlings homestead|
Much of the old Rawlings orange grove is still there and the buildings have been preserved so we can better see and feel what it may have been like to have lived in this very remote section of Florida 60 years ago. Wandering the grounds made me realize how far the life of today’s children and adults is from what it was when Rawlings lived here. There is a bit of sadness at what has been lost. Even the fact that these simple, yet complex times even existed have been lost to so many...
As always, it was a pleasure to get out with my good riding friend and father in law Gary. We certainly enjoyed seeing the back roads and small towns of Florida. I hope you enjoy the pictures.