Contributed by Tara Bush
What were the Westgate Resort executives thinking when they decided to build a dude ranch on 1700 acres of wilderness in the middle of Florida? Probably the same thing as Walt Disney did back in the ‘60’s. “If you build it, they will come” and come they did. At the end of every January hundreds of street rods, muscle cars and classics descend on the River Ranch for the weekend looking for a good time.
Friday night in the park was a featured presentation of the movie Bullitt with complimentary soda and popcorn and then the big car show was held on Saturday followed up with a rodeo that evening. The weather started out a bit cold and dreary but improved the closer I got to the venue. We took the scenic route south out of east Orlando, through Narcosssee, Saint Cloud, Holopaw, Kenansville and then a sharp right at Yeehaw Junction. That was the “real” Florida, not much of anything to see but cows, trees and brush. Not a bear in sight either, made for a fast trip there.
Even though we pulled in a bit late, we still managed to get an excellent spot in the middle of it all. Hundreds of cars were displayed across an open field, several parking lots and tucked here and there between large oak trees. A good portion of the show vehicles were street rods, I felt like such a newbie in a ’67. First things first…food. We followed our noses straight to the outdoor grille, ran right into the famous “Florida Old Guys”, Barry, Cecil and Sonny. It was even a bit cold for them, they still had their tops on (their cars that is).
Once you’ve seen all the cars, there is still plenty to do at the Ranch. Adjacent to the show was the zip line, mechanical bull and putt-putt. Or if you’re feeling adventurous, there are horseback rides, air boat rides and off road activities. After a few hours of talking, looking and walking we decided it was time to eat again.
Driving back into Yeehaw Junction, which as far as I could tell it consists of a traffic light and the Desert Inn, Bar and Restaurant (circa 1880), nothing else. “Yelp us” said the big sign out front and I did exactly that. Although questionable in appearance but with excellent reviews we decided to try it out. The ceiling was low and wallpapered with money; I was greeted by a chicken at the door. About eight items were scribbled on the board, which was the extent of the menu. “Do you have fresh brewed tea?” was my usual request at most restaurants. The waitress pointed to the window behind me…SUN TEA…can’t get much fresher than that. I’m sold. My standards are fairly high and the Desert Inn met all of them. The entertainment arrived shortly after us in the form of five Harley riders coming back from the car show. Two girls in an old car, 5 bikers and a bar in a place called Yeehaw Junction, sounds like the start of a bad B movie. We had a good time swapping car stories and watching the show cars parade down the street. It was the end of a perfect day. Next year I hope to spend the weekend by sleeping in one of the Ranch’s luxury teepees and explore the grounds via horseback.