Cracker Trail, Keeping History Alive

The annual Florida Cracker Trail Ride starts again on February 14. As their website explains, the week long ride re-enacts when cracker cowboys made the “return trip from Bradenton on the west coast back to Fort Pierce on the east coast after cattle herds were safely on their way to Havana.”

Many of these images include members of the Park family who regularly participate in the ride. They are a Truly Florida post in and of themselves but, put simply, their kindness and generosity allowed me the opportunity to photograph a few of these rides and I can’t be more grateful. They gave me the opportunity to see more of Florida than most have or will.

The ride is dirty, sometimes hot and other times freezing and if you aren’t a skilled horseman or woman, you have no business on the ride. But despite a bucking horse (or more) and despite the half inch of dirt caked on your skin within a day of the ride, it is one of the most inspiring experiences one can have. I wish all the riders a great time this year and thank them for keeping history alive.

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In the first morning light, Josh Kimtowicz, 18, of Englewood, prepares horses for the first leg of the 21st Annual Florida Cracker Trail Ride.CrackerTrail08-0037

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Suzanne Park drives Karl, a nine-year-old standardbred gelding, out onto the trail from Kibler Ranch to start the first leg of the trip.

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Horses take a water break at a stop along State Road 64 between Kibler Ranch and Bar Crescent S Ranch. Ranches and farms along the trail generously offer their land to the riders for breaks.

Horses take a water break at a stop along State Road 64 between Kibler Ranch and Bar Crescent S Ranch. Ranches and farms along the trail generously offer their land to the riders for breaks.

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Clarence Polston, left, and Chad Holding sit back and watch the Daytona 500 on the Bar Crescent S Ranch after the ride from the Kibler Ranch in west Manatee County. This was Polston’s eighteenth year and Holding’s first year riding the trail.

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After completing the first leg of the trip, Jaden Park, 19 months, gets a bath in a cleaned horse’s water bucket on Bar Crescent S Ranch.

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E. O. Koch and Vicky Baldwin dance to music by Roger Brutis of Wauchula near a cross lit with tiny lights on Bar Crescent S Ranch Every night of the ride there is a form of entertainment for the riders.

E. O. Koch and Vicky Baldwin dance to music by Roger Brutis of Wauchula near a cross lit with tiny lights on Bar Crescent S Ranch Every night of the ride there is a form of entertainment for the riders.

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Lights from the inside of motor homes dot the Bar Crescent S Ranch under a cloudless star-filled night.

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Florida Cracker Trail riders leave the Bar Crescent S Ranch in Hardee County.

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Riders take the final steps to the Atlantic Ocean where the horses can cool off.

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Calvin Pugh takes his horse into the Atlantic Ocean off Frederick Douglas Park in Fort Pierce after completing the 21st Annual Florida Cracker Trail Ride.

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Written & photographed by Molly Dempsey

 

Follow the Cedar Key clam trail

In November, I stumbled upon these clam fishermen in Cedar Key as they filtered their haul from the morning. I only wish I had found them earlier in the day to ride with them on the water.

These clammers are some of the muscles behind Florida’s fishing economy, and to say it looked backbreaking is an understatement. Only taking Christmas Day off, one could argue these third- and fourth-generation fishermen are called to their work.

In a wanna-be-NPR-Planet-Money-T-shirt-project way, we visited the Indian River Seafood Company, which distributes Hathcox’s clams. I cannot tell you how many times I checked Google maps as we got close.

The company is located on a thinly paved road with little else on it. However, the uncomplicated but pristine cleanliness of the Indian River Seafood Company must be the reason behind its success, supplying great food to restaurants and locals alike.

Baby Cakes was named for Gary Hathcox's grandson's first words and his other boat is smartly named, Sheila Baby, after his wife Sheila.

Baby Cakes was named for Gary Hathcox’s grandson’s first words, and his other boat is smartly named, Sheila Baby, after his wife.

"He's been fishing since Moby Dick was a minnow" Joseph Cannon says of Gary Hathcox (pictured) who runs a clam fishing operation out of Cedar Key.

“He’s been fishing since Moby Dick was a minnow,” Joseph Cannon says of Gary Hathcox (pictured), who runs a clam-fishing operation out of Cedar Key. Before the net ban, Hathcox was a commercial fisherman.

Phillip Campbell, 4th generation fisherman, pulls a net full of clams from the boat.

Phillip Campbell, a fourth-generation fisherman, pulls a net full of clams from the boat.

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It takes generations of families working side by side to make clamming into a tradition. Here, Jonathan Miller, left, works alongside his father-in-law, Phillip Campbell.

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Jonathon Miller sprays the clams as they come off the boat.

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"Mr. Gary taught me to look at the moon for tides" Joseph Cannon says of his boss. Cannon, a 4th generation Florida fisherman, has a deep respect for the fishermen who came before him.

“Mr. Gary taught me to look at the moon for tides,” Joseph Cannon says of his boss. Cannon, a fourth-generation Florida fisherman, has a deep respect for the fishermen who came before him.

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One day of fishing can yield up to 5,500 pounds of clams from these fishermen.

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Gary Hathcox can’t help himself. Despite the enormous quantity, he cleans up a barnacle he finds on one of his clams.

 

Local fishermen and outfits like Gary Hathcox's in Cedar Key are distributed here at the Indian River Seafood Company in Sebastian.

Found ’em! Gary Hathcox’s Cedar Key clams are distributed here at the Indian River Seafood Company in Sebastian.

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Clams go through another filtering process to ensure quality. They are then held in one of Indian River Seafood Market’s walk-in fridges before making it to plates anywhere from Florida to Canada.

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This friendly reminder on the door of Indian River Seafood Market makes me happy.

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Manager George Fornash mans the store with a smile. Like the Cedar Key clammers, he is passionate about his operation. We bought some Mahi and smoked Mahi dip and it was delish.

Written & photographed by Molly Dempsey and edited by Pamela Staik.

Ocean Grill in Vero Beach

You know when you are en route home from a trip and you are so bummed it is ending? That was me yesterday. It was bad. We were driving along I-95 home from the BEST TrulyFlorida trip (I’m so stoked for the upcoming posts!) and my guys patiently allowed me one last stop to the Ocean Grill in Vero Beach.  We were so glad we did. Nate said it reminded him of restaurants in the 80’s because the dishes were thoughtful, the service was abundant and well, it is just that intangible nostalgia you get if you were an 80s era Floridian kid who occasionally went to seafood restaurants in your Sunday best. I can’t describe it any other way. But our nostalgia was only for a few decades ago. We had no idea that just below the waves is the remains of the Breconshire shipwreck. Oh yes, I see another TrulyFlorida post about this.

A nearly full moon and a spotlight off Ocean Grill's almost 70 year old structure allows diners an incredible view.

A nearly full moon and a spotlight off Ocean Grill‘s almost 70 year old structure allows diners an incredible view. Even cooler is what is hidden close by just under the water, the remains of the Breconshire shipwreck.

The local flounder was amazing. The Ocean Grill sources some of their best fish locally unlike the oxymoron practice of some Florida oceanfront restaurants offering only thawed fish flown in from Maine or Korea. Ocean Grill’s owner Charley Repogle says it best when he points to the water outside saying, “literally this fish was out here swimming yesterday morning,” to chef Emeril Legasse in this episode of Emeril’s Florida. A family owned, historic restaurant that serves locally sourced ingredients is TRULY FLORIDA.

PHOTO SHOT WITH Canon Mark III and Canon 50 mm

Written & photographed by Molly Dempsey

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