Old Ingraham Highway

The more we get outdoors, the more we disconnect from our everyday life.  Not the great everyday life that includes our friends and family (although I guess that depends on your family), but the stuff that everyday living is made of.  We rush through our days, wishing for the weekend, then wishing for the next weekend, then the summer, and forward to the next holiday or vacation.  We do this over and over, and before you know it, years pass. . .many years pass.  You begin to think about your life and suddenly those things you covet, that house, that car, those sexy must-have pair of high-heeled pumps, becomes a shallow reminder of a life missing something that isn’t measured in material possessions.

And here we are, it’s the weekend, and time to disconnect once more to experience life in its simplest form.   We set off to hike one of the many trails in Everglades National Park, Old Ingraham Highway.  Prepared with our hydration packs, sunblock, and insect repellent, we are well equipped to manage our weekend hike.

Ingraham Highway was completed in the early 1900’s and was named after James E. Ingraham, president of the Model Land Company and vice president of the Florida East Coast Railway.  He worked together with Henry Flagler in the development of South Florida.  Ingraham Highway ran the distance from Homestead to Flamingo.  Flamingo, once thought to become a booming town with the prospect of Henry Flagler’s plans for the East Coast Railway to Key West, is today no more than a ghost town.

Map of Ingraham Hwy, Homestead, FL

The abandoned highway in the middle of the Everglades now offers an interesting biking and hiking trail.  The views are typical South Florida. With sawgrass, cypress trees, and hardwood hammocks in the distance, this serene environment is home to alligators, wading birds, snakes, turtles, amphibians and more.  We heard the deep growling sound of several alligators, but none joined us on our walk.  If you have a fear of bugs, the flying kind or any other, you will need to keep an eye out and walk briskly.  We found many of these toxic insects on our hike— the lubber grasshopper.

IMG_8980 Since we started late in the day, we hiked no more than four miles of this trail.  It was a perfect warm, breezy, and sunny day.  Thoughts tend to wander in the serenity of our surroundings.  Thoughts of friends, children, grandchildren, what I’m making for dinner, my dad, my husband, where we’ve been, and what the future holds.  I can’t help but smile and feel completely at peace, and looking forward to our next hiking adventure.

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Aerojet Dade Rocket Facility

This morning we set out to explore an abandoned rocket facility located in Homestead, Florida, just 5 miles from Everglades National Park.  We have been looking forward to this hike for months, a total of six miles to and from the facility, on a paved road.  A paved road hike is not all that exciting, but what awaits at the end of the road is.

In the early 1960’s, Aerojet General, a major rocket and missile propulsion manufacturer, was funded by the U.S. Airforce to build a testing site Southwest of Homestead, FL.  Aerojet was contracted to propel the U.S. Space Program with its fuel technology, and send astronauts to the moon.

A metal shed was constructed, 150 foot deep silo holding the largest solid fueled rocket ever built. The rocket was tested only three times from 1965 to 1967. The project was later cancelled by NASA, and the facility closed in 1969.  Incredibly, the rocket was left behind.

We arrived at 232 Avenue, later renamed Aerojet Road.  We were a little apprehensive after seeing the NO TRESPASSING sign when we turned into the road, but we continued on.

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We didn’t expect to have company on this trek.  We drove into the part of the road where we could park our car to begin our hike, and found five other cars already there.  About seven men were preparing their bikes, backpacks, and camera gear.  They had a lot of stuff; we had our phones and a GoPro.

We began our hike down a long paved road flanked by water on one side, and dense trees on the other.

I should mention that before we began our walk we encountered two snakes slithering across the road.  You never know what kind of wildlife will cross your path.  We were respectful of these creatures, had a heightened awareness of our surroundings, and prayed that we didn’t meet a Florida panther or alligator.

Our journey to the abandoned Aerojet Missile Facility begins.

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Notice the bullet holes on the firearms sign!

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Today was an extremely hot day.  We were excited about reaching the missile site, and that excitement kept us going without focusing on the fact that we had no water for the hike ahead. We reached a midpoint, and to the left found the first remnants of a security facility.  A gated entrance, complete with barbed wire, warned trespassers to keep out.

We continued down the road and had our first glimpse of the Aerojet compound in the distance.

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As we walked this isolated road, with abandoned graffitied buildings looming in the horizon, we felt as though we had been transported to an episode of The Walking Dead.  I must reference one of our favorite shows, as we now call this hike our “Walking Dead Trek.” One could easily imagine Daryl, Rick, and Michonne fighting off the walkers on this apocalyptic like landscape.

We walked about another two miles from the first barbed wire structure before reaching the first building.  I don’t know about most people, but when I’m in a historic place, I can’t help imagining myself going back in time.  Walking through the hallways and dilapidated rooms, I began to think about the people who walked these hallways, and worked in these rooms.  What top-secret NASA missions were conceived within these walls?  Albeit creepy, we are fascinated by our surroundings.  The graffiti lends a surreal layer to these concrete structures made mysterious by their abandonment.

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To walk through this fascinating place in the footsteps of people who lived in a pivotal time in our country’s history, a time of great political, technological, and cultural changes, was a memorable experience. If you can get through the long hike on Aerojet Road, and the occasional snake crossing the road, the Aerojet Missile Facility is worth the walk.

Here are some more pics taken along the road.  Buen camino. . .Buen Camino Logo