Central Florida / Funky / Historic

Historic Desert Inn stands tall at Yeehaw Junction

The Desert Inn at Yeehaw Junction

The Desert Inn at Yeehaw Junction

 

 

 

This article was first published on Nov. 15, 2010 and was updated March 2018.

Once upon a time, many moons past, a chain of Turnpike billboards would beckon you to get off Florida’s Turnpike at Yeehaw Junction to buy gas and get your discount coupons for Orlando’s attractions.

“We Pay Your Toll” was the standing offer repeated on sign after sign along the Turnpike.

Times have changed.

The billboards are gone, and the coupons can now be found on the internet or at the Turnpike’s Fort Drum Rest Area (Turnpike MM 184)..

But nostalgia still holds court at the legendary Desert Inn, which dominates the busy corner of State Road 60 and U.S. 441, just west of the Turnpike.

Cowboys once herded cattle to greener pastures through this crossroad, and Florida Crackers snapped whips on mule-drawn freight wagons loaded with lumber. Today, 18-wheelers packed with oranges and grapefruit scream through the intersection.

The Desert Inn dates to the 1880s as a trading post. No roads, just trails. The current building was built in 1898. The 1930s brought paved roads, and the intersection earned the nickname “Jackass Crossing,” a nod to the cowboys and lumbermen who relied on mules for working cattle and hauling timber.

Easy travel brought a bordello to the Desert Inn, and a few cabins were built out back to accommodate the occasional tourist trickling west toward the Gulf Coast.

When Florida’s Turnpike cut through in the 1950s, state legislators changed  the name from Jackass Crossing to a less-offensive Yeehaw Junction.

The 1898 Desert Inn still stands, still serving travelers and cowboys as a restaurant and a bar, and you’ll find a ramshackle 11-unit motel out back: “Clean rooms with showers – $45. No reservations, no refunds.”

hamburger plate desert inn yeehaw junction

The hamburger and fresh-cut fries are the best anywhere. Photo by Bob Rountree

desert inn menu yeehaw junction

Desert Inn menu. Photo by Bob Rountree

I’ve been stopping at the Desert Inn for years to grab a bite to eat on my way to Tampa Bay.  The menu has changed a little under new management, but you wouldn’t really notice — unless you were hankering for a turtle burger.

But you can’t go wrong with the juiciest, tastiest beefburgers on the planet, and the fries are freshly cut, not frozen. (One change: Burgers now served on ciabatta rolls.)

The complete menu is “raht behind ya on the board, honey.” Crunchy fish sandwich; Fried Green Tomato, Fish & Chips…

The horseshoe-shaped bar, wooden booths, witty signs and oddball knick-knacks are classic Old Florida, including the carved Indian couple with their papoose.

Cowboys who work nearby ranches continue to be regulars, as are truckers and tourists. It’s a must-stop for bikers cruising across the state through cow country.

One minute the bar is full, empty the next.

Even without the coupons, Turnpike travelers would be well-served by skipping the Fort Drum Service Plaza for a taste of Old Florida at the Desert Inn.

More about the Desert Inn

The Desert Inn

Reviews on Yelp

If you’ve visited the Desert Inn and would like to comment on this article, feel free to leave a comment below.

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4 Comments

  1. Deborah Queenbee says:

    Just had breakfast here on Saturday and they have some mighty wonderful bacon, good service and friendly folks

  2. John Smither says:

    Cool place…Regular stop for me on motorcycle trips.
    Met Mell Tillis there 12/14/11 John, Metamora,MI.

  3. Bil Crozier says:

    i hve been going here for many yers erly 50’s IT is the place to go food is humm food but the place is the same always a legend and something to talk about oh BTW keep your hand out of the moongoose box as it will bite

  4. I just read about the Desert Inn in Greg Jenkin’s book about haunted South Florida. Apparently the Inn is home to friendly spirits that like to move furniture around. One of the spirits may be one of the Inn’s former owners. Next time I am up that way, I will be sure to stop in.

    By the way, I love this site, it is very well designed and informative!

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