Cover image courtesy of Lance Raab at Lance Raab Photography

Driving through the town of Yeehaw Junction, Florida, you probably wouldn’t think too much of it nowadays. Gone is the time when it was a bustling oasis for roadtrippers and family vacationers who used stop here off the Florida Turnpike for gas, oranges, discount tickets to local tourist attractions, or even a few pecan log rolls and kitschy Florida souvenirs at the local Stuckey’s. Some used to even spend the night here on their way to and from Orlando and other Florida destinations. 

The Yeehaw Junction Stuckey’s in the Mid-20th century.
Photo courtesy of Steven Lundeen.

Today, however, it’s more like a ghost town where you’ll find abandoned mid-century modern gas stations, concrete foundations of former restaurants, and dilapidated buildings fenced off for the public’s protection. Even the ramshackle of a sign that once welcomed visitors to Yeehaw Junction with a smiling sun and jumping dolphin seems more foreboding than welcoming these days.

But, as we said, it wasn’t always this way.

An Oasis in the Florida Wilderness

How the town of Yeehaw Junction got its start has about as many versions to it as how the crossroads got its name (more on the latter in a minute). Nevertheless, we’re going with the somewhat “official” story that was once written on a historic marker that sat out in front of the place where Yeehaw Junction seems to have begun – the Desert Inn and Restaurant.

The marker states that “The Desert Inn was founded as a trading post in the late 1880s”; however, most local historians say that, though it’s true that it was built in 1889, the Desert Inn was more of a bar room and brothel than it was trading post. So, yes, one could say it was technically a “trading post” for cowboys, local lumber workers, and tourists who came to the Desert Inn to trade money for “supplies and recreation”.

Early 20th Century postcard of the Desert Inn and Restaurant.
Image courtesy of the Jim Seelen Motel Images Collection

Over the next 100 years, the Desert Inn also served as dance hall, restaurant, gas station, and in the 1930s when roads came through the area, a hotel with cabins built behind the original building. In 1994, the Desert Inn was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Soon after, a museum was created in the unused rooms above the restaurant and featured a bordello, complete with lace pillows, a plush red carpet, and what every real bordello needs – a swing.

What’s In a Name?

It has been said that back in the day ranchers used to ride their burros to the Desert Inn “trading post”, so locals started calling the place where modern day US Route 441 and Florida Route 60 meet “Jackass Junction” or “Jackass Crossroads”. When they started building the Florida Turnpike there in the 1950s, government officials in Florida didn’t take to kindly to putting the word “jackass” on any of their maps. As a result, they changed the name to Yeehaw Junction, either after a nearby train stop or after the sound that jackasses make.  

Others say it came from sound the cowboys, lumber men, and tourist made after spending a little time “trading” at the Desert Inn – “Yeehaw!”

CEO Stephanie Stuckey checking up on the Pecan Log Rolls and other pecany goodness at this former Yeehaw Junction Stuckey’s that still sells our products inside.
Image: Stuckey’s Corp. / Stephanie Stuckey

Even the Stuckey’s was gone by 2016. The building and its iconic roofline are still there; however, most other signs of the brand have disappeared. The convenience store is no longer licensed as a Stuckey’s, but the owner still carries our iconic pecan log rolls and road snacks.

Crash at the Desert Inn

Whatever the case may be, today Yeehaw Junction is mostly just a place where truckers and tourists alike stop to refuel and move on. After the 1970s energy crisis when many people stopped taking road trips because of rising fuel and oil prices, Yeehaw Junction’s garages, gas stations, restaurants and motels started to suffer. By the turn of the millennium, most were abandoned and demolished.

Around three o’clock in the morning on December 22, 2019, a tractor-trailer full of orange juice careened through the red light at the junction and slammed into the side of Desert Inn, causing the roof of the building to fall onto the roof of the tractor-trailer.

“That’s not what they meant exactly when they said you could crash here for the night.”
Image Courtesy Mike Brown/South Florida Wanderer

Luckily, in the days leading up to the crash the Desert Inn and Restaurant had been closed for renovations nearly a year and most of the museum’s artifacts had been stored elsewhere.

Today, the debris of the crash site still remains and the Desert Inn, held up only by a couple flimsy two-by-fours, looks like it’s on the verge of collapse. As a result, the area has been fenced off for the public’s protection.

Though both the Desert Inn and Yeehaw Junction remain standing for today, for how long is the question for tomorrow.

Stuckey’s – We’re Making Road Trips Fun Again!

www.stuckeys.com