Stopping at Florida’s Yeehaw Junction as you drive across state? There’s something new

A famous Florida crossroad is at a crossroads.

Yeehaw Junction may stick out on the map thanks to its unusual name and central location — straddling State Road 60 and Florida’s Turnpike, with Tampa to the west and Vero Beach to the east.

But the junction serves a practical purpose: a pit stop for hundreds of drivers a day.

And just like those drivers, Yeehaw Junction is seeing some coming and going.

Coming: A new RaceTrac station and store on the south side of State Road 60. That’s welcome relief for eastbound drivers heading to the turnpike or the beach from Lake Wales or Tampa. RaceTrac joins two stations and stores on the north side of the road, Pilot and BP.

Going: The smashed remains of the landmark Desert Inn, closed since 2018 and pummeled by an out-of-control truck in 2019. The hotel and bar, a historic designation and once the best-known pit stop in Yeehaw, will likely be demolished — although for now, its carcass serves as a reminder of Old Florida giving way to new sanitized service plazas that serve weary travelers.

The new RaceTrac station, rising as the old Desert Inn sits in a wreck, will allow eastbound drivers to stop without having to cross the road and dodge all the 18-wheelers coming from every direction.

In a photo provided by the Florida Highway Patrol, a semitruck plowed into the historic Desert Inn in Yeehaw Junction south of Orlando, Fla., early Sunday, Dec. 22, 2019, causing major damage but no apparent injuries. The inn is the centerpiece of Yeehaw Junction, a tiny respite off Florida’s Turnpike between South Florida and Orlando. (Florida Highway Patrol)

So, what is it about Yeehaw Junction that has captured Florida’s imagination through the years?

“It’s a crossroad,” trucker Clyde Padgett told the Miami Herald more than 30 years ago. “You can’t miss it even if you wanted to.”

The Desert Inn dominated a desolate place that used to be called Jackass Junction, for the donkeys that once crossed the road. The hotel and bar served and housed road-weary travelers since the late 1800s.

A hundred years later, Yeehaw Junction became a travel stop to get Disney tickets or Florida souvenirs.

Stucky’s at Yeehaw Junction in 1960.
Stucky’s at Yeehaw Junction in 1960.

Now, the modern gas stations, restrooms and convenience stores offer a welcome place for a fill-up or a flush.

Here’s a look at Yeehaw Junction through the years from the Miami Herald archives.

The Desert Inn in 2006.
The Desert Inn in 2006.