Not sure how it happened, but we are suddenly lost. We are supposedly in Picayune Strand State Forest. We arrived here driving a scenic county road that was described in one of the state park guides. We could always retrace our steps but it’s getting dark and 15 miles of the narrow dirt road that led us here does not look appealing. Not to mention the fact that it would put us back in the middle of nowhere and we are getting rather hungry.
What’s strange is that Picayune Strand does not look like forest at all. Well, there are some trees - mostly cypresses and palms. But there is also a dense grid of roads and canals here. All roads have numbers and sometimes they even have names. On some corners we even see street signs, but names - Miller or Lynch - are not on our maps. The pavement randomly oscillates between the asphalt in rather good condition and dirt roads with huge potholes filled by water after recent rain.
Our GPS of course does not think that we are lost. It happily points the road out of the maze. The only problem is that the road GPS likes is nothing but a narrow path in reality. We miss it at first and then find it overgrown with grass. We decide against taking it fearing for our truck.At some point we spot a red Jeep going in the opposite direction. Relieved we wave frantically. They stop and before they even speak we realize they are as lost as we are. At least our GPSs agree.
Nobody builds a dense network of roads without any connection to the outside world. At least this is what we thought until now. It all kind of looks like a city which has been suddenly abandoned. Except that inhabitants somehow managed to remove any traces of their houses as well. Or more probably it looks like a city that was planned but never built.Finally we decide to just drive on one of the streets North. It’s not where we wanted to go, but the surface marginally improves and we take it as a good sign. Finally yet another car appears and people in a familiar red Jeep ask for directions. We follow them and find ourselves passing under I-75 and later arriving at something that actually looks like your typical exurbian street (translation: there are houses here).
Once we regain cell coverage wikipedia confirms our guesses. The area we have been so thoroughly navigating through is the site of one of the biggest real estate scams in Florida. In the 1960s the developers created the largest subdivision in America. They constructed roads, dredged canals to dry the land and started selling the American dream. There was only one small problem: nothing can actually be built here. During summer wet season most of the land is regularly flooded. That did not stop developers from selling more than 17000 plots. The trick was to show them to potential suckers during the dry winter season. Once enough money was collected the developers went bankrupt.
In 2006, many years and at least 25 million of our federal tax dollars later, the land has been repurchased by the state of Florida and is now carefully undeveloped. At some point the plants will take over the roads, the canals will disappear and the unobstructed sheet of water will flow once again towards Everglades, which if we are as lucky, as we have been stupid, may be enough to save the fragile Ten thousand Islands
As far as being lost incidents go this one turned out to be quite educational. We paid a price of a delayed dinner. Nature unfortunately is still paying much higher price.