The Tamiami Trail is the beauty and the beast of Florida roads, a highway-time machine that passes through a paradise of primeval forests and toothy animals as well as canyons of strip-shopping malls and heart-stopping traffic. The Trail, which is the last 275 miles of highway US 41, connects Tampa with Miami.

Friday, April 25, is the 75th anniversary of the completion of the Tamiami Trail. Considered an amazing engineering feat, the Trail was built through sandy pines, oak hammocks and finally the inhospitable swamps of the Everglades. Finishing the Trail required a dozen years, $8-million, almost three million sticks of dynamite, and one stubborn ox named "Blue."

Motorists are unlikely to spot an ox these days. But the Trail remains an amazing place. It's our road to diversity, marrying old Florida with the new, low-culture with high. A motorist with a full tank of gas and a long day to spare can visit carnival folks, donate money to the homeless, admire fine-art masterpieces, select a shell lamp, buy a stamp at the nation's smallest post office and maybe, just maybe, see a black bear.

Trail travelers can pick their own tomatoes, soak in a hot spring or in a luxurious spa bath, eat lima bean stew and homemade biscuits, ride an airboat with a Miccosukee Indian, watch old Cuban men play dominoes and wade past an alligator. But not at the same time.

Photographer Scott Keeler and Real Florida columnist Jeff Klinkenberg spent a month documenting life on the Tamiami Trail. What follows is their report.

Proceed with caution: Mosquitoes and alligators ahead! Introduction