On the way down to Key West, we visited Long Key State Park, which while it was officially open, large tracts of the park were closed to the public for cleanup of hurricane damage. Its boardwalk and observation tower appeared unhurt, but they were surrounded by nature’s own hurricane defense, mangroves. We hiked the Golden Orb trail that had hardwood hammocks of gumbo limbo, poisonwood and sea grape trees. Locally, gumbo limbo is known as the tourist tree, because of it red and peeling bark. Like its relatives, poison oak and poison sumac, poisonwood secretes an irritant when touched. It is abundant in the keys, but once recognized it is easily avoided. We saw signs for it everywhere. Sea grapes are also abundant in the keys. They are wind resistant and highly tolerant of salt, so it is often seen along the shore stabilizing beaches. Its fruit is quite edible and can be eaten off the tree. January was too early.
Normally, the Golden Orb trail is a loop, but again because of storm damage, when we reached the beach, we had to turnaround. Anne took the following photo of some of the natural flotsam. The beaches were dotted with mangrove clumps, which only allowed access to the sea in short 20-30 yard stretches, but behind the mangroves was a wide, white sand beach. It was very dry when we visited the park. Inland, there were mud cracks in low-lying areas and no bugs.