Florida City

Family Beach Scene, 1935, Walton Blodgett

Like the sun did last month, during winter solstice, we turned north again, but not without some leisurely lingering in Key West. First up was breakfast at Pepe’s, an establishment since 1909. Then we hit the old custom-house, the local history and art museum. It is there that I saw the above watercolor. A WPA art work, it humorously captures some of the issues with family road life. 

After leaving Key West, we stopped at Bahia Honda State Park. Like many of the south Florida state parks, this one was open, but with reduced facilities, due to storm damage from Hurricane Irma. We made it to Florida City, which is just south of Homestead and is west of Miami. We had been fretting the threatened government shutdown, because in the past, these shutdowns close all of the national parks, but for this one that will not happen. Bring on the gators!

Mallory Square Sunset

Schooner Sunset

We enjoyed a full day in this southernmost city. The motto for Key West is southernmost. Everything is southernmost, from the southernmost point in the continental United States, to the southernmost house adjoining that point and even the southernmost, southernmost house, a new addition that swooped in to lay claim to the title. We started our day with Cuban coffee again, café con leche this time, made our way over to Duval Street, the main drag and then down to the southernmost point. The line for this photo-op was too long, so we
eschewed it. The rest of the day we spent working our way north. We did this mainly via Duval, but we took other excursions. We visited the 19th-century Fort Zachary Taylor, named for a distant relative of mine. He was president too. We also visited a NOAA eco-center that is in part run by the park service. Anne got a stamp there that turned out to be for Dry Tortuga, so I guess we don’t have to go there now. We also visited Truman’s winter Whitehouse, before getting to Mallory Square to view the sunset. The parade of boats leading up to the sunset was most impressive. The crowd that gathered to view the sunset on the square was also entertaining. It was a chilly 60 ºF today. Tomorrow should be warmer.

Key West

Tricolor Heron

We’ve made it to our turnaround point, at least for the Prius. There is no more road left to drive. We’re still deciding whether or not to sail out to Dry Tortuga National Park. We’ve got a couple of nights here. Let the party begin!

We spent the day nature loving. Our first stop was a mile from the motel, the NOAA HQ for the keys. Emphasis here on the ocean aspect of the acronym, It was just a government office, so we never made it past the entrance, but the two people that we spoke with were very helpful. I ran our itinerary by them and they offered helpful suggestions.

They’re first suggestions was breakfast, a Cuban grocery and café. Locals rule! The Cuban coffee was precious, every single drop of it. The rest of the meal was not too shabby either. We dogged a bullet, by not going to the local sea circus. We visited Long Key State Park instead. A much better investment of time and money. The park still shows signs of Irma storm damage, as does the rest of the keys, but on the other hand, everything is amazingly uncrowded here, leaving us to be treated like royalty. You should come visit too! I hear it’s cold up there. 

The high point of the day was to the turtle rescue hospital. This non-profit is dedicated to rescuing sea turtles in the keys. They have ambulances, operating rooms and recuperation facilities. It is an amazing place. Our last stop before Key West was Blue Hole on Big Pine Key. This fresh water sinkhole promised alligators, but instead, we saw key deer, the smallest species of deer in America. A Peru dinner nicely bookended our day.

John Pennekamp

Glass Bottom Boat

The main attraction at Key Largo is John Pennekamp State Park. This mainly underwater park hosts the world’s third largest coral reef. We had hoped to snorkel this reef, but wind and waves conspired against us. The park service canceled all of its snorkel tours, because of the weather. As consolation, we booked a tour on the glass bottom boat. This large, two-deck catamaran had the center part of each of its hulls replaced with eight 1.5″ thick Plexiglas windows. The windows sat at the bottom of a well, which we and all of the other tourist crowded around. It really was a sweet arrangement that brought the top of the reef within two feet of these windows. We saw pufferfish, barracudas and even a sea turtle, along with a host of other colorful tropical fish. As a photographic expedition, it wasn’t all that successful, but you can’t have everything. 

Key Largo

Atlantic Sunrise

While we’ve been wending our way south, we have been listening to Carl Hiaasen’s “Bad Monkey”. This story is one of his Andrew Yancy detective novels, which are set in the Florida keys. Yancy is a rather hard luck gumshoe, who in this telling has been busted down to health inspector or as he calls it, roach patrol and that’s the rub, because like Yancy, I’ve becoming a little squeamish about eating out now.

I got up early and photographed the sunrise. When I got back to the room, I made coffee and we enjoyed a leisurely cup together, followed by an excellent breakfast at Lester’s Diner. This was a steer from Daren, one of the co-owners at the Seahorse Motel. Eventually, we launched from Pompano Beach and with a minimum of road rage made it around Miami and to Key Largo.

First there, we hiked Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park. A hammock is a keys term for a stand of trees, usually hardwood, that form an ecological island in a contrasting ecosystem. This particular hammock was on reclaimed land from a failed subdivision. Anne was reminded by it of another failed subdivision near her cabin on Lake Superior. Scarred as the land may be, it was still very fascinating in its strangeness, at least to us. Our hike was interrupted and we had to turn back, because part of the trail becomes inundated at high tide. It is now officially shorts and t-shirt weather.

We found our new motel and after checking it out, headed over to the Laura Quinn wild bird sanctuary. This sanctuary tends to rescue birds. The birds being cared for are all caged, but many of the species attract hanger-on birds. These beggars are just after the free food, but can’t seem to realize that the food is also caged. The sanctuary also had a nice coastline trail, on which, we saw plenty of other species of birds, but so far no alligators.

We had dinner at Snapper’s. We didn’t realize it at first, but this restaurant was devastated a few months ago by Hurricane Irma. All that was left open was the Tiki bar and their food truck. We ate outside on food prepared in the food truck. Many of the subdivisions have signs that read, no debris dumping, area cleared.


Bandaloop Trio Dancing Across the Face of the Continental Building

What a difference a day makes. New day, new name (Bombogenesis instead of Bomb Cyclone), same old crappy weather. Unlike most natural disasters, snow storms reward indolence and punishes go-getters. Yesterday, Dan was expecting that he would be able to beat the current East Coast storm to NYC, but things soon unraveled not long after I had posted of his plans. The airlines started giving him the old two-step, with flight cancellations, coming one after another. This left him very frustrated. I think that he was more angry at himself for not booking an even earlier return than he did. One that would have likely seen there yesterday. Well, would have, could have, should have. At one point, he was considering driving to New York. Instead, we took him to the airport this morning and he flew off to Atlanta and landed just as his New York leg got canceled, leaving him stranded there for at least 25-hours. Not to worry though, because one of his friends comped him a hotel room and Bob and Nink’s daughter Meaghan will meet him later tonight for drinks. He’s a lucky man to have such friends that standup to help him in a time of need. Stay tuned, I’m sure the saga of Dan’s return to NYC will continue tomorrow.