January 24 – February 7, 2017
The Florida Keys, the distal point of our travels, was certainly expected to be a major highlight. We had snagged a 2 week reservation at Long Key State Park on our 5th attempt at precisely 10 seconds before 8am on my birthday, January 24, 2016. Yup, turns out the key to getting a hot ticket reservation is to click “Book Now” 10 seconds before the proper time. Good to know. You’re welcome.
It was a manageable 3 hour drive from our Everglades campground to our spot at Long Key State Park at mile marker 67 as measured from Mile Marker 0 in Key West at end of the chain of islands. We stocked up on groceries, water and gas in Homestead, realizing correctly that everything in the Keys would be more expensive.
Long Key State ParkOur stay in the Keys did not disappoint: we had a lovely ocean view right out our back door and afternoon shade from the trees! The no-see-ums were only mildly annoying around dusk and somehow the ants did not find their way into our trailer this time. Phew!
Our waterfront site had an access point for our canoe in the shallow waters which turned to mud at low tide. Swimming was possible but only after wading out a few hundred feet – the water was so shallow!
Key West was almost an hour and a half’s drive; we managed 3 trips down during our 2 week stay.
The first time we went with Sadie in the van so we could ride our bicycles around town. We find this is the best way to really get a feel for places as you scope it out quickly and easily.
Our next 2 visits to Key West were by motorcycle.
We spent several hours at the Ernest Hemmingway House (designated as a US National Historic Landmark), by far the most popular attraction in Key West. Not knowing much about Hemmingway, we were at first a bit taken aback by some of the more unsavoury aspects of his life: his multiple divorces for newer younger wives, his rampant alcoholism and his ultimate suicide by gunshot.
However, once we learned of his bipolar personality disorder, also known as manic depression, the disparate pieces of his life made sense. His worldwide travel adventures and amazing fraternizing with important people despite humble beginnings seemed consistent with the manic side, while his difficulties in maintaining long term relationships, his alcoholism and suicide related to the depression. With my background in psychology, I (Margot)often reflect on how various psychological conditions have real impacts on people’ lives; in Hemmingway’s case it was both for the better and for the worst.
At the Audubon House Museum, we were amazed by the artful yet lifelike depictions of different bird species, the first ever attempt at a scientifically accurate cataloguing of breeds by John James Audubon for his “Birds of America” elephant folio (so-called for the large sized 39.5” x 28.5” handmade “elephant paper”) in the early 1800s. In all, some 435 depictions were reproduced, printing off copper plates and hand painted in both life-size poster depictions and smaller prints. His observations of each species while very specific, were very wordy (here’s a 500 word description of the Booby Gannet). The Audubon Society name was inspired by the works and contribution of J.J. Audubon.
Being amateur birders, we were happy to bring home a pocket-sized book of all 435 of Audubon’s pictures, especially since it meets the trailer criteria of fulfilling 2 purposes: being both an art book and a species reference guide.
The Key West Aquarium, though small, is a mainstay of Key West, having been established in 1935. We actually loved it for the variety of animals they had including sharks in an open ocean enclosure, large sea turtles recuperating from injuries, alligators, stingrays and so many fish.
The highlight however was seeing their octopus actually feed on some live shrimp – such an otherworldly creature with his skin flashing different colours and his body forming a dome from above as he engulfs his prey.
The Florida Keys gave us access to the ocean and we made good on this: We took our little canoe out on the shallow bay waters at Long Key and along the canals near Sombrero Beach marvelling at the beautiful canal front homes.
Sombrero Beach is a lovely, public beach mid-Keys at MM50 (Mile Marker 50) with free parking and is entirely dog-friendly! A great place for swimming and we even tried a little snorkeling in the clear waters.
We also got out on a fishing charter though Robbie’s Marina at MM77 one day with James catching 3 fish we cooked up for a tasty dinner that evening.
Our travels along the Overseas Highway crossed our path with an iguana who had been hit by a car but was still very much alive in the middle of a lane as cars flew over it. We picked him up with a small blanket and whisked him over to the Florida Keys Wild Bird Centre Bird Emergency Clinic where they will accept any local injured wildlife. The prognosis was good as his jaw wasn’t broken and his external injuries appeared minor.
Unfortunately, we learned on a subsequent visit to the bird sanctuary that he succumbed to his injuries the second evening. At least we gave him a chance and he didn’t have to die on the road…
While we didn’t eat out much, we did eat a lot of Key Lime Pie! My favorite was the chocolate dipped frozen on a stick from the Blue Gecko in Key West. I had that one 3 times! Hey, when in Rome…
There was so much to see here!
Bonus Music Video! Recorded at Sombrero Beach