Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Going down the Keys

Going down the Keys

The brochure for Long Key State Park has the statement on the front: “Your Home in the Florida Sun”. Our mobile motel home looks just like the one that we’ve been in for the last several weeks but when we open the door here – the view is way better than most and the sun IS shining! SPFB!! When we drove down here about 5 years ago when H’s dear Aunt Ruth passed away, we stopped here at the park and had a picnic lunch. Back then, I took a picture of the brightly colored kayaks and the wonderful view of the ocean. The kayaks are still here and we are definitely enjoying the ocean views still. There are 60 campsites in the park and each one backs up to the ocean. Talk about pretty sunrises! Each site is separated by thick green walls of mangrove, palmetto bushes and even morning glory vines in bloom and finished off with a low split rail fence. To the east side of the fence is a low dune – and then the gentle lapping waves on the small beach – when the tide is in! When the tide is out – the beach is 20 feet wider and spattered with rocks and bobbing little shore birds. Today, H even saw an Osprey fly over with a fish clasped in his talons.

Once we were parked and all set up last Friday, H called B&B who were parked in an RV Resort down the road a few mile markers. On the highway from the beginning of the Keys the miles are marked by “mm” and count down. Key Largo starts at 100; Key West is 0 at the other end. We are at mile marker 67.5. We invited B&B to go out for seafood and of course, B had to drive and H navigated. We found our favorite “hole in the wall”, back road restaurant/fish market, Castaways. We were seated on their enclosed patio, right by the boat dock for our dinner. The seafood was still good but the prices – not so much anymore.

These last two days have gone by quickly. We’ve kept busy by exploring the rest of the park, reading, me knitting, H napping and both of us walking the long narrow beach – ALL done in the warm sun and ocean breezes. Saturday we rode our bikes north a couple of miles and investigated a few small residential streets, all of which had boat channels as back yards. Today we rode them south to, over and back over the Marathon Bridge, a 3-mile long bridge that gently arches as a divider over the turquoise blue waters of the ocean and Gulf of Mexico. The “old” bridge, intact and right next to the one for auto traffic, is now for fishing, pedestrian and bike traffic, as well as being perches for big gray pelicans and long graceful white herons.

Monday morning, on the way down a few more Keys, we stopped for breakfast at The Stuffed Pig before pulling into Bahia Honda State Park between mm 36 & 37 and is divided by hwy 1. SPFB for pictures of the Flagler Bridge and the minivan going under the highway showing that the bridge height was 6 ft 8 inches! A beautiful day to walk the beach, however – since there have been several storms in the area lately – the shores were lined with thick blankets of shredded seaweed that had been washed up, wave after wave onto the beach. No snorkeling here either. Since R&N were on their way to a KOA park that was down at mm 20 – H decided we should go see if they were there yet. We were just getting nicely caught up when the sky grew charcoal gray and the lightening started flashing. We took refuge in the Laundromat area, along with several campers who had the misfortune of being tent campers! When the deluge let up, we ran to our vehicles and went out to dinner at Mangrove Mama’s – just up on the highway. Have you gotten the drift of the restaurant names down here? Tomorrow we’ll drive down to Key West.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Everglades

The Everglades

On the road - again - across the Tamiami Trail, that thin, forever long ribbon of cement that cuts thru the Big Cypress National Preserve and the Everglades National Park, from west to east. On either side are marshes and tall swamp grass lined canals – no doubt, dug with that metal monster – the Bay City Dredge!! Even on this cold morning there were alligators trying to warm their armored backs in the hopeful rays of the sun. And throngs of wading birds, out looking for their first meals of the day! Our first stop was the Visitor Center where we walked the boardwalk and joined the rest of the tourists watching for more “gators” and long graceful Great White Herons. On down the road we stopped again at Shark Valley Visitor Center. It was way too cold and windy to even think of getting the bikes down from their rack on the back of the trailer even tho the blacktop road was inviting as it lead along yet another canal, decorated with more egrets, green herons and what ever else the rest of those birds were! H and I bundled up and managed to walk a ways into the park before our ears were froze and ready to break off. Maybe on our next trip across the Glades we’ll make it to the observation tower at the end of that road.

As cold and windy as it was in the middle of the day, we K N E W we needed to find some electricity for the coming colder night! (We have become very attached to our heated mattress pad and chilled at the thought of having to go without it!) Thank You, LORD - - it was provided when we came across the Midway Campground! A very clean, well-groomed National Park Campground that has electricity, and nice facilities but no showers. We will survive! Once settled in, we had the afternoon to go exploring . . . again. We all know that H cannot stay at rest for too long if there is new territory to conquer! The Glades map showed a “scenic” loop road but the folks at the visitor center said it was really rough and that folks had trouble even with 4wheel drive and skid plates. If you know H – you don’t tell him that! It was rough – and it had a lot of sharp rocks and big muddy potholes and it went on forever because in spite of the posted 25 mph speed limit signs – nobody could ever go that fast! The area was partially Indian Reservation homes and then wilderness – mangrove forest, Cypress swamp and pinewoods. We drove it, so you don’t have to!

On H’s return from his evening trip to the men’s room, he insisted that I come see this huge moth that was clinging to the outside wall of the cement block building. What a beautiful dark brown creature he was, about 6 inches from wing tip to wing tip, with dark blue spots on those velvet wings. I looked in my “Readers Digest Wildlife” book that travels everywhere with us but to no avail – I cannot find out what this moth is. If anyone can tell me – please email me and let me know!

We left the Glades on Tuesday morning and turned south to Homestead and Florida City – the towns that are the gateways to the Florida Keys and to the Biscayne National Park. We parked in a “vintage” midtown campground in the middle of Florida City. Once again – we did it so you don’t have to! And we won’t again either!

Beautiful blue Biscayne Bay is just south of Miami and the National Park is comprised of 95% water, which provides sanctuary for many birds and marine animals. We watched a movie about the area and the devastation it endured from the direct hit of hurricane Andrew in 1992. The visitor center was just being built then and is one of the few buildings that sustained those 200 mph winds. We walked the balconies of the center, enjoying the grand view of the snug harbor and the vast water that lay outside its protective walls. We also walked its wide walkways that rimmed the waters edge and led to a long narrow peninsula that jetted out along the entry to the quiet harbor. Out on the choppy waters, churned by the ever present winds, several wind surfers were racing - flying along at 35mph - darting back and forth, throwing spray as they went.

Thursday morning meant it was time to find the Keys!! As H always says: At one end of 75 is a Lock (the Soo!) and at the other end is a Key! It was time we got there! We had breakfast in Key Largo and then a stop to check out the Fiesta Resort that was recommended by B&B. H decided to take a chance and stop at Long Key State Park to see if they had any openings for first come first serve folks. One! We’re here!