This is a key weekend. The blog is changing. Have you noticed? Do you like it? Perhaps it doesn’t matter. Who am I writing for? You, but also me. Why am I writing? To have a record, a place to share, a place to post photos.. a place to refer people when they ask me what I’m doing… because it takes to long to answer that question every time. (And when I do end up feeling self centered.)
Last I posted, I about Alaska. 6 months go, just about as far North, and definitely as far west as you can go in the US. Today I am in Florida, Just about as far East, and definitely as far south as you can go. And I haven’t kept up with the blog, I haven’t filled you in on every mile as we traversed the diagonal of the country. And my delinquency on that fact gives me stress, makes me uncomfortable, makes me avoid writing, which of course makes it worse! This has to stop. I need to fast forward in time and space.
Six Months Ago
Six months, from a summer where we turned on the heater everyday, to a winter where we have the air conditioner on everyday.. I know bizarro world right? I will probably do a couple flashback posts to fill you in, but this is a key post, an adjustment, back on track, life in balance! All that stuff.
Yep! Florida. First time either of us has spent any significant time here. and most of our past Florida experiences have been Orlando, which some will say isn’t really Florida, it’s Disneyland. We are in LaBelle, just northeast of Fort Myers. Our goal here was to see the Keys and the Everglades… On both of our bucket lists for a LONG time (I remember wanting to take this road trip one summer in High School.. a LONG time ago!). So, last weekend, a key weekend, we headed for the Keys.
A road trip…
We didn’t take Mac (the RV) with us. We didn’t even stay overnight on the keys. That would have been nice. Maybe even a week would have been nicer. Maybe we didn’t try to book early enough, because there were plenty of RV’s down there, but when we looked, it was too expensive for our sensibilities. We couldn’t even find an AirBnB or hotel in a reasonable price range. Instead we left Mac in LaBelle, drove the car down, stayed 2 nights in an AirBnB in Homestead, and visited the Keys on a day trip. This worked out well.
I took a Friday off of work and off of day trading, so we left early Friday and were in Homestead, on the mainland south of Miami (and also at the entrance to the Everglades National Park) before noon. We spent Friday afternoon in the Everglades.
The first stop in any National Park for us is the visitor center. In the Everglades they suggested we stop at the first trail, Anhinga Trail. They promised lots of wildlife there.
We obliged, all out camera gear in tow. The trail is only about a mile long, and indeed, did we see wildlife! We lost count of the alligators we saw, including a baby, 8 inches long (of course in the telephoto lens it looks just like an adult!). We also heard an alligator growl in the woods just before it swam under the bridge we were on and crawls out onto the bank to sun. That was thrilling.
The birds were beautiful, Blue Herons, Anhinga (what the trail was named after) and some baby Anhinga in the nest. The trail was the highlight of the day.
On down the road
It was too hot to stop at every overlook/hike, but we did want to traverse the whole of the everglades, and get down to Flamingo Visitor Center (which the visitor center was under renovation so no visitor center). At that stop we talked to a ranger an learned about the snakes in the everglades and walked to the marina and saw a aggregation of Manatees, frolicking and mating. (Manatees only hang out together in groups or “aggregations” and frolic when mating).
And we saw a crocodile down at that end of the park.
I should note that between the park entrance and Flamingo you ascend and traverse over a pass. The elevation sign says 3 feet! We were so amused. Wish I’d gotten a photo of that…. oh wait, google to the rescue.
Fun, but yet again hot, day in the Everglades. We got back to Homestead early enough for dinner. We went out to a Jamaican restaurant suggested by out host called “Yardie Spice“. I feel like they deserve a shout out here. Our first time eating Jamaican food and it was fantastic!
Our AirBnB was perfectly located for visitors to the Keys, the Everglades, and Biscayne National Park, and the least expensive thing around. It was perfect. She rented out 3 rooms and rarely had a vacancy! There was a young couple (my kids age) from Germany there, and another couple (our age) from France. Once again a great opportunity to chat with a few people about their lives, life in Europe and the US. Always interesting.
The Florida Keys
On the middle day of our adventure we left early in the morning with plans to drive the keys. The keys are a chain with 1700 Islands off the southern tip of Florida. The 113 mile long highway connects 43 of them and ends in the largest city, Key West.
We drove to Key West and spent a couple of hours there. We visited the Southernmost point in the US, we saw Hemingway’s House, walked the shopping street in Old Town, and got a piece of Key Lime Pie. With the heat, the crowds, and the difficulty parking… that was really enough.
Keys Deer on Big Pine Key
On the drive down we started seeing signs to watch for deer, we thought humm, that is strange. So we stopped on Big Pine Key at the National Key Deer refuge Visitor Center to check it out. Turns out that the deer on Big Pine Key were white tail deer stranded here over 10,000 years ago when the keys were isolated from the mainland. The deer have thrived and evolved to adapt to the conditions on the island. They are the only large herbivore in the keys. They now look just like white tail deer, have the behavior of white tail deer (flipping their tail up when spooked, jousting for females during mating season, etc) but at full grown their withers only come up to about your knees. Cute as a button! (are buttons cute?) We figure their babies must be no bigger than rabbits.
So of course we headed out to find some. And we did. They are pretty plentiful (13 have already been hit by cars this year), and pretty tame (with no natural predators). We saw a doe ( no photos) and then a buck.. Of course as with the alligator, you can’t really tell scale in the photo.
This is another interesting key comparison to six months ago when on Kodiak island the Bears, isolated for thousands of years, had evolved to be the largest of their species.. here the deer had evolved to be the smallest of their species.. Pure speculation here, but if I were to guess. I think they said the bears grew so large because they had plenty of food (berries and salmon) and no predators. While the deer have to keep their eye on fresh water, and probably their food supply is limits as so much of the water is brackish… just a guess.
The Blue Hole
Another interesting spot was the blue hole (where we were told the deer might hang out) is a freshwater lake, that is so deep (14 feet) that there is seawater in the bottom. Hurricanes brought a tidal wave over the land and dumped a lot of tropical fish in this lake, so that even though it’s a freshwater lake, there are a bunch of tropical fish that live in it, and apparently can survive because the bottom of the lake is salt water… seems weird to me!
Going home : Airboats and Everglades City
On the Sunday we headed back home to LaBelle on a road that follows the northern edge of the Everglades. We stopped and took a ride on an air boat through the everglades. That was fun and we saw a bunch more animals, but not particularly noteworthy… Also not particularly expensive either so we were satisfied, and air boat was on the wish list.
That Northern edge road also took us to Everglade City. We drove a few miles off the beaten path to check that out, although we already knew the hurricane had completely destroyed the visitor center there, and from Everglade City almost all the Everglades access is by boat. The town still had some old stone buildings, but in general it looked like a town that gets “wiped clean” periodically, of vegetation and buildings. Later my Dad told be he lived there when he was 5-6… I suspect it was completely different, but maybe in some ways the same. He remembers venturing into the everglades…. Interesting.
Meanwhile Back in La Belle
We had reserved in the Ft. Myers area specifically to get to the keys and the Everglades, and we have friends from Colorado that moved to the area a few years ago. Paul and Maddy are very busy but we did get over to their house one evening for dinner. Great to see them although sadly I didn’t get a good picture.
Just on chance I saw another friends post on Facebook that they are in Ft. Myers… They have a winter home here. I had no idea, so we went to dinner a couple times with them in Fort Myers. And we got out to the beach with them, which I was very appreciative of, because although we spent a month in Florida, we have scarcely seen the beach, as out park is an hour inland. Anyway, great excuse, and we had fun hanging out with Shari and Mike.
We also went to a crazy street fair for St. Patricks Day, but otherwise we checked all the boxes and had fun playing cards and hanging out at the park.
A Key Weekend? or a weekend in the Keys, you decide.
So while we didn’t spend long in the keys, the drive was beautiful, we stopped and walked on the gorgeous beach in Marathon, ate some Cuban food for lunch. Made some memories. In the Everglades we felt like we had “seen” and experienced that as well. A great “key” weekend all the way around and a great start to our month in Southern Florida.