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Archive for September, 2012

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This time we’ll be looking at US 90 from Tallahassee to Wellborn, which is east of Live Oak. We’ll be covering three counties. Two are named for presidents (Jefferson and Madison), the other after the state’s best known river (Suwannee). There’s rather more to see than the last section I covered, between Lake City and Jacksonville. Most of the sights are concentrated in three towns along the way, though there are a few offshoots that will take you almost to the state line. There’s enough that I’m going to break this section of US 90 into three posts; one for each county.

I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned before, and if I have it’s been a while, so here goes. Every county that US 90 goes through in Florida, it goes through that county’s seat. And in most cases, right by the county courthouse. If you’re an old courthouse lover, this road will have you doing the happy dance.

A word about I-10. Much as I prefer backroads, I don’t mind I-10 so much. It’s a very pleasant drive through most of Florida. The only places where it gets hairy are the endpoints (Jacksonville and Pensacola) and the midpoint (Tallahassee). So if you want to start a roadtrip at some point along US 90, you can take I-10 and enjoy getting there. Rest stops every 30 or 40 miles, where you can stretch your logs if you’re doing a long haul. Watch out if you’re driving when it’s dark, since there are sometimes deer on the highway. Which shows you how much rural territory I-10 goes through.

It’ll take a bit to get away from Tallahassee, since it rather sprawls all over. There was a ton of construction along the eastern part of US 90 when I was there last year. I think they’re widening it, but until it’s finished, it’s two lanes of no fun. You’ll get past the worst of it after you pass under I-10.

The road the rest of the way reminds me of SR A1A on Amelia Island. No, there aren’t any beaches. But there’s a similar tranquil ambience. It’s a combination of the lack of traffic, the low rise and fall of the hills, and shallow curves. There are buildings here and there, with larger towns every 10 miles or so. Speed limit is 55 to 65 mph between towns, but try not to be in a hurry. Wherever you’re going, it’ll still be there.

I remember reading about a beautification project done between Tallahassee and Monticello, but no details. I decided to investigate further for this post, which is another reason I’m glad I’m doing them. I tend to just visit places on the NRHP or in AGFHA just to visit them. What history I learn about them is almost a side effect. Now that I’ve visited most of the places in Florida I’d intended, I can spend the time I would be travelling to discover more about the places I’ve been. Neat, since when I visit again, I’ll be able to appreciate them with a different and more informed point of view. And I can spend more time, since I’m no longer in such a mad dash to get to all the places.

So, I found out there were two scenic road beautification projects done back in the 1930s. One was headed by Fred Mahan, a local pecan grower, and the other by the Coastal Roads Company of Miami. Thousands of attractive trees and flowers were planted along the road for about 25 miles. In the spring and summer it’s supposed to be beautiful, but I’m only ever in the area in the winter. Now that I know all that, I’ll have to visit in the middle of the year for a change, to see the road bursting with bloomery.

When you get to SR 59, take it south. You’ll go under I-10, and in a mile or so you’ll arrive in the tiny hamlet of Lloyd. The historic district and all the sites of interest are within a half-mile of the SR 59/CR 158 intersection. West on CR 158 are the two historic houses listed below, then the woman’s club. Some other old houses along the way too. Don’t go past the woman’s club, but head back east. Past the intersection is the old railroad depot, which is now used as the local post office. The rest of the historic district is north of CR 158.

When I was there, I met an owner of one of the older houses. They told me someone wrote a book set in the area, called “Dream Street”. I’ve been unable to find anything about it online. Perhaps it was only published locally. (see Google map)

Return the way you came and continue east on US 90. Before you get to Sunray Road, you should see signs for Letchworth Mounds. Follow them to get to the state park. There are only a few mounds left, though one is pretty big. It’s right next to a small neighborhood. I think it’s probably used more by the locals, since there’s not much to attract faraway visitors. It did recently get added to the NRHP, but I’d already visited before that. I love when things work out like that. (see Google map)

When you get closer to Monticello, you can loop south to see the Turnbull-Ritter House. You can’t get too close, so you’ll need binoculars to see it, and a good zoom lens to photograph it. I don’t think it’s going to be around too many more years, with the condition it’s in.

North on US 19, and look for the winery road signs. They’ll lead you to Monticello Vineyards & Winery, one of the ones I have visited. You’ll need to honk your horn after parking to notify the owners of your arrival. It’s a very small operation, but worth the detour. There’s a short wine tasting, and they do have some good stuff. I bought a bottle, which I’m still holding on to. I usually use wine for cooking, not drinking. The bottle I got should help me make some good stuff. (see Google map)

Getting back on US 19 and heading north, you’ll see perhaps my favorite courthouse approach in the state. US 19 is straight and gradually slopes upward. So you can see the domed Jefferson County Courthouse (Florida) from over a mile away. If you can get there around sunrise, the reflection of the sun off the dome is a sight. It’s also unique in the state, because it’s in the middle of a traffic circle, which is where US 19 and US 90 meet. Welcome to Monticello. Pronounced around these parts as Monti-sell-o, not Monti-chel-o. ‘Cause you’re in Florida, y’all.

Remember Fred Mahan? Well, the office for his nursery still exists, and is in use as a local library on the west side of town.

The historic district is extensive, and you can get a walking tour map at the Chamber of Commerce. It’s 4 blocks west on US 90, in a former church on the right. Lots of well-preserved fancy old houses around and about, and some neat old churches. There was a great place to eat downtown which I would’ve recommended you try, but it closed a year or so after I was there. Another victim of the crappy economy. (see Google map)

After taking your fill of Monticello, go north on US 19. At the split, veer to the right to get on CR 149. In 4 and a half miles is the old Bethel School on the right. It’s very overgrown so it’s easy to miss, keep your eyes peeled. It’d be nice to get close, but it’s fenced around. The NRHP plaque is closer to the fence, so you can at least get a decent photo of that.

Return to Monticello and take CR 146 (Asheville Highway) east out of town. More rolling hills, and some farms. After about 15 miles you’ll reach Gum Swamp Road. Turn right. Down the dirt road is the Lyndhurst Plantation. I think the mansion home still exists, but I didn’t see it. Must be too far back. Actually, it’s rather far to go to just see some outbuildings. Maybe there are tours available. I think there’s another old plantation nearby that does. (see Google map)

That’s Jefferson County done. Next is Madison. Nothing to do with that book; different county. Until next time, see you on the road!

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We’re heading into the state capitol. Put on your hiking boots, ’cause you’re gonna be feeling like the von Trapps before you’re done.

We have to cover the inner outskirts. East first. Lincoln High School, founded as an all-black school right after the Civil War. It’s been a pending NRHP for quite a while now. South is the Winterle House, which you can kind of see from the road. (see Google map)

Back east yet further in is the Goodwood Plantation. Very well maintained, it is. Close by it the Los Robles neighborhood, with three NRHPs. Then west to the Woman’s Working Band House, a new NRHP. It’s… I don’t know what to make of it, really. (see Google map)

Further west is an old black cemetery, started in the early 1900s when the city no longer allowed blacks to be buried in the main cemetery. Then there’s Lichgate on High Road. It must have been a residence with a good amount of property. Now it’s a park, with a huge oak that must be at least 200 years old. (see Google map)

After that, you can visit the city’s NHL, Mission San Luis. It’s the site of an old Spanish mission, part of a string that stretched from St. Augustine to Pensacola. Unfortunately it was closed when I was there, so I’ll have to get back to see inside.

Oh, there’s an excuse to visit Tallahassee again. Mmm, Bradley’s Country Store. (see Google map)

Now it’s time to visit the pride of Tallahassee. Well, one of the prides of Tallahassee. Is the state government one of them? Anyway, what I’m talking about is Florida State University.

I’m sure there are a number of historic buildings on campus. Yet no part of FSU is a historic district. FAMU has one. Heck, UF has one. But not FSU.

The FSU historic sites I do know are listed below, along with some that are close by. (see Google map)

I mentioned FAMU, and since it’s close, that’s next. You can’t drive onto campus easily, so you’ll have to park nearby to check out the historic district part. (see Google map)

Over to the southeast. A good place to stop at is the old Governor Martin House. It’s now the home of the B. Calvin Jones Center for Archaeology, part of the state’s Bureau of Archaeological Research. Helpful folks there can get you historical info about the area.

Cascades Park was pretty torn up when last I was there, not much more than a pile of dirt. I don’t know how long before it’s pretty again. (see Google map)

North side of town now. Next door to each other are the old Grove Plantation and the Governor’s Mansion, both NRHPs. I think there are tours of the mansion, but you’d have to make arrangements before you get there. It’s not like you can just walk in. (see Google map)

After that, go south. Everything else is in and around downtown Tallahassee. Park in three or four strategic spots and you can walk to all of them easily. Well, there are some steep hills that take some effort to climb. But that’s another benefit, since you’re exercising your body and your mind while you’re touring.

A unique feature is the linear park system. There are long strips of grass and trees that run east-west through the heart of the city. The Park Avenue Historic District contains one. The closest thing I’ve seen to them are the parks scattered around downtown Savannah. But they’re square, not long and rectangular.

A terrific place to get far more information than I’m providing here is in the old Capitol Building. You can also appreciate the interior design, and if it’s hot outside, the air conditioning. Should you want more general information, you can go to the big building behind it. The new Capitol Building, I think, or a courthouse. One of the five state visitor centers is inside. It’s an important government building, though, so you’ll have to go through security. Not a big deal; it’s quick and the security people were quite nice. (see Google map)

As usual, there’s bunches more places I could have mentioned. You’ll see it as you wander about. Use the resources I’ve mentioned, either when you get there or beforehand. I think you’ll have a swell time rambling through our capitol city. Keep hydrated, and see you on the road!

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The next posts are all about the Leon County seat and Florida State Capitol, Tallahassee. Most non-residents (and probably quite a few natives) wonder why our state capitol is so far from the middle of the state. Thing is, it is in the middle of the state. At least it was when it was founded.

See, when the Spanish were in charge, the peninsula was divided into two sections. East Florida, the capitol of which was St. Augustine, and West Florida, where Pensacola was the capitol. When Florida became a United States possession, a single capital for the whole territory was needed. So expeditions set out from St. Augustine and Pensacola, heading for each other. The roughly halfway point where they met was where Tallahassee is now.

But what about Orlando and Miami and all the rest? Not there. Draw a line across Florida just below St. Augustine. South of there was forests and swamps and Seminoles. There were a few outposts of non-Indians down there, but not enough to make it worth having the capitol further south.

That’s change, obviously, over the last century and a half. There’ve been attempts to relocate the capitol to Orlando or Ocala. The most recent try was in the 1960s. But the expense of moving the entire state government would be prohibitive. Plus you’d have to set up the infrastructure in the new location, which would take time and additional financing. It’s annoying for those living further south, but with modern transportation, it’s not enough of an inconvenience to generate significant dissatisfaction with the situation. So Tallahassee is likely to remain the state capitol for the foreseeable future.

I like Tallahassee. It’s urban, but not like Tampa or Jacksonville. Apparently there’s an anti-skyscraper ordinance that’s been in place for years, so there’s only a small handful of tall buildings in the city. It’s hilly, a bit like San Francisco, which is atypical for most metropolitan areas in Florida.

On the outskirts are the canopy roads; long stretches of oak-lined avenues dripping with Spanish moss. Some go by surviving antebellum plantation homes. Several roads go up into Georgia, where there are more plantations that have been preserved for posterity. At some point you should visit Thomasville, which is close to the border and filled with a lot of interesting historical buildings and districts. And a gaudy NHL that’s kind of groovy.

Tallahassee itself is hardly lacking in historical sites, including its own National Historic Landmark. About half the sites are in and around the center of town, the rest are scattered around the periphery in all directions. Just driving to them all will take you a couple of days, so either plan an extended stay or several return visits. Tallahassee is also a good jumping off point for exploring the Panhandle. It’s only three hours from Pensacola, so you can spend your first night here and head west the next morning.

I’m going to start on the outlying sites to the north, then spiral in towards the center counter-clockwise. You can look at the map links and decide the travel strategy best for you.

The first section may not take you as long as you’d think, just looking at the map. Several of the places are private, and the historic parts not visible from the road. You can drive by them if you want, since they’re along canopy roads. Or skip them and just go to the ones you can get to.

That would be the two state parks, Maclay Gardens and Lake Jackson Mounds. Both nice in their own way, but I prefer Maclay Gardens. Walking along the paths and seeing all the plants is so restful.

You can also get to the old Blackwood-Harwood Plantations Cemetery, but it takes a bit of doing. The directions were vague (northeast of Junction FL 263 and I-10, really?), but I did some research and pinned it down. I wasn’t sure, though, until I got to the housing development where I thought it was. Some traipsing through the woods and I found it. Just a small plot surrounded by a rusty gate, with a dozen or so graves. I’m glad it got preserved and not plowed under. (see Google map)

Now get to SR 20, which cuts through Lake Talquin State Forest. You can see the old Fort Braden school, which is now a community center. A bit further east is the Lake Talquin State Park. River Bluff Picnic Site State Park, too, but I think it’s in the other state park. I have a feeling Lake Talquin is popular in the summer. It’s a big lake, perfect for boating and swimming and such. Lots of room to meander in the woods, too. I did cover this bit on the first roadtrip post about SR 20 .

Southeast is the Tallahassee Museum, which also contains part of the Bellevue plantation. I’ve not gone in, so I don’t know how extensive the place is. (see Google map)

Due south of Tallahassee is St. Marks River State Park, one of the newest in the system. Therefore it’s very undeveloped and hard to find, with no signage. Only hiking trails, not even restrooms or picnic areas. Further down is Natural Bridge, which I mentioned in the last post.

San Pedro y San Pablo de Patale only has a historical marker. The Chaires historic district is small. I’d park at the old school and walk up and down the street. Half an hour is more than enough time to see the best parts. The Billingsley Farm is private and fenced and foliated so you can’t see a thing from US 90. (see Google map)

Last but certainly not least is the eastern fringe. In fact, it’s one of my favorite parts. You’re mostly driving along canopy roads again, so just getting from point to point is pleasant.

First is Pisgah United Methodist Church, which is big wooden block of a church. Roberts Farm is nearby, but not much to see. There’s an old cemetery at the corner of Roberts Road and Centerville Road that’s more scenic.

About where Centerville Road turns into Moccasin Gap Road is the place I liked so much, I visited it both times I was here. It’s Bradley’s Country Store. Yeah, it’s the name, even though they ain’t related. But they make really great smoked sausage. I’ve seriously thought of ordering by mail, or buying a few pounds the next time I’m there. Not a primary reason to visit Tallahassee, but it encourages me to find another excuse so I can make a sidetrip there.

Keep going on Moccasin Gap Road and you’ll come to Miccosukee. There are four NRHPs here; two north of SR 59 and next to each other (Strickland-Herold House and Van Brunt House), and two to the south that are across from each other (Averitt-Winchester House and Miccosukee Methodist Church). (see Google map)

That’s it for the outskirts. Next post, Tallahassee proper. See you on the road!

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After the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, you’ll face one of the two really long and lonely sections of US 98: the 40 mile stretches on either side of Perry. Kind of nice in the daytime, but at night they’re downright spooky. No street lights, hardly any houses or commercial buildings, and very little traffic. You feel like you’re the last person on Earth. Another part of the state I tell people about when they complain about how over-urbanized Florida is.

Halfway between St. Marks and Perry (6 miles down CR 14) is a very popular place for boaters, Econfina River State Park. It has some picnic areas, as most of the state parks do, but no beaches. (see Google map)

Just before you get to Perry, take a right at CR 356 to see a forgotten fragment of Florida history, Hampton Springs. The Hampton Inn was a very popular resort here way back when, but time and traffic patterns shifted and it faded into obscurity. Taylor County recently converted the old Inn grounds into a park. You can see the remains of the foundation and imagine what was. (see Google map)

Only a few miles on is the crossroads city of Perry, the Taylor County seat.

So, what is there to do in Perry? Don’t really know, as I mostly just pass through. As a lot of folks do, I’d wager. Four major US highways go through it: US 19, US 27, US 98, and US 221. But perhaps most importantly, what doesn’t come anywhere near here is any interstate. Which could have made Perry dry up and blow away like so many other towns after the Interstate Highway System was finished. But there was enough industrial (mostly lumber) and government “business” (it being the county seat) to keep it going. Perry does rather sprawl, and seems to have most of the amenities you’d expect in a city much larger. You’ll see them all on the way to the historic downtown. Get to US 221 and head north. Once you cross a canal and some railroad tracks, it’s like you’ve stepped back into the 20th century. The early part, that is.

The city put together a walking tour so you can see the historic sites (see here). The map’s a bit fuzzy though, so I put together the same route on Google maps. The addresses are approximate, but if you look at the pictures, you’ll know what’s what. The only two NRHPs in the county are here, the old post office and the old jail. (see Google map)

  • Perry Historic Station (Old Train Depot) (310 South Jefferson Street)
  • Big Bend Hospice (aka The Blair Building) (Jefferson Street and Green Street)
  • Bloodworth Sundries (Jefferson Street and Green Street)
  • Old Perry Shoe Store (Jefferson Street and Green Street)
  • Rosehead Junction (aka The Schwartz Building) (Jefferson Street and Green Street)
  • Old Perry Post Office (201 East Green Street) (NRHP)
  • Big Bend Fitness (50 South Washington Street)
  • The Emporium/Peacock Building (50 South Washington Street)
  • Taylor County Historical Society (Main and Washington Streets) (AGFHA)
  • First United Methodist Church (300 North Jefferson Street)
  • Greystone (300 N Jefferson Street)
  • O’Quinn’s Pharmacy (200 North Jefferson Street)
  • Photos, Frames & Trophies (200 North Jefferson Street)
  • Wells Jewelers (200 North Jefferson Street)
  • Dansby Building (151 North Jefferson Street)
  • Beggs Funeral Home (formerly Old First Presbyterian Church) (201 West Main Street)
  • Capital City Bank (aka The Dixie Taylor Hotel) (115 West Green Street)
  • Perry Office Supply (115 West Green Street)
  • Old Taylor County Jail (400 North Washington Street) (NRHP)
  • Taylor County Courthouse (108 North Jefferson St)

Go south once you’ve done the tour and catch US 98 south. Before you leave town, you can visit Forest Capital Museum State Park, which recounts the history of the lumber industry in the region. Contrary to Google maps, it’s on the west side of US 98 near the airport. (see Google map)

Remember that it’s 40 miles to the next town, Cross City. There is a convenience store on the corner of SR 51 and US 98, but I’d fill up before you leave Perry, just in case.

Before you get that far, though, you can take a detour on CR 361 and travel through a very marshy-scrubby part of the state. It’s 35 miles until you get to the next outpost of civilization, the remote and drowsy town of Steinhatchee. I think it’s properly pronounce Steen-hatchee, though I usually say Stine-hatchee. It’s on the Steinhatchee River, and the main industries are fishing and scalloping and get-away-from-it-all tourism. The town dates back at least to the early 1900s, so It’s old enough to have historical stuff. I’ve not found any, so maybe they couldn’t preserve it like Cedar Key did. (see Google map)

From here, the easiest way to get back to US 98 is up SR 51. If you kept going north, you’d eventually wind up in Mayo. Or go southeast on US 98 to Cross City.

That’s all for now, folks. See you on the road!

Route length: 95 miles

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I’ll be doing more posts about US 98, but here ends the Pacific Coast Highway-ness of it all. By the time you reach Panacea, you’ll have caught your last glimpse of the Gulf from US 98. After this, you’ll have to veer far off this main drag to see it again. I’ll be directing you to some of those veerages along the way.

We last left off in Carrabelle. Heading east from downtown, it won’t be long before civilization fades away and you’re back to forest (Tate’s Hell and Apalachicola National) and water. You’re also in the middle of the holiest part of the state.

As far as place names go, that is. Previously you went through Port St. Joe, built near the abandoned town of St. Joseph. There’s St. Joseph Peninsula and St. George Island and St. Vincent Island. Ahead are St. Teresa and St. Marks. Ever since I realized this, I’ve wondered about the circumstances that led to so many towns and geographical features here being named for saints. I’ve not found anything on the subject at all, oddly. I can’t have been the only one who noticed, can I?

About 10 miles from Carrabelle you’ll have to make a choice. North on US 319 or stay on US 98? I’ll cover both, but for now we’ll continue on US 98.

Turn right when you get to Alligator Drive and follow the signs to Bald Point State Park when you see them. It’s a bit of jaunt, but you’ll get there. Due to its location, it’s another of the less used parks. Doesn’t even have a ranger station. But it’s worth a look-see, since it has great views of the Gulf, nature trails through the scrub where you’re likely to see all sorts of wild creatures, and splendidly under-utilized beaches.

Back on US 98, and head for Panacea. But before you get there, you’ll cross one of the longer bridges in the state, the Ochlockonee Bay Bridge. It crosses the mouth of the Ochlockonee Bay, which is the end point for the Ochlockonee River. If you’re a bridge aficionado, consider stopping at each end so you can appreciate it more thoroughly. You can get better access to the underside from the south end, though. (see Google map)

You’ll be going through a significant portion of the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, though you wouldn’t think so. It’s not Miami Beach, but it’s far from uninhabited. It reminds me of segments of SR 40 through the Ocala National. Little nuggets of humanity surrounded by thousands of acres of non-humanity.

Soon you’ll encounter US 319 re-merging with US 98. Take a left onto it, and in a while you’ll be in another of my favorite oddly named Florida towns, Sopchoppy. I don’t know the etymology, but I think it may be a corrupted Indian name. A lot of places in Florida are.

Two stops here. First in old downtown are some still standing commercial buildings from back in the day. You know they’re old, since they’re covered in ivy. Yeah, not a big draw, but they’re listed in AGFHA, so I’m including them. The other stop is a two-fer, both NRHPs. They’re the old Sopchoppy School and the old Sopchoppy High School Gymnasium across the street. I like the gym more, it’s very WPA. There was a railcar next to it the first time I visited, but it was gone when I returned a few years later. Maybe it’ll be back when you visit.

West of here is a bridge over the Sopchoppy River, but I’ve not seen it, so I don’t know if it’s worth the detour. Me, I’d head south on US 319. There’s bridge over the Ochlockonee River; nowhere as big as the one over the bay. But before you get there, you’ll find the entrance to the Ochlockonee River State Park. Like Bald Point, it doesn’t seem well-visited, though it does have a ranger. I think it’s popular for canoeing, and you can wander around in the woods at your leisure.

It’s only about 7 miles to the southern merge with US 98. The main reason I picked the other option was it’s the only way to get to Bald Point. You could always go there and backtrack and go to Sopchoppy from the south. Or do it in two trips, depending on how much time you want to spend at each spot. (see Google map)

Return whichever way you like to the northern US 319/US 98 merge and head north. There’s another split, and this is where the rest of the trip gets wiggedy-wiggedy-whack. All the interesting stuff is well north or well south of US 98.

North on US 319 and you’ll reach the Wakulla County seat, Crawfordville. You should see one of the brown Florida Heritage signs, which are your friends when you’re looking for the historical sights. On the corner of High Drive, you’ll see the new county courthouse. Take a left here and go about a block. On your left is the old Wakulla County Courthouse. To me, it looks like an old-fashioned one-room schoolhouse writ large. Home to the local historical society, if memory serves, which would be why it’s in such excellent condition. After this, you can check out the Crawfordville Elementary School, which looks to be still in use. If it ain’t broke, why build a new one? (see Google map)

  • Wakulla County Courthouse (3056 Crawfordville Highway)
  • Old Wakulla County Courthouse (Church Street) (NRHP)
  • Crawfordville Elementary School (south of Arran Rd (SR 386) at Towles Rd) (AGFHA)

From here, it’s some to-and-fro-ing to get to the next spot, but it’s a doozie. Wakulla Springs State Park, in the Wakulla State Forest.

Inhabited for centuries by various native tribes, the modern history starts when some rich dude building a resort here. It eventually got donated to the state and became a state park. Later it was designated a National Natural Landmark, probably for the springs. It’s one of the fanciest places to stay in the state park system, but there are occasional deals which make it a real bargain. There are boat tours, and you can see some of the places where Creature from the Black Lagoon and Tarzan the Ape Man filmed. Visit sometime so you can live like a king for a night or two on a squire’s budget. (see Google map)

North of here is another state park that’s popular with the reenactment set, Natural Bridge. Actually, considering how far north it is, I thought about including it when I get into Tallahassee. Though it’s kind of far from there, so either way you’re in for a drive. (see Google map)

Next you should get to the intersection of US 98 and SR 363. Head south on SR 363 and you’ll arrive in St. Marks, an old fishing community. There’s a few like it strewn along this part of the coast.

At the end of SR 363, turn right at Riverside Drive. You’ll pass by the site of Posey’s Oyster Bar, which had been a fixture here for decades. Sadly, hurricane damage in recent years proved too severe, so it got torn down.

A bit further is a small parking area, where you can leave your car and walk or bicycle up the St. Marks Trail. You’re at the southern end, the northern end is 20 miles away in Tallahassee.

A bit further west is the San Marcos de Apalache Historic State Park. There was an old fort here, since this was a strategic location at the junction of the St. Marks and Wakulla Rivers. The fort is gone, but there are remnants of some of the structures near where it used to be. Must have been important, since the place is a National Historic Landmark. (see Google map)

Return to US 98 and head east. Shortly you’ll make a right at Lighthouse Road and be going south again. You’ll soon arrive at one of the proper entrances to St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge. If you’re lucky, it’ll be one of the free entry days. Check online to see when those are, so you can save yourself a buck or five.

A little further on is a visitor center. After that, it’s a long and gently meandering drive. Well, about 5 or 6 miles. It just seems longer because it’s a 30 mph speed limit. You’ll go through what a wildlife refuge (in Florida, anyway) should look like. Large expanses of scrub and marsh, big stands of trees and lagoonlets. And at the end of the road, the Gulf and the St. Marks Light. It’s one of the non-climbable ones, unfortunately, as the view from the top must be amazing. Still, the ground level panorama ain’t too shabby. (see Google map)

From the lighthouse, it’s ten miles back to US 98. Next post, the long and lonely stretch. See you on the road!

Route length: 125 miles (if you go past Bald Point State Park, cross bridge, then go to Sopchoppy)

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We last left off at the Sugarloaf Key Bat Tower. Now we’ll continue on to Key West. You’ll go by the main part of the Naval Air Station first. In a bit, you’ll reach the A1A/US 1 split. Key West is the only place in the Keys where A1A and US 1 aren’t one and the same. For the purposes of this itinerary, veer left and continue on south A1A, a/k/a Roosevelt Boulevard. Speed limit in the city is 35 mph. But why would you want to go any faster?

Considering how old Key West is, and how small, I expected every inch of the place to be developed to a fair-thee-well. But surprisingly, there are green patches here and there. You’ll pass one going by the airport on your right. Roosevelt Boulevard hugs the edge of Key West, so you’ll see plenty of ocean on the left.

The first historic site along here is the old east Martello Tower, which is now a museum. Past here, Roosevelt Boulevard ends and becomes Bertha Street. Take a left at Atlantic Boulevard and park at the Harvey Rest Beach Park. You’re on the fringes of the historic district, which covers most of the west half of Key West. From here, take a stroll down the White Street Pier and look back the way you came. Key West doesn’t have a skyline, per se, but I’d say what’s in front of you rivals anything you’d see in a metropolitan megalopolis. Walk back on shore and you can see the old west Martello Tower, which is now a garden club. There are two new NRHPs in town. One is right here also, the old African Cemetery.

If you’re willing to walk a mile, you can get to the southernmost point in the United States. On the way you’ll pass by the Casa Marina Hotel, which dates back to the 1920s. The southernmost point, by the way, really isn’t the southernmost point. The actual point is on the naval base past the fence. This is the southernmost point accessible to the general public. I think they put it up to keep people from trying to get on the base. Seems to have worked, as most folks make a beeline to the buoy. (see Google map)

One more stop, then a recommendation on how to see the rest of Key West. That stop, Fort Zachary Taylor, both a state park and an NHL. It’s butt-up against the Naval Station Annex. It’s kind of funky seeing a modern facility like that next to such a historic old structure like the fort. It’s not as big as most of the other forts in the state. I think it’s not the entire original fort. Still, it’s an impressive sight. The fort’s also near the major seaport in town, so you sometimes get the added visual dichotomy of a modern cruise ship sailing by the fort.

So, the rest of the list will take you through most of the historic district. It’s about a 4 mile course, but you could walk down every street and see something interesting. Or bicycle it.

That’s the suggestion. I’ve thought it would have helped in my travels if I’d brought a bike along with me. Would’ve made the historic districts easier. Plus not having to worry so much about where to park. I drive a station wagon, which has plenty of room for bike if I put the back seats down. I could even sleep in it. Not spent a full night in it, but have taken extended naps. ‘Tis very comfy.

Anyway, biking. I thought Key West would be great to see by bike. I checked before I went, and saw there were a few rental places. So when I got there, after visiting the fort, I parked behind the courthouse and started walking. I soon found one of the rental places. I got one for 11 dollars. That’s cheaper than normal, but it was after noon, so I think I got a partial day usage discount. I hadn’t been on a bicycle for years, but after riding around the rental lot a couple of times, I was fine.

Better than fine. I’d forgotten how much fun it is to ride a bicycle. A lock and chain are included in the rental, so as long as you lock up wherever you stop, you’ll be OK. Riding around was a workout, that’s for sure, but I was able to gad about town without any problem. Another advantage of the low speed limit for automobiles. In fact, I’m surprised the locals even have cars.

Biking is the best way to see Key West, if you’re in decent shape. There’s so much to see, that you’re going to make lots of stops anyway, so you won’t be going long distances and wearing yourself out. If you have the wherewithal, and a large enough vehicle, think about buying your own bicycle. Don’t use it only when you travel, bike around your neighborhood or city.

When you’re feeling hungry, I found Blue Heaven to be tasty, casual and friendly. Which is the whole vibe in Key West. I’d be tempted to move there, if it weren’t so far away from the rest of the United States, much less Florida.

The list below are the special spots that I like. NRHPs and AGFHAs and museums and such. But there’s more than this. If something catches your eye whilst you’re zipping around, hey, it’s your vacation. Go where you will is the whole of the law. (see Google map) (see Google map)

There’s one last place to visit, if you can afford it. I can’t yet, but hope too. Though even when I can afford it, I’m not sure whether it’s worth it. I can think of better ways to spend 165 dollars. That’s the cost of the roundtrip ferry ride to and from Fort Jefferson, in the Dry Tortugas. By plane it’s 225 dollars. The fort is 70 miles out from Key West, so the trip each way must be at least an hour, and probably closer to two. There’s a 40 minute tour of the fort, and probably some wandering time included. So half a day gone, to visit one place. If I win the lottery, maybe I’ll go. You can decide whether the fort is worth the time and dinero. (see Google map)

That, boys and girls, is some of the high points of the Florida Keys. When you visit, I don’t doubt you’ll find more that are special for you. As it should be. Enjoy, and see you on the road.

Route length: 105 miles (and another 140 if you go to Fort Jefferson)

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Now that you’re done with Marathon, it’s time for the most iconic part of the trip, driving over the Seven Mile Bridge.

The newer one, that is. Which is parallel to the original Seven Mile Bridge, that you can see on your right the entire way. Most of it is abandoned, and there’s even large bushes growing on parts of it. If you want to get a closer look at it, though, go to Pigeon Key. I can’t recommend that highly enough.

Pigeon Key was used as a base camp for the workers constructing the Overseas Railroad between 1908 and 1912. There’s two main ways to get there. There’s still an intact 2 mile stretch of bridge from the Marathon end to Pigeon Key, which you can walk or bike or skateboard along.

Or you can take a boat with included guided tour from the folks at the Pigeon Key Foundation. Twelve bucks, with departures every hour and a half. Once you’re on Pigeon Key, take the tour and stay as long as you like. If you want to spend the day there, feel free. You can see the underside of the old bridge, and the new bridge in the distance. If you saw True Lies, this is where that scene was filmed. UM has a research station there, and the Key is sometimes used for weddings. I can only imagine how cool it would be to get married there. Go, go, go to Pigeon Key when you’re in the area. Seriously. Go.

On the other side of the Seven Mile Bridge is my favorite state park in Monroe County, Bahia Honda. Pronounced Ba-hee-ah or Ba-hay-uh, I’m not sure. I like the almost lagoon, the beaches, the nature trails, and another section of the old Overseas Railroad that you can walk on. When you get as far as you can on it, the view is stunning. The old railroad close enough to touch, the Seven Mile Bridges visible in the distance, Bahia Honda and beautiful water everywhere else. Another place I could see myself camping at some day. Moonlight on the ocean, the Milky Way filling the sky after moonset. Yep, gotta put that on the life list.

After you tear yourself away from Bahia Honda, you’ll soon be on Big Pine Key. It’s part of a cluster of larger islands at the last 30 miles of US 1. This is probably what people think of when they think about the Florida Keys. A mile or three of land, a bit of bridge, repeat. On Big Pine Key is the Key Deer National Wildlife Refuge. I wanted to check it out when I was there, but I couldn’t quite fit it in to the schedule.

About half way between here and Key West is Sugarloaf Key. It’s the home of one of the kitschiest things you’ll see on the entire trip, and it’s free.

Take the first right after the flashing light, about a tenth of a mile on, which is Bat Tower Road. There’s no street sign, and it doesn’t look like a street, but it is. The road ends in half a mile, and there it is, the Bat Tower. It was built over 70 years ago as a home for bats, in hopes that they would eat mosquitos in the area. But bats didn’t like it. So there it sits, empty, proving that you can’t always get what you want. It is rather amazing that an all-wooden structure this old in the Keys has survived sun and rain and hurricane. Moreso since I don’t think anyone takes care of it. (see Google map)

Next post, what most of you have been waiting for, I suspect. The Monroe County seat, Key West. Until then, see you on the road!

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