Archive for September, 2012

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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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The old Chipley City Hall is in downtown Chipley (no surprise), in the Panhandle. The Mediterranean Revival hall was built in 1924, and has also served as a public library. It now functions as the county Visitors Information Center and area Chamber of Commerce. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and included in “A Guide to Florida’s Historic Architecture”. See more photos here.

I have a fondness for Chipley. After moving back down to live with Mom in early ’06, I took my first Panhandle roadtrip in October. It was a few weeks early, but I considered it my birthday treat. I got my digital camera for Christmas, and the next year I took my next Panhandle trip, this time a few days after my birthday. I started it in Chipley. It’s a four hour drive from Ocala to Chipley, so I left at 4 AM on a Saturday to get there early. Saw the sunrise as I got to the I-10 exit for Chipley. Thanks to Google, I was discombobulated, but I found my way to the historic stuff I wanted to see, then worked my way back east.

In March 2008, I left work early the Thursday before Easter so I could spend the night in Chipley. It’s about halfway between Tallahassee and Pensacola, so it was a great starting point to amble my way through the hills and woods along U.S. 90 through the Easter weekend. I didn’t go back for my birthday that year, since that’s when Mom wasn’t feeling good and she was subsequently diagnosed with cancer.

The following year I didn’t do much roadtripping at all, since I wanted to spend as much time with Mom while she was still with us. She passed in early 2010, and by November I was ready for another Panhandle roadtrip. I took a couple of days off work and made it an extra long weekend. I of course went through Chipley.

Last year, of course, was the unemployment, and by November I didn’t feel like going anywhere. Now that I’m gainful again, I’m looking forward to making Panhandle birthdays a regular tradition. And I’m sure I”ll go through or stay in Chipley during the journey.

Well, that’s it, round one done. I’ve done a “Where is Florida” for every county. Guess it’s time for round two.

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