Have you ever wanted to sell everything you own and just "take off?" Travel the country's back roads, paddle down a meandering stream, experience breath-taking mountain views, walk among 100-year old trees, and just marvel at America's beauty? That is the dream that my partner, Betsy, and I decided to make a reality. This blog describes our adventure. The food we eat, people we meet, sights we see, and the enjoyment we find in traveling.

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Florida Keys!

It is hard to believe that just last summer we were way up the east coast in Maine and now are way down south in the Florida Keys.  Like ducks, cranes, whales, and countless other migratory animals, we have decided to escape the harsh northern winters and enjoy our winter in warm, sunny Florida. Guess that officially makes us snow birds!
Key Largo sunrise.

At first, we did not have the Keys on our radar screen.  Betsy and I have been here many times on vacation and for meetings and felt we had “been there, done that.”  But somehow the lure of the Keys was pulling us farther south and we ended up in this paradise for two weeks.  If you have never been to the Keys you are missing some of the most beautiful water in the United States.  The Florida Keys exemplify the laid back attitude described in so many Jimmy Buffet songs and is an aquatic paradise.  Once you drive south from Miami and enter Key Largo, a relaxed feeling wafts over you.

Crystal clear blue water is plentiful in the Keys.
From Key Largo to Key West is a 126-mile long journey along historic U.S. Route 1.  The road leads you over 42 bridges and through a series of keys with names like "Marathon," "Big Pine," “Sunshine,” “Fiesta,” “Conch,” and “No Name.” In all, there are over 1,700 islands in the Keys archipelago.  The restaurants have thatched roofs, every block has a bait store, and boats dart around the water eagerly looking for a prized fish.  But what really gives the Keys its true character and feeling of uniqueness is the human inhabitants - the diverse myriad of authors, musicians, artists, boat captains, and countless other characters that don’t want to exist in “the real world” so they come to live in the Keys.


The prominent feature of the Keys, is the Florida Reef (a.k.a. The Great Florida Reef, Florida Reef Tract) which is the only living coral reef in the United States and the third largest system in the world (behind the Great Barrier Reef and the Belize Barrier Reef).  This 358-mile long reef shadows Florida’s east coast from the St. Lucie inlet south to the Dry Tortugas (lying just south of Key West).  Between the reef and the mainland is a large shallow expanse of ocean floor as seen through crystal clear water.  The area is so rich in natural resources that is has earned the distinctions “dive capital of the world” (Key Largo) and “sport fishing capital of the world” (Islamorada). 

Our first stop was a brief stay at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park.  The name alone was luring us so we booked a campsite and headed to our first coral reef state park on this adventure.  Pennekamp is the first undersea park in the United States and boasts some of the best snorkeling and diving.  The park is small in terms of land that lies above water but it is the 178 nautical square miles of seagrass beds, coral reefs, mangrove swamps, and sandy beaches that makes this one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems in the country and attracts visitors.   A great introduction to the coral reef and marine system is a stop in the visitor center.  The center features a 30,000 gallon saltwater aquarium, nature exhibits, and a theater showing nature videos.  The park concessionaire offers snorkel and dive trips to the reef and rents kayaks and motor boats.  Head over to Cannon Beach for a little snorkeling that has great marine and artifacts from a 1715 shipwreck, featuring cannons and an anchor. 
The visitor center aquariums and exhibits.
The lion fish - an exotic, invasive species that is highly predatory and voracious.  The presence of
this species in an area has been attributed to the decline of other native species.  What to do?
Eat it! Many restaurants have put it on the menu and conservation agencies host lion fish fishing derbies.
The coral reef features nearly 600 species of fish.
We were only in the keys two days before the 3rd annual Key Largo Stone Crab and Seafood Festival kicked into high gear.  We New Orleans girls are used to festivals and love them even more when they revolve around food.  There were conch fritters, lobster ceviche, coconut mahi-mahi, key lime pie, stone crab, chowders, and many more delectables from the sea.  Lobster here is the spiny or Florida lobster and as much as we love lobster, it’s not cold water Maine “lobsta” and doesn’t have that sweet taste.  I love the fish tacos and Betsy always goes for the coconut shrimp and stone crab.
We passed on the Louisiana gumbo in order to get Florida specialties.
We could not pass up this booth.
The festival had numerous eating contests, including conch fritters.  Not only did contestants
have to eat all the fritters, they had to drink the cup of cocktail sauce!  Note the Maine lobsta bibs.
This booth struck us as funny.
No shortage of food and we had to try it all.
This is what we came for....stone crab, Key West pink shrimp, and lobster.  Yum!
Stay tuned for more posts on the Keys as we work our way through the maze of beautiful islands, delicious restaurants, and unique attractions.

Even Spirit is enjoying the water and playing on the beach.

2 comments:

  1. My husband, RVPainter, is, this very moment, looking at our Florida itinerary for NEXT year. I know you have inspired some new ideas in him. He says he will make me a presentation when I get home from teaching my yoga class. I really really hope the Keys are on that itinerary. :-)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Now that looks like some good living. So happy to see Spirit partake.

    ReplyDelete

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