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.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

More Keys Please...

We scored one of the best sites in the park.
Our view was the ocean.
On our way further south in the Keys, we hit some fun tourist spots.  We were lucky enough to score eleven nights at the campground in Curry Hammock State Park so we left John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park  early and headed deeper into the Keys.  Curry Hammock is right on the ocean!  In fact some campsites are less than 20 yards from the beautiful sand and crystal clear water.  The park is in hot demand because of its location and small size (only 26 sites)
Sunrise in Curry Hammock State Park.  The campsites are just over the dunes on the right side of the picture.
Our drive south took us by the “Hurricane Monument” - a memorial to the hundreds of citizens and veterans that perished in the “Great Hurricane” on Labor Day in 1935.  The savage hurricane battered the island of Islamorada with sustained winds of 200 mph for many terrorizing hours.  The storm destroyed many buildings and the vital Florida East Coast Railroad.  Many who perished were World War I Veterans who were stationed on Matecumbe Key while working on the construction of U.S. Highway 1 for the Works Progress Administration (WPA).  In 1937, the cremated remains of 300 people were placed in the tiled crypt in the front of the monument that is cared for by local veterans, decedents of the deceased and local citizens.

The Florida Keys Memorial - known locally as the "Hurricane Monument."
My new best friend.
One of our favorite sojourns was to the unique museum that explores the history of diving.  It is only fitting that this museum is located just down the road from the “dive capital of the world” (Key Largo).  The History of Diving Museum definitely makes our list of “must see” things to do in the Keys.  Even if you don’t dive, this museum is interesting, entertaining, and informational.  A brief video kicks off your visit and then you are off on your own to explore the maze of diving helmets, breathing apparatus, treasure, and many other  interesting artifacts.  The museum claims to have the largest collection of historical diving apparatus in the world.  (I have never been to another diving museum so I can’t verify this claim.)  The museum collection includes artifacts that tell the story of diving history which spans 4,000 years and began with “breath hold diving.” The museum was the brain child of Drs. Joe and Sally Bauer who pursued careers as marine biologists and were avid SCUBA divers and diving historians.  Their passion was to learn the evolution and history of man’s entry into the sea and to share their findings with others.

The evolution of diving helmets.
"Iron Duke" - the body armor that allowed a diver to reach  depths of 450 feet in order to collect
sunken treasure that amounted in 10 tons of silver and 5 tons of gold (c. 1931).
One of our favorite exhibits was the hall “Parade of Nations” – an impressive gallery displaying signature dive helmets from 24 nations.  The helmets are creatively fashioned in an eye-catching display set to narration and accompanying illumination that makes this static exhibit extremely interesting.  Other galleries in the museum include the timeline of diving, commercial diving applications, treasure found beneath the sea, deep diving into the “abyss,” the evolution of SCUBA, and many more.
The impressive "Parade of Nations" helmet display.
We loved this exhibit - homemade diving helmets!  Some crazy inventions.
The "Rum Runner - a 1920's helmet used to
smuggle booze during Prohibition.  Contraband was
dropped into the Detroit river and retrieved by divers.
Scary diving apparatus.
The Treasure Room.
Wanting to see some land animals, we decided to drive down to the National Key Deer National Wildlife Refuge.  The 9,200-acre refuge combines a patchwork of habitats set aside by the federal government to protect the endangered Key deer, the smallest of the sub-species of Virginia white-tailed deer which only weigh 50-75 pounds.  The current population is estimated between 600 and 750 individuals who are easily viewed from refuge overlooks, trails, and along the road.  The deer were isolated in the maze of islands some 4,000-10,000 years ago when the Wisconsin glacier melted and ocean levels rose, creating a chain of islands.  The Key deer population is geographically and genetically isolated from other populations of white-tail deer and has evolved and adapted to the subtropical, island environment.
You don't have to look too far to find Key deer.
Key deer are so habituated to people that they will come very close. But remember, do not feed!
Visitor Center on Big Pine Key includes all the National Wildlife Refuges in the Keys (including National Key
Deer, Crocodile Lake, Great White Heron, and Key West.)
So why are the Key deer endangered?  The reason is simple – humans.  Human encroachment and habitat alteration have reduced suitable habitat.  Additionally, human interaction (mostly through feeding) has altered behavior and made them more susceptible to disease, car collisions, poaching, and dog attacks.  Unfortunately, automobile-related deaths claimed the lives of 150 individuals in 2011 thus making that the highest number of deer killed by cars on record.

Along the way through the Keys we filled our bellies with food, our souls with fun, and made new friends.  We had a great dinner with our friend Bruce who spends his summers in Bar Harbor (and makes delicious pizza) and his winters in the Keys.  We made new friends, Hugh and Pat, who provided us with lots of laughs and great restaurant recommendations.  We followed Hugh and Pat's recommendation to head south to Boondocks on Ramrod Key (mile marker 27 1/2) for the coconut shrimp, bang bang shrimp, and stuffed mushrooms.  Delicious! And when your done with lunch, there is a put put golf course next store so you can burn off the five thousand calories you just ate.  In addition to Boondocks, we recommend Keys Fisheries for great laid-back seafood where we dined next to Linda Greenlaw - author and swordfish boat captain.  (Greenlaw has authored numerous fiction, non-fiction, and cookbooks, and is featured on the History Channel show "Swords.").  While in Marathon, we chowed down at Sparky's Landing two nights in a row.  Make sure you go early so you can get in on the for the 25-cent peel n' eat shrimp and chicken wings.  Or, try my favorite - fish tacos.
Betsy and Bruce at Keys Fisheries.

More pictures below...
Relaxing at Boondocks after stuffing ourselves.
Morning sunrise at Curry Hammock State Park.
Outdoor concert at the beach in Curry Hammock State Park.
One of the invasive, exotic iguanas that have invaded the park.
Boo hoo!
An exhibit along the wildflower trail at the park. 
Spirit guarding the motorhome.
Sleepy dog.

1 comment:

  1. Spirit didn't look very happy. I hate dog discrimination. In all honesty, my dogs have better manners than a lot of people we know.


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