24.55.90N 81.80.50W Key West
weather- mostly sunny, wind e/se- 10-15mph Temperature- 90f
The journey starts here- the southern most point in the US- in the city of Key West, FL . This is a far south as you can drive on the Overseas Highway that transits the upper, middle and lower keys beyond the tip of Florida. Once just islands in the turquoise stream inhabited by intrepid Indian tribes, the islands were ‘discovered’ by the Spanish in the 1500’s. When they arrived in Key West they found the beaches littered with human bones and named the island Cayo Hueso- island of bones- which the ensuing British inhabitants morphed into Key West. By the 1800’s the US had claimed all of Florida. Key West had become a melting pot of Bahamians, Cubans, English, wreckers and pirates and many others who provide the colorful profile of today’s “Conchs”.
Art and architecture is the backdrop to throngs of tourists that plod along Duval Street and celebrate the sunset at Mallory Square and in the multitude of open-air bars for which this city is famous. Freeform ‘entertainers’ appear at various times of the day and night – bands perform constantly- cruise ships blast their deafening horns calling their refugees home- the sun beats down on all slowing the pace of life while roosters crow along the alleys startling passersby. Do wander off the main drag in Old Town and discover classic 1800’s houses many built by shipwrights and inhabited by the wealthy captains who struck it rich at the demise of the many wrecked ships along the reefs. During the mid 1800’s Key West was the richest city per capita in the US.
Activities? There are plenty. A ride on the local Conch Train will give you an overview of the island and it’s history. Or…
Take the high-speed ferry to the Dry Tortugas National Park– really the western most islands in the keys. Snorkel, fish, shop, tour several forts, museums, historic buildings like Earnest Hemingway’s house and the birth place of Pan American Airlines. Hungry? There are many great restaurants featuring creative Caribbean cuisine and local fresh fish. The Rooftop Cafe, A&B Lobster House, Bagatelle and Antonia’s are just a start. A cold beer and music at the Hogs Breath Saloon or Sloppy Joe’s tops off the day or night. Accommodations are plentiful with high-end hotels to quaint B&Bs. Certain annual events can crimp the availability so plan ahead. But do plan and do go!
The Native Mood…
The usual mood in Key West is relaxed and cheery. The current mood of the locals is apprehensive and a bit heavy. The looming oil spill has yet to arrive here and many are already affected by the economy. Yet the beat goes on and everyone has their fingers crossed.
The keys are navigated by a series of Mile Markers- MM’s- with Key West being at MM-0. The little green signs are on both sides of US 1 which is the only road in and out of the keys.
On Lower Sugarloaf Key at MM 17 is an unmarked piece of history.
In 1912 Richter Perky wanted to make the keys more attractive to visitors who cringed at the black clouds of bloodthirsty mosquitoes. He heard that bats love to eat bugs so he built a tall bat tower and imported bats to start the control effort. The bats promptly left, probably driven out by their intended prey. Perky’s Bat Tower still stands and on our recent visit seems to house numerous bees. Turn in by the Sugarloaf Airport sign and drive along the dirt road bearing left. There is no sign, no admission, nobody around but worth a stop.