Tuesday, February 18, 2014
Kicking back in the Keys
February 10-17, 2014
We are very lucky to have a free place to stay in the Keys at my brother’s home on Dodge Lake in Marathon. The lake has a canal that leads out to the Gulf so we can kayak right from his pier. Staying in his driveway is much better than it sounds as we also have 50 amp power and full hook-ups. What’s not to like? This is our third year enjoying this spot and we feel quite grateful to be here.
Our dogs may be even more excited as they can be leash free with lots of play time with their “cousins,” plus they have access to the water. My brother Mike has an incredibly big driveway as it holds both his 40’ American Dream motorhome, our 36’ Phaeton motorhome, with plenty of room leftover for our Jeep and his Nissan truck. We even have a lovely view of palm trees and water from our front window.
My favorite part of his waterfront yard is hanging out by the pier or swinging in the hammock. Rico, proving true to his original nickname of “Loaf,” decided he likes to join me in the hammock. Life is pretty sweet rocking with your dog in a hammock.
Our first week here has been pretty low key (like the pun). The weather the first few days was on the warm and humid side, then a storm blew in with temperatures dropping to the 60s. For us, it’s all good except the weather does influence our choice of activities, especially the wind when we are considering kayaking. My first activity of choice is not weather dependent at all; it was to buy ten punch cards for the local Zumba class that I liked so well last year. I only go three or four times a week, but it is a major highlight for my mornings as I really like the instructors and their choice of music. It is like starting each day with a party. Fun.
One cloudy and cool day we headed down US 1 about twenty miles to check out the Key Deer National Wildlife Refuge—something we had not done before. The Key Deer, a smaller subspecies of white tailed deer that are only native to the Keys is an endangered species. Fortunately, in 1957, the government established a National Wildlife Refuge to protect them which has helped increase their numbers, but cars are still the primary threat to the population. When you travel on US 1 on Big Pine Key, where the refuge is located, there are signs everywhere to reduce your speed and watch for deer. Most people follow these warnings as there is a $10,000 fine for hitting one. Ouch.
The refuge itself is about four or five miles off the highway. Along the way is a place called the Blue Hole where the Key Deer supposedly hang out along with alligators, turtles, and wading birds. We stopped at the Blue Hole, but, alas, only saw a few alligators. For some reason, everything really did look blue even on a cloudy day.
The trail around the hole, an abandoned quarry, was closed so we headed further into the refuge hoping to see some deer. We did but they scattered way too quickly, so I wasn’t able to get a photo of them.
The refuge happens to be close to No Name Key, were there is a popular tourist attraction—a bar that once was part of a brothel dating back to the 1930s. By this time a cold beer sounded pretty good, so we stopped there to check out the famous No Name Pub. One of the most interesting features of the bar is the thousands of dollar bills hanging from the ceiling and walls. They estimate there are over 65,000 dollars papering the place. We were not hungry when we stopped but many go there for the pizza which is supposed to be darn good.
When we were here two years ago, we had the good fortune of taking part in an informal boondocking rally right on the ocean side of Knight’s Key with a daily view of the Seven Mile Bridge .(My brother is good friends with the man who used to own the Sunset Grille who still owns the vacant waterfront property next to it.) The bridge, an iconic part of the Key’s history, is one of several scenic sites along what is known as the Overseas Highway. The original bridge, built in the early 1900s as part of Henry Flagler’s Overseas Railroad, was replaced by a newer bridge in the late 1970s, but they kept spans of the old bridge for walking, biking, and fishing. We learned that we could walk the dogs on the old 2.2 mile section of the bridge spanning from Knight’s Key to Pigeon Key. I was worried that the dogs might be afraid, but the pathway is concrete and rather wide, so they did fine.
We liked the walk so much that we returned a few days later by bike. This time we rode from my brother’s house, about fifteen miles round trip. The big surprise for us was learning how bike friendly the Keys have become. The Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail now includes over 70 miles of pathways that parallel US 1 with a plan to complete the whole distance of 106 miles from Key Largo to Key West. The traffic on US 1 can be pretty gruesome, so biking on its shoulder would be treacherous. We only rode on the path about eight miles and, while it is great to have a separate trail, there are many side roads that intersect the trail so you have to be very alert—at least in the Vaca Key/ Marathon area.
Riding your bike opens up all kinds of vistas you wouldn’t see by car. We stopped at two lovely hotels to check them out. The first resort was called Tranquility Bay. I loved the plantation-looking architecture and their private beach.
The second place that caught our eye was called The Hammocks, appropriately named as they feature hammocks along the waterfront for their guests. The vacation villas here looked like a good getaway for those not living life on the road in a motorhome!
Our bike ride on the old bridge was great as they have walking paths on both sides with a wider path in the middle for bikes. As we were riding along someone pointed out to us that there were many stingrays in the water. There were at least a dozen of them in easy view, but I need a filter on my camera to get a better shot of anything underwater. We also saw a group of four dolphins cavorting around but they were too elusive for me.
There are lots of picturesque views from the bridge. From the end you can walk down to Pigeon Key, a national historical district, and tour the museum and surrounding buildings there. (We were not prepared to do this nor pay the $12 fee.) Pigeon Key was an important locale for housing the 400 workers who built the original bridge, once called the Eighth Wonder of the World, that was part of the Flagler Overseas Railroad.
Here are a few other shots from our bike ride on the bridge.
We have a local “bucket list” of things we want to do while we are here, but we have been pretty kicked back about checking off the list. Since we have both been to the Keys many times before (my father used to live here), we don’t feel as compelled to play tourists as we might be on our first trip to the “rodeo.” We both like experiencing life here in a more relaxed way. Having said that, tonight my brother and Vic were studying navigation charts for a trip to the Dry Tortugas National Park. At the top of my list is a snorkeling trip, but it doesn’t need to be in the Dry Tortugas. We are also looking forward to getting in some new kayaking trips, perhaps with Karen and Al of RV Travels.
I will be happy if I can say I read a whole novel in the hammock before we leave here. I read my very first novel, Pippi Longstocking, in a hammock at age eight. No wonder I am so compelled to swing between the palm trees every day. And, you might notice from the photos, that my brother has a lovely sailboat tied up to his dock. Sailing also used to be an important part of my life and there is a very good chance we will get Passion, his Tartan 40', out into the blue water. Stay tuned for Part II of this Pippi’s latest adventures.