Key West, Florida
6/6/17 to 6/15/17
Tuesday 6/6/17 and Wednesday 6/7/17 Since we were so far south in Florida we decided our next stop should be Key West. Who knows if we will ever be back to Florida with the trailer. Looking at the map it was a little too far to drive with the trailer in one day so I found a campground in Homestead, FL which was about a three-hour drive from Fort Myers and just south of Miami, FL. One thing we learned about Florida and June is that it rains, a lot. It rained most of Monday night and was still raining on and off this morning. We waited for it to quit but we had to leave Shady Acres by 11:00 a.m. So we hooked up in the pouring down rain. Plus it rained most of the day. The fastest way to Homestead is by using Interstate 75 but we were in no hurry so we took Route 41 which is also known as Tamiami Trail which runs from Tampa to Miami. This was the first road to run through the Everglades and was built in the 20's. The road name is a contraction of the phrase "Tampa to Miami". Once we got through Naples it narrowed down to a two-lane road with a speed limit of between 50 and 60 mph. Not really much to see but swampland and of course it rained (poured) most of the way so the three-hour drive turned into over four hours.
I called ahead and made reservations for two nights at a place called The Boardwalk RV Resort. Mainly because I could use my Passport America Card again and stay there for half price. Even though I check all these RV Campgrounds online we really don't know what they're like until we get there. Well, this one was a big disappointment. This place was basically a mobile home park with a few RV spots at one end. We were assigned a spot back in the corner of their property. Problem was that right behind the fence was a crossroad with a 4 way stop sign. All day and all night we could hear cars stopping and going. A lot of them with bad mufflers or loud music. (and not our style of music) We did meet an interesting man from Alabama. He had been staying in the park for about a month in a home built trailer. We actually thought it was a portable hot tub when we first parked next to it. He lived almost like he was homeless and had some stories to tell. It rained both days we stayed there so the only thing we got to do was drive a little closer to Miami to get gas, eat lunch and do a little shopping.
Thursday 6/8/17 We left Homestead FL and headed to the Florida Keys. As you might know staying anywhere in the Keys is expensive. I researched campgrounds and found another one that accepted Passport America. This place was called Sunshine Key RV Resort and Marina. It's located at mile marker 39 on Highway 1 also known as The Overseas Highway. There is only one road to Key West and everyone uses mile markers as landmarks. The middle of Key West is mile marker 0 so our campground is 39 miles from the center of Key West. This wasn't a bad place, but because it's been raining so much some of the interior roads had standing water. We got a decent site but had to jump over puddles as we set up. We had booked two nights here but eventually, I wanted to get closer to Key West. Because of the two-lane road and traffic, traveling 39 miles takes about an hour. So after we got set up I used the computer and searched for closer campgrounds. We wrote down about seven of them and spent the rest of the night visiting them and getting rates. We worked our way towards Key West stopping at each campground along the way. Then we drove around Key West for a while. We had to check the place out to get a little familiar with it. Looking for parking areas, things to do and just getting the lay of the land for the next couple of days.
Friday 6/9/17 Right down the road was Bahia Honda, State Park. We saw this park last night and drove in. There was a $9.00 entrance fee and since it was late in the day we decided to come back early the next day. We picked up an information pamphlet and continued on. Looking at the pamphlet later it said the park encompasses 525 acres, had 3.5 miles of biking, hiking trails, an RV campground, a tenting campground and a beach. We brought our bikes with us and rode the length of the park and back, did a short nature hike, and swam at the beach for a while. They also have a short trail that takes you to the old railroad bridge for some great views of the beach and ocean. A lot of online reviews say this is one of the best beaches in Florida but we disagree. The beach is very small and has a lot of sea grass in the water. Plus parts of the park had a "rotting vegetation" smell. To us, it smelled like an open sewer. There's a lot of seaweed or sea grass that washes up on shore and rots. Not our first choice for a great beach.
Saturday 6/10/17 Today we are moving to a campground very close to Key West. We wanted to be close enough to ride our bikes into the city. The closest campground is called Boyd's Key West Campground and is located at mile marker 5. We packed up the trailer and moved down the road about 34 miles. Boyd's is a pretty nice campground but since it's so close to Key West it's cost per night is expensive. More than we usually pay. But we splurged for 2 days. Once we got set up we had lunch in the trailer then got on our bikes and headed into Key West.
Key West is a very bike-friendly city. There is a bike path all along Highway 1 and inside the city, there are wide sidewalks and bike lanes. It took us about 40 minutes to get to Duval Street which is where everybody goes. Duval Street is the famous downtown commercial zoned street in Key West, running north and south from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean. From shore to shore, the street is just over 1.25 miles in length. It's lined with bars, restaurants, souvenir shops, stores and is a great place to people watch. We rode our bikes up and down the street a couple times. With all the crowds and stoplights our bikes moved along just as fast as the cars. This is a great way to see Key West. Once we got into the city everything we wanted to see was just a short bike ride away. There are lots of rental places all through Key West for bikes, scooters and golf carts. The only problem for us was that it was very hot and humid and we were always in the sun.
We hit most of the tourist places. Mallory Square, Duval Street, Southernmost Point, Smathers Beach and The Key West Museum of Art & History. We rode from the RV park into Key West, circled the entire city along the water, rode up and down Duval Street and the headed back to the trailer. I would say we covered over 13 miles that day. We returned back to the trailer extremely tired and sunburned.
Sunday 6/11/17 Yesterday was just too much bike riding in the hot sun so today we took the truck into Key West. When we were down there yesterday we found a parking area near Mallory Square that was close to everything and easy to get the truck into. We still enjoyed riding the bikes around but riding from the RV park to the city was just too long. So we put the bike rack on the back of the truck and headed into town. This cuts out about eight miles of riding in the hot sun. There are a couple historical sites in Key West that we wanted to visit. The first one was the Truman Little White House. Just a short ride from Mallory Square.
The house was originally waterfront when it was built in 1890 as the first officer's quarters on the submarine base naval station. It was housing for the base commandant and the paymaster. In 1911 the home was converted into a single-family dwelling to house the base commandant and additional land was filled in front of the house. The waterfront view was eventually blocked by a new building at the station. In November 1946, President Harry S. Truman had finished 19 months in office but was physically exhausted. His doctor ordered a warm vacation. Truman arrived in November 1946. As he was leaving, he promised to return whenever he felt the need for rest. His second vacation came in March 1947. This set the pattern for additional visits every November–December and every February–March. Changing technology allowed the President to communicate with multiple political or world leaders at one time and he could summon staff to Key West for a meeting in three hours flight time from Washington. Most importantly, Truman realized that where the President was, the White House was. Truman spent 175 days of his presidency at the Little White House. It was an interesting tour. The house still had the original furniture that was used when Truman visited including the poker table that the tour guide said was used quite a bit. Sorry, but because this is still a government-owned building that current and past presidents can still use there was no photography permitted inside.
Our next stop was the Ernest Hemingway House. This was Hemingway's home from 1931 to 1939, although he retained title to the home until he died. It was in this house that Hemingway did some of his best work, including the short story classics "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" and "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber," his novel To Have and Have Not, and the non-fiction work Green Hills of Africa. He had a writing studio above the carriage house in the back of the property. It still had all the original furniture and the typewriter that he used for writing. One of the big draws of the Hemingway house is the six-toed cats that roam the grounds. The Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum is home to approximately 53 polydactyl (six-toed) cats. Cats normally have five front toes and four back toes. About half of the cats at the museum have the physical polydactyl trait but they all carry the polydactyl gene in their DNA, which means that the ones that have four and five toes can still mother or father six-toed kittens. Most cats have extra toes on their front feet and sometimes on their back feet as well. Sometimes it looks as if they are wearing mittens because they appear to have a thumb on their paw. Supposedly Ernest Hemingway was given a white six-toed cat by a ship’s captain and most of the cats who live on the museum grounds are descendants of that original cat, Snow White. There are cats everywhere and they have the run of the property, inside and out. Most were named after friends of Hemingway and there is even a cat cemetery on the grounds.
Our next stop was Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory. This butterfly park houses 50 to 60 different species of live butterflies from around the world in a climate-controlled, glass-enclosed habitat. The conservatory includes flowering plants, cascading waterfalls, and trees. There are also several species of free-flying "butterfly friendly" birds, such as red-factor canaries, zebra finches, cordon-blue finches and "button" or Chinese painted quail. There is also a learning center where guests can get a close-up view of a variety of live caterpillars feeding and developing on their host plants.
After the Butterfly and Nature Conservatory, we rode our bikes through the streets of Key West heading back to the parking lot. We took a lot of side roads just to see how some of the people live in Key West. Many of the houses just off Duval Street are very small and most have been turned into rental units or bed and breakfasts. It seems that if you own a house here you could make a lot of money renting it out. We ate dinner at a place called Caroline's Cafe on Duval St. Sat at a table outside near the road and watched the people go by as we ate. Riding our bikes in the heat and humidity really wore us out. After dinner we went back to the truck, loaded up the bikes and headed back to our trailer.
Monday 6/12/17 Today we moved again. Boyd's Campground is a nice place but because it's the closest campground to Key West it is costly. And other than being so close, it's just like any other campground, nothing special. The other day as we were driving around looking at different RV parks we came across one that is really special. It's at mile marker 14.5 which is still pretty close to Key West but not close enough to ride our bikes. But that's okay, we learned that we can't go too far on our bikes in this heat and humidity. This place is called Bluewater Key RV Resort and it's pretty unique. Their brochure says it's The Most Beautiful RV Resort in the Florida Keys. We Agree. What's unique about this place is that all the lots are owned by individuals and the owners can improve their lots as they wish. Most of the owners spend the winter here and then rent out their lot when they're gone. I did a quick search on the internet and there were a few lots for sale. Prices ranged from 300 thousand to 1.2 million. Just for the lot! So we made reservations here for 4 days just to relax and pretend we were rich. The cost per night varies depending on the upgrades and if they are on the water. We chose one of the cheaper lots but it was still one of the nicest we've ever stayed at. The nightly rate at this place was actually less expensive than Boyd's. Every lot has a tiki hut, some have full kitchens with running water, tables, and chairs. Of course, there are also 400 thousand dollar motor homes parked here. Check out some of the pictures of Bluewater Key Luxury RV Resort below.
Tuesday 6/13/17 We didn't have any plans today so we just relaxed at the pool for a while and enjoyed our beautiful campsite.
Wednesday 6/14/17 Most of the morning we just relaxed around our campsite but one more thing we wanted to do before leaving Key West was to catch a sunset at Mallory Square and see Duval St. after dark. So after enjoying our tropical paradise most of the day, we headed back to Key West around 4:00. The waterfront of Mallory Square faces west and there's a sunset celebration every evening. About two hours before sunset, street vendors and street performers start to set up in the square. We got there early so we could find a parking space. Since we had time to kill we walked the length of Duval St. again and stopped at a small restaurant that sold pizza by the slice. After sitting for a while we walked back to Mallory Square and the crowds had already started to gather. Lots of people were already sitting close to the water's edge to get the best view of the sunset. There were acrobats, a sword swallower, musicians, psychics and a few other acts. Of course, all expecting a tip after their performance. Plus stands selling jewelry, Key West souvenirs, paintings, crafts etc. We walked around looking at everything for a while and then claimed our spot at the waterfront for the sunset. One of the vendors was selling photos of sunsets from Mallory Square and today ours didn't look anything like his pictures. It was a nice sunset but not spectacular. But at least we experienced a Sunset at Mallory Square in Key West.
After the sunset, we walked Duval St. again. It's a different place at night because of all the bars and cooler temperatures. If you're interested here's a link to a live sidewalk cam from one of the famous Key West bars, Sloppy Joe's. Click Here.
We were expecting more action at night but because of the time of year, it wasn't too exciting. Because we don't frequent bars, we walked around for a while then headed back to the truck and got back to the trailer around 10:00 PM.
Thursday 06/15/17 We didn't have any plans today so we just enjoyed our site in The Most Beautiful RV Resort in The Florida Key for our last day. Heading out tomorrow. We had a great time in The Florida Keys and Key West. One more place to check off our list. The weather was hot but it really didn't rain much the whole time we were here and we had a beautiful place to call home for four days.
A couple of things that are unique to the keys that we noticed. The first thing is the Gypsy Chickens and Roosters in Key West. There are roosters and chickens all through Key West and some of the other Keys. We saw them everywhere, in Boyd's Campground, (waking us up at dawn), on the streets of Key West, Mallory Square, even in the open air restaurants and souvenir shops just walking around freely. I looked this up on the internet and there are several versions of why there are chickens roaming free. The initial version is as follows: People in earlier times migrated to Key West and because of its isolation from food sources, they brought their own chickens with them, providing eggs, meat and of course reproduction of the species. As Key West became more connected to the rest of the world and with the advent of local markets and supermarkets carrying these products, some people quit raising these chickens and they were more or less released. No longer being fed by their owners, the chickens were able to survive off of the native insects, lizards, scorpions and worms around town. It is said that the chickens have helped to minimize cockroaches in tropical Key West.
Another thing we saw a lot of was green Iguanas. These things are also all over the place. We've seen them in the campgrounds, on the streets and sidewalks. They sun themselves on the warm blacktop, brick, and cement. At first, these shocked us, but after a while, we got used to them. The largest one we saw was probably over 3 feet long. They're pretty fast too and run away as you get closer to them.
Another thing down here that we don't see in in Ohio are land crabs. We've seen these crabs on the sidewalks, roads and along trails that we've taken. They dig holes in the dirt and run and hide when they see you coming. It's funny to walk along a trail or sidewalk and you can see them all running to their holes to hide. They are not all close to water and they get pretty big. We saw one as big a dinner plate and his hole looked like a groundhog hole. They have one big claw, one small claw and run on eight legs. It's hard to get a picture because they see you from a pretty good distance. I stood by one of the holes and the one below started to come out.
One more thing about Key West is that there is a Naval Air Base on Boca Chica Key, four miles east of the central business district of Key West. It's a state-of-the-art training facility for air-to-air combat fighter aircraft of all military services, with favorable flying conditions year round and unparalleled aerial ranges that offer aircrew training within minutes after takeoff. You can hear and see jet fighters flying around all day long starting around 8:00 AM. At first, I thought these were commercial jets taking off from the Key West Airport but they sound a lot different. Kind of like a rocket ship taking off and you can also feel the rumble. The flight path must be right over our campground at Bluewater Key.
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