Wednesday, July 22, 2009

WEEK 1 - The Keys

Sometimes you can be having so much fun it's hard to stop what you're doing to journal. Harold and Kristen invited us to come with them to Marathon, FL, for 2 weeks in July. I looked forward to going to spending time with the kids, relaxing, enjoying tourist sites, fresh seafood, etc. It turned out I left with Harold and 2 of the grandchildren, the boat, tons of provisions, etc. to set up the house, etc., and Kristen would follow several days later - then RV would come pick me up into the second week. If you weren't on the fishing team, there was a giant pool, books from the best sellers list, and side trips for whoever might be interested.

I won't go into a lot of detail, but there were up to 23 (adults and children) staying in this huge house throughout the 2 weeks - and we all had a great time. The boats would leave early in the a.m. to go out about 30 miles to fish for mahi. Some days were better than others, but we never did without delicious, fresh mahi, yellow fin tuna, and snapper, (if they stayed closer to land). We went out to local seafood restaurants frequently; however, I think most will agree the best meals were the ones we planned ourselves. Several evenings we took the cleaned mahi fillets to "Chilly Willie's" to prepare blackened mahi for us with 2 sides - only $8.95.

When you are getting to know your way around the Keys you notice green and white signs called mile markers (MM), often referred to as mile posts, beginning with Mile Marker 126, just south of Florida City and ending with Mile Marker Zero in Key West. When asking for directions in the Keys, your answer will likely be, just before or just beyond a mile marker number.


O.K., we've had about a week to get comfortable in our surroundings and now some of our friends leave as others are arriving. I felt like the senior camp counselor. The delicacy and taste of mahi is not as appealing anymore. It is delicious, yes, but we have had it about every day. When the boats come back in, there are coolers of the bounty for the day, and then they are fileted and ready for that evening.

It is obvious this area is getting ready for their mini-lobster season and we are there on an off-week, thank goodness. Lobster traps line the roads, beaches, everywhere! We had dinner one evening at Keys' Kitchens, the largest lobster distributor in the world. Why have I been going to Joe's Stone Crabs in South Miami when this is where Joe's gets their Stone Crabs?! This is definitely not a fancy restaurant in Marathon; however, this isn't where they make their money either. I had the lobster reuben - they sell hundreds of these everyday. It is so laid back it may not be fancy enough for some people - but look at that sunset! They don't even charge for that.

One evening before RV arrived, we went to the Islamorado Fish Company and enjoyed one of the most spectacular sunsets ever, and were able to chill, take family pictures, and enjoy what this area offers.

Both boats sacrificed a fishing day for a snorkeling day, and everyone got to participate. Everyone from the age of 1 to who-knows-how old, were enjoying areas designated for seeing hundreds of varieties of fish.

July 4th was spectacular! We took both boats close to the fireworks at Sombrero Key, on the Atlantic side, and watched as the sun set. The radio was synched to the fireworks so we listened to plenty of patriotic songs for the evening. The mosquitos must have been disturbed, because on the way back to the house, while cruising through a mangrove swamp, we were all attacked and several endured mosquito bites for the rest of the week.

It's Wednesday, Week 2, and now I'm beginning to wonder how I'm going to get back to the RV, and RV. It is my birthday, and Kristen and I are enjoying a spa day in Islamorada, and there were several occasions I said to her, "Did Dad mention if he was coming? Should I be looking for a bus, train or meet him somewhere on the interstate?" No answer. Hmmm. Well, we're having lunch at the Morado Inn on the beach, and who comes strolling up like Cary Grant, but RV....just like that! (Have I dated myself, or what!) He did arrive early enough to enjoy some of the closing festivities of the week. I failed to mention Chris and Lauren even came by on their way from Miami (a cruise) back to Atlanta. That's a funny story, too. And then we had a great trip back to Florida Grande in Webster. We were so blessed - everyone made it back home with many memories of the past 2 weeks, or whatever part of the festivities they participated.


A day trip on Week 2 to the Dolphin Research Center in Grassy Key was especially interesting; however, the hot Florida sun baked all of us into submission, and we probably left before we got to see everything. Like the Turtle Hospital, there are many injured and elderly bottle-nose dolphins that make their way to this facility on the Bayside of the Keys. This facility is between Islamorada and Marathon, so it was a very scenic drive. It was amazing how much the dolphins interacted with the audience as well as keeping their eyes on the dolphins in the other enclosed facilities. While we were there the staff was moving the oldest known dolphin in captivity, and the dolphins were so distracted, they could hardly perform. This facility is probably one of the oldest in the world, and their staff is awesome.

Always on the lookout for a special RV resort or clean RV park, we found one in Grassy Key, MM58.7. This resort has only been opened since last Fall, located on the Bayside, and has all the facilities you'd look for in a first class facility. Being on the western side of the road heading south, you are in for a drop-dead gorgeous sunset every night. We hope we can get back there before all the snowbirds get back in November/December. If you're an RVer, and if you might be interested in seeing what we found, go to

While we're mentioning RV resorts, week 2 when RV had arrived, gave us an opportunity to drive to several RV resorts we may want to visit in the future. You always have to see if the lots are big enough for your coach, and how easy or difficult it is to get in and out of these places. One beautiful resort is Bluewater Key RV Resort at MM 14.5. If you want to get that close to Key West, this gated Class A RV community has lots that average 30-35'wide by 70-80' deep. All sites have tiki huts and tables. Many waterfront lots have decks and docks and many amenities, but you have to want to be very close to Key West to enjoy this facility. Another RV resort and marina we would consider would be Knights Key RV Resort and Marina at MM 47, (near Marathon). This resort is right by the Pigeon Key Visitors Center and 47 miles from Key West. There are lots of restaurants in this area and the prices are from very reasonable to very pricey.


As you are heading south of Marathon, near MM48, you can exit to Pigeon Key, a tiny island that once served as a construction camp for the Flagler railroad workers, to be taken to the museum or enjoy a self guided walking tour of the grounds which include historical buildings and educational facilities.

Throughout Florida we have seen the Greenways and Trails maintained by the Dept. of Environmental Protection's Office of Greenways and Trails. In the Keys there will be a 106 mile scenic corridor extending from Key Largo to Key West - linking 32 islands. What I found interesting is that the central component of the Heritage Trail is the Old Keys Bridges. I have studied and read about the Gilded Age where Henry Flagler envisioned a railroad that would promote a cultural and economic connection with Cuba, the Panama Canal and South America. The project to Key West, begun in 1904, was finally completed in 1912 and heralded to be the "Eighth Wonder of the World". Today all 23 of the remaining Flagler Railroad Bridges are on the National Register of Historic Places. During this time, Florida laws allowed railroad builders to claim land for every mile of track they built. Henry Flagler built so many miles of roadroad, he ended up with 2 million acres of land.

There are so many stories, books and details written about Henry Flagler's life experiences. It has been said Henry Flagler first built Standard Oil and then built the State of Florida. An interesting side trip would be to go to the Flagler Memorial Presbyterian Church in St. Augustine, FL., built in 1890, as a memorial to his daughter who died after complications from childbirth. Henry Flagler, his first wife, Mary Harkness, and his daughter are buried in a burial chamber to the side as you enter the beautiful church. If you have ever seen the old Ponce de Leon Hotel (now Flagler College), the church is on the street in back of the old Hotel.

TURTLE HOSPITAL - Marathon, FL, Mile Marker 48.5 Bayside

Do people really fish this much? I know they do, just kidding. The trip has been so much fun. Would I have ever gone to the Turtle Hospital at MM 48.5 Bayside? We saw so many turtles at various stages of rehab at this not-for-profit hospital being cared for by volunteers, volunteer turtle surgeons, etc. Five of seven species of sea turtles are in the Keys. We saw these the day we visited: Loggerhead, Green, Hawksbill, Leatherback and Kemps Ridley. All of these are on the Endangered Species list, with the exception of the Loggerhead, which is Threatened. You'd want to work here because the turtles are so interesting, but it might be best if you just take the hour and a half tour. There is a real possibility that some or all may become extinct in the next hundred years. Some of the turtles in captivity will never leave, and will live longer than 75 years. By the way, if you like Sea Turtles that much, you might like to shop at their online store:


Do you know what synchronicity is? Well, it happens so much right now, I am always pleasantly surprised every day. When RV and I started back (sans RV) to where we left the RV at Florida Grande in Webster, it looked like an interesting and scenic route would be take US Highway 27 out of Key Largo. Neither of us had been on this unusual route before. What I kept imagining was the beating this road took when hurricanes and storms would come through. It is a wonderful RV road - 4 lanes most of the way, so we'll definitely go back in the RV on our way to the Keys, hopefully in the Fall. We also want to stop around Lake Okeechobee to stay at South Bay, FL, near Clewiston - on U.S. Highway 27, surprisingly in Palm Beach, County.

When you start seeing sugar cane fields on both sides of the road, you know you're near Clewiston, Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades. We stopped for lunch at the Clewiston Inn and fate took us to The Everglades Lounge, since the dining room was reserved for a wedding reception that day. Upon entering, you see a 360-degree canvas mural depicting Everglades' scenery and wildlife. J. Clinton Shepherd, a famous international artist in that day, finished painting the mural in 1945, after working on it almost 2 years, and it is a must-see during your visit. The mural has been valued in excess of a million dollars.

The Clewiston Inn was built in 1938 for the United States Sugar Corporation to host company executives and visiting dignitaries. (President Hoover visited to dedicate the Hoover Dike (which surrounds Lake Okeechobee) in his honor. During WWII, British and American Air Force cadets who were training at nearby Riddle Field, met at the Inn to socialize, sing and play the piano. The Inn is still a storm shelter during hurricane warnings.

The Inn has 52 rooms, a warm lobby with pecky Cypress paneling, beamed ceilings, and a wood-burning fireplace. The Inn and everything within reflects old Florida and its vanishing ambience.