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Destination -- Florida Keys


The Florida Keys is a haven for nature lovers. The skies and wetlands teem with bird life, and under the sea the gentle manatee feeds on swaying sea grass. The Florida Keys is an original, if fading American treasure.

 

Around 75 keys or islands stretch 220 miles from the mainland to the outer islands at the end of the closely knit island string. They lie in shallow water on a long underwater extension from the mainland protected by a living coral reef to the south and east caused by the Gulf Stream. Wading birds can feed miles from shore. Hundreds of square miles of seagrasses, hardwood land forests, mangrove swamps, wetlands, salt marshes support hundreds of species of fish, fowl, flora and fauna. Fascinating examples are the large gentle sea mammal Manatee, the large Hawksbill Sea Turtle, the American crocodile, the tiny Key deer -- all endangered; the magnificent Frigate bird, the Queen Conch shell (the islanders are called Conchers), the Sea Horse, the Butterfly Orchid.

Terrible sea storms and the onset of civilization is causing irreparable damage to this magical area, so every effort is being made by the State to conserve this fragile environment. The Keys themselves, and 15 miles of offshore around them are designated a National Marine Sanctuary. Sport and commercial salt water fishing is allowed with hook and line only, lobsters and crab can be taken within local regulations, and swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving, photography and recreational boating is permissible. It is an exceptional diving area. Care is required driving on the islands (from Cudjoe Key to No Name Key) as the diminutive Key deer feed beside, and cross the highway at night. The 300 left are being killed off by cars. When boating, one must be alert in areas where the Manatee, turtles and crocodiles feed, and any contact with coral reefs must be avoided. Turtle nest mounds on the beaches must be left alone.

Copyright www.flakeys.com - used with permission.Tourism -- against all odds:

The tourist development of Florida began with the wealthy of the Gilded Age (the period of great economic growth at the end of last century). Henry Flagler (1830-1913), co-founder of Standard Oil, on his own, built a railroad from Jacksonville in the north to Key West in the south. It is incredible that he would even consider extending his railway from the mainland all the way to Key West across the ocean. Flagler also built magnificent hotels in St Augustine (a Florida gem), Daytona, Palm Beach and Miami. So the settlement on the keys started out very early in Florida’s history. The railroad crosses fifteen major keys that are separated by shallow water. There were a few exceptions with one bridge being seven miles long. The rail roadbed was started in the late 1800’s and finished in 1902 It connected the main settlements of Key Kargo, Islamorada, Marathon, Big Pine Key, Sugarloaf Key and Key West. The railway bridges were destroyed by a severe hurricane in 1935 and the company forced to stop operations. A good road highway was completed in 1938, and communication with the keys soon re-established.

Copyright www.flakeys.com - used with permission.The Drive:

The Overseas Highway as it is now called, was upgraded after the war. It runs for 110 miles; a fine paved road which is four-lane in some parts. It is a picturesque drive past quaint, sometimes old-fashioned resorts. Swaying palms and white buildings look east over pristine beaches toward the blue Florida Straits, or west to the Gulf of Mexico. The road runs past quirky roadside cafes where the food is good and cheap, over long bridges completely surrounded by sea and lush botanical growth.

Key West:

The southernmost American city, is called the pearl of the keys. It is the oldest city in Southern Florida, being settled in the early 1800’s. Before this, Key West was a base for counter-pirate operations. Fishing and the salvage of ships running aground in the dangerous local waters attributed to its prosperity. The city has always had relatively close relations with Cuba, only 90 miles away. The San Carlo Opera House on Duval Street is closely associated with the Cuban community. There is a gravesite for sailors killed on the USS Maine that was blown-up in Havana’s harbor during the Spanish-American war.

The old part of the city is quite different from what one might expect. Its bright, white houses are said to be in the British colonial style of the Bahamas. The area looks well kept and freshly painted and makes a delightful walking tour. The houses look like they are from a New England fishing harbor rather than a tropical atoll, and certainly not in the eccentric Spanish American subtropical style of Addison Mizner, the famous Florida architect of the twenties.

There are a number of interesting houses to see. Refurbished to their original state, they have excellent guided tours and nominal entrance fees. Worth a visit are; Audubon House and Tropical Gardens, The Harry S Truman Little White House, Jessie Porter’s Heritage House and Robert Frost Cottage, Ernest Hemingway House, Curry Mansion and the Wreckers Museum Oldest House.

The famous writer Ernest Hemingway was born in 1899. Hemingway suffered from depressions and was a physical wreck from his various wounds and injuries. He committed suicide in 1961, at the age of 62. His house is not in the style of the houses around it -- it is more Caribbean with large windows and covered balconies. Hemingway was married four times, to Hadley Richardson, Pauline Pfeiffer, Martha Gellhorn and Mary Walsh. He bought the property in 1931 and Pauline Pfeiffer, a wealthy journalist who wrote for Vogue, left her stamp on the place (although it is very much a man’s house). She paid for the swimming pool and improved the luxuriant tropical garden. The furnishings are sparse, but most pieces have direct connections with the writer. After his return from the Spanish Civil War, he settled down with his new bride and spent nine very productive and happy years until 1940 when he left to cover the war. By then he had received some acclaim for his work and was well-known.

Hemingway hated people pestering him and built a high wall around his property. He erected an unsteady catwalk from the house to his writing study (in the loft of the pool house) so people couldn’t visit him. His routine was strict; get up early, write awhile then breakfast, then more writing. A late lunch and then maybe some fishing with his cronies followed by a few drinks at his favorite bar. He was a cat lover and there are fifty cats still on the site who are purported to be direct descendants from the cats he owned.

These cats are particularly well-treated and still roam the house and grounds. The six-toed ones are easy to spot because of their huge paws. There is even a cat cemetery. After Hemingway left for the war, he apparently forgot about his property and his wife. She filed for divorce siting abandonment. He then became involved with his third wife, another writer and a war correspondent, Martha Gellhorn. His famous novel about the Spanish Civil War For Whom the Bell Tolls was written in Key West. Published in the 1940’s, it became an equally famous movie. It was fortunate that a wealthy local women bought the house after Hemingway died, cleaned it up and opened it to the public.

Another interesting place is Harry Truman’s official winter residence. Truman liked Florida and came to stay in Key West, living in the house of the commanding officer of the small naval base. It looks rather spartan quarters for the head of such a powerful nation. But Truman was not given to pretensions -- he was jolly, friendly but directly practical, an honest politician, a spirited public speaker and a good family man. (Truman’s ‘the buck stops here’ sign on his desk in the Oval Room of the White House and the fact he had stamps in his desk drawer that were paid for by himself for his private correspondence, speaks volumes. It is wonderful to see the holiday house of such a great man and listen to the guides enthusiastically tell of his life. He was not a keen fisherman but loved playing poker with friends for small stakes.

Lost Reef Adventures copyright www.flakeys.com - used with permission.Traveling Tips:

Key West is a great place to visit. It is a bit of an artist’s colony and there are some offbeat private galleries worth seeing. There are excellent accommodations all along the archipelago. A good idea if you are renting a car, is to stay at a resort on one of the keys and, after a few days to wind down, visit the various places of interest -- distances on the keys are not that far. First, Key West; then the Windley Key Fossil Reef State Geological Site on Islamorada Key; Indian Key State Historic Site; the National Key Deer Refuge on Big Pine Key; Fort Zachary National Monument, Key West; Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge on Key Largo; and Key Largo Hammocks State Botanical Site. All are accessible by road. More exotic spots can be reached by boat such the Great White Heron Refuge from Big Pine Key, and day trips to Dry Tortugas National Park on an island 65 miles from Key West.

Cost: Accommodation prices range from expensive to cheap. The Keys offer cheap clean beach resorts where boats can be rented for fishing or scuba diving. Recommended good buys in the three ranges are Key Largo Bay Marriott Beach Resort -- 150 deluxe rooms in a refurbished old style Florida Hotel (all amenities, expensive). Hawk’s Cay Resort and Marina, Duck Key(average cost). Tropical Reef Resort, Islamorada (cheap, quaint motel facilities).

Victoria Brooks' Greatest Escapes Travel Webzine would like to thank -- and recommend -- "The Official Key West Florida" website at www.flakeys.com for the use of their photographs.

The old part of the city is quite different from what one might expect. Its bright, white houses are said to be in the British colonial style of the Bahamas. The area looks well kept and freshly painted and makes a delightful walking tour. The houses look like they are from a New England fishing harbor rather than a tropical atoll, and certainly not in the eccentric Spanish American subtropical style of Addison Mizner, the famous Florida architect of the twenties.

There are a number of interesting houses to see. Refurbished to their original state, they have excellent guided tours and nominal entrance fees. Worth a visit are; Audubon House and Tropical Gardens, The Harry S Truman Little White House, Jessie Porterís Heritage House and Robert Frost Cottage, Ernest Hemingway House, Curry Mansion and the Wreckers Museum Oldest House.

The famous writer Ernest Hemingway was born in 1899. Hemingway suffered from depressions and was a physical wreck from his various wounds and injuries. He committed suicide in 1961, at the age of 62. His house is not in the style of the houses around it -- it is more Caribbean with large windows and covered balconies. Hemingway was married four times, to Hadley Richardson, Pauline Pfeiffer, Martha Gellhorn and Mary Walsh. He bought the property in 1931 and Pauline Pfeiffer, a wealthy journalist who wrote for Vogue, left her stamp on the place (although it is very much a manís house). She paid for the swimming pool and improved the luxuriant tropical garden. The furnishings are sparse, but most pieces have direct connections with the writer. After his return from the Spanish Civil War, he settled down with his new bride and spent nine very productive and happy years until 1940 when he left to cover the war. By then he had received some acclaim for his work and was well-known.

Hemingway hated people pestering him and built a high wall around his property. He erected an unsteady catwalk from the house to his writing study (in the loft of the pool house) so people couldnít visit him. His routine was strict; get up early, write awhile then breakfast, then more writing. A late lunch and then maybe some fishing with his cronies followed by a few drinks at his favorite bar. He was a cat lover and there are fifty cats still on the site who are purported to be direct descendants from the cats he owned.

These cats are particularly well-treated and still roam the house and grounds. The six-toed ones are easy to spot because of their huge paws. There is even a cat cemetery. After Hemingway left for the war, he apparently forgot about his property and his wife. She filed for divorce siting abandonment. He then became involved with his third wife, another writer and a war correspondent, Martha Gellhorn. His famous novel about the Spanish Civil War For Whom the Bell Tolls was written in Key West. Published in the 1940ís, it became an equally famous movie. It was fortunate that a wealthy local women bought the house after Hemingway died, cleaned it up and opened it to the public.

Another interesting place is Harry Trumanís official winter residence. Truman liked Florida and came to stay in Key West, living in the house of the commanding officer of the small naval base. It looks rather spartan quarters for the head of such a powerful nation. But Truman was not given to pretensions -- he was jolly, friendly but directly practical, an honest politician, a spirited public speaker and a good family man. (Trumanís Ďthe buck stops hereí sign on his desk in the Oval Room of the White House and the fact he had stamps in his desk drawer that were paid for by himself for his private correspondence, speaks volumes. It is wonderful to see the holiday house of such a great man and listen to the guides enthusiastically tell of his life. He was not a keen fisherman but loved playing poker with friends for small stakes.

Lost Reef Adventures copyright www.flakeys.com - used with permission.Traveling Tips:

Key West is a great place to visit. It is a bit of an artistís colony and there are some offbeat private galleries worth seeing. There are excellent accommodations all along the archipelago. A good idea if you are renting a car, is to stay at a resort on one of the keys and, after a few days to wind down, visit the various places of interest -- distances on the keys are not that far. First, Key West; then the Windley Key Fossil Reef State Geological Site on Islamorada Key; Indian Key State Historic Site; the National Key Deer Refuge on Big Pine Key; Fort Zachary National Monument, Key West; Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge on Key Largo; and Key Largo Hammocks State Botanical Site. All are accessible by road. More exotic spots can be reached by boat such the Great White Heron Refuge from Big Pine Key, and day trips to Dry Tortugas National Park on an island 65 miles from Key West.

Cost: Accommodation prices range from expensive to cheap. The Keys offer cheap clean beach resorts where boats can be rented for fishing or scuba diving. Recommended good buys in the three ranges are Key Largo Bay Marriott Beach Resort -- 150 deluxe rooms in a refurbished old style Florida Hotel (all amenities, expensive). Hawkís Cay Resort and Marina, Duck Key(average cost). Tropical Reef Resort, Islamorada (cheap, quaint motel facilities).

Victoria Brooks' Greatest Escapes Travel Webzine would like to thank -- and recommend -- "The Official Key West Florida" website at www.flakeys.com for the use of their photographs.