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Dry Tortugas

Dry Tortugas

Arriving at the Dry Tortugas

This is a great trip! I am a little hesitant to recommend it because it is pretty expensive and we were so lucky with the weather and with hardly anyone else on the boat. We took the Yankee Freedom II, a fast catamaran that runs from Key West to the Dry Tortugas on a daily basis.

The trip was wonderful, but there were only a few people on the boat. It could really have been crowded and that would not have been as nice. Also, the weather was wonderful.

Dry Tortugas Seaplane
Getting There by Airplane

The arrival at the park is very impressive. The fort appears rise right out of the sea, probably because it does.

You can also get to the park by sea plane. This costs more, and you don’t get to stay as long, but I  bet it is a spectactular trip and arrival.

When you go by boat they provide a nice picnic lunch and you have plenty of time to frolic in the water (great snorkling, gear provided) and to tour the fort.

Fort Jefferson
Tour of Fort Jefferson

The fort is quite interesting. The Park Service guide gives a comprehensive explanation.

The top of the fort provides a nice view of the other islands that make up the park. These islands are home to a plethora of sea birds.

Trip Information:

http://www.nps.gov/drto/index.htm

http://www.yankeefreedom.com/key-west-reservations.htm

http://keywestseaplanecharters.com/


Fat Albert

Fat Albert
Fat Albert at rest

Cudjoe Key’s singular and distinguishing feature is the unmanned Navy surveillance blimp (don’t get technical here), Fat Albert.

Fat Albert is tethered to the ground by a cable and flies on almost all days with good weather. Fat Albert is located at the end of, what else, Blimp Road. To get close enough to photograph it though, as in this shot, you must be in a boat.

 
End of Blimp Road

Bicycling to the end of Blimp Road

Bicycling to the end of Blimp Road is a nice ride from the house (maybe 2 or 3 miles). You just cross the highway and take Old State Road 4 to where it intersects with Blimp Road (at Coco’s Cantina, now closed, sob).

Fat Albert looks for drug runners and other smugglers, and broadcasts to Cuba.

It is great to have this “landmark” to steer by when returning to Cudjoe, although exactly where it is can be a bit confusing.

There is a very detailed article here: http://www.n-the-florida-keys.com/Fat-Albert.html 


Lower Keys Shuttle (Bus)

Key West Transit
The Key West Transit Logo

If we have guests that want to do some different things and we don’t have enough cars for everyone to go their own way, we rely on the Key West Transit “Lower Keys Shuttle.”

This bus runs up and down the lower keys between Key West and Marathon.

It is very inexpensive and it has a great web site that shows where the buses currrently are and gives an updated time of arrival at your stop.

So, if somebody wants to go to Key West, and some one else wants to go to the beach at Bahia Honda, just tell them to take the Lower Keys Shuttle. Our stop is right up Cutthroat and a few yards to the right on the highway.

Shuttle Information:

http://www.kwtransit.com/


The Deep Blue Good-By (John D. MacDonald)

The Deep Blue Good-By

John D. MacDonald's "The Deep Blue Good-By"

This is the first in John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee series of 21 mystery adventures. These are highly entertaining books that are widely read and discussed.

McGee lives on a house boat, the “Busted Flush,” in a marina in Fort Lauderdale. He describes himself a “retriever” who gets things back for people.

McGee spends plenty of time in the Keys, so the territory he covers is very familiar.

The introduction to this edition of the series is by Carl Hiassen. This is actually how I came to read Hiassen.

In The Deep Blue Good-By, McGee unravels the mystery surrounding a treasure brought back by a WW II veteran. His antagonist is an incredibly evil man who is also trying to retrieve this treasure. There are some nasty scenes of rape. McGee triumphs (retrieves the treasure) at a high cost.

Throughout the series, the consistent perishing of any serious McGee love interest is rather disconcerting. If he is attached to her, she is a gonner! John D. maintains McGee’s bachelorhood at a high cost.

John D. MacDonald is a pillar of the South Florida writing club. You must read at least some of these books. It is scary how many people have read and love these books.


Big Pine Speed Trap

Speed Trap

Speed Trap entering Big Pine from the north

As you leave the bridge (Speed Limit 55 MPH) onto Big Pine Key from the north, you must already be slowed to 45 MPH (35 MPH at night) BEFORE leaving the bridge. If you slow after leaving the bridge you will be ticketed.

The Trooper sits right at the end of the bridge and there is no slack.

This ticket is the first time I felt I was really tricked into a ticket.

For more information about speed traps see Trapster.com.


Grocery Store

Winn-Dixie

Winn-Dixie in Big Pine

The nearest full-size grocery store is the Winn-Dixie in Big Pine.

We do most of our shopping at the military commissary in Key West, but we go to the Winn-Dixie at times. We have always had a reasonably good experience, but customer reviews of this store are horrible.

Store Information:

Big Pine Plaza
251 Key Deer Blvd
Big Pine Key, Florida 33043

Phone: 305-872-4124

Regular Store Hours:

Mon – Fri: 7:00 A.M. – 11:00 P.M.
Sat: 7:00 A.M. – 11:00 P.M.
Sun: 7:00 A.M. – 11:00 P.M.

Store hours may vary due to seasonality.


Grilled Lobster

Lobster

Grilled Lobster, Yummy!

We love the local lobster. No claws, but the tails are great! We get fresh lobster either at Evie’s Sub Shop (her husband is a lobsterman/crabber) or at Fanci Fish Sea Food, both within walking distance.

I cut the lobster tails right down the middle of the rounded side. Slice through the meat and open the tails (see picture). You can use kitchen shears or just plain scissors. Then I brush olive oil on the meaty side of the open tails.

I get the grill good and hot and then put the tails meaty side down for 4 minutes. Flip and do another 3 minutes. They are great!


Shrimp Cocktail

Shrimp Cocktail
Local Keys Pink Shrimp

We love to walk or bike up to Fanci Fish Seafood to get fresh shrimp. I usually buy the large, but medium works too.

I use the cleaning tool they sell at Fanci Fish. It makes the cleaning go a lot faster.

I boil the shrimp for about 3 minutes with Old Bay seasoning. Then I drain it and put it in the refrigerator to cool.

For cocktail sauce I combine:

  • 1/2 cup ketchup
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1 heaping tablespoon of horseradish
  • dash of tabasco
  • dash of worchester sauce

I put some lettuce in the bottom of a margarita glass and spoon the cocktail sauce on top of the lettuce. Then I place the cooled shrimp around the edge of the glass along with a lemon wedge.


Sunset at the La Concha

La Concha view
View from the La Concha Hotel

We usually take people who have not been, to the top of the La Concha Hotel in Key West. It is the tallest building, by far, in the city.

They have a bar, often some Jimmy Buffet type live music, and a great view of most of Key West.

La Concha sunset

A sunset from the La Concha

If you do this, you need to get there a little early (before sunset) so you can get a seat with a view. Otherwise it is not so bad standing and watching as the sun goes down.

Beats Mallory Square (I think)!

Then we usually head off to dinner somewhere.


For Whom the Bell Tolls (Ernest Hemingway)

For Whom the Bell Tolls
For Whom the Bell Tolls

This book was written way before Hemingway’s Key West period, but he is a bona fide South Florida writer, so I think you can read any of his work and feel the connection to the Keys.

Of course the work most associated with the Keys (and Cuba) is Islands in the Stream. However, that is another subject.

For Whom the Bell Tolls is one of Hemingway’s very best works. It draws upon Hemingway’s experiences in the Spanish Civil War. Read one of his biographies to appreciate the difference between Hemingway’s role in that war and that of Robert Jordan, the protagonist in For Whom the Bell Tolls.

Jordan is an American explosives expert serving with Spanish Royalist guerrillas against the nationalists (Facists). His mission is to blow up a bridge. Local color, romance, treachery, adventure, suspense, over coming great odds, dedication, selflessness, BOOM.


The Flats

The Flats

The water out on the flats

Of all the aspects of the Keys, the most striking is the natural splendor of the “flats.”

The varied sea bottoms are visible through the crystal clear waters and the sky is a fitting partner to the land and sea.

Great day out in the flats

Sky, water, bottom, and mangroves

The famous game fish of the keys, sharks, porpoises, rays, crabs, lobsters, sea turtles; can all be seen out in the flats.

The unspoiled nature of the flats is best appreciated in the protected waters of the Great White Heron National Wildlife Refuge. Cudjoe Key is located adjacent to the very center of this refuge.

Eagle Ray

An Eagle Ray next to the boat

Flats boat
Flats boat, fisherman, and guide

Refuge Information:

Great White Heron National Wildlife Refuge
28950 Watson Boulevard
Big Pine Key, Florida   33043
Email: keydeer@fws.gov 

http://www.fws.gov/nationalkeydeer/
greatwhiteheron/

http://www.stateparks.com/
great_white_heron.html


The Pool/Spa

Pool

The Pool/Spa

The pool is not very big, but since it has swim jets you can swim for as long as you like. It is great exercise.

It is heated, so you can always keep the water at a comfortable temperature.

In the evening it is nice to heat it up to spa temperature and turn on the Jacuzzi jets. There are seats around the two sides of the pool where the jets are located, so you can just lounge around and enjoy the warm/hot water.


Photos on Google Earth!

Sunset on Dock

Watching the sunset from the dock.

We’ve had two photos accepted for viewing on Google Earth!

This one, and one of the after glow included in one of our earlier posts.

To see them on Google Earth, just put in our address and select the “Photos” layer. When you zoom in, click on the photo icons that appear and the photos will popup.


Fanci Seafood (Fresh Seafood)

FanciFish

Fresh seafood within walking distance.

Fresh seafood right in the neighborhood!

Up on the highway is the Fanci Seafood market. They have moved from where the picture was taken. They are just about a quarter mile West now. You can still bicycle there on the road behind the store.

Another seafood store got their lease. Who knows?

They have fresh local shrimp, lobster, stone crab, and fish (Grouper, etc., yummy!).

I think they just changed their sign after changing their name a while ago.

They also sell a great shrimp cleaning tool that we have two of at the house.

Prices are not cheap, but the catch is fresh and excellent. They are open seven days a week until 6:00 pm. (Their website says they are not open Sundays, but I swear they are.)

Walk or ride a bike (take a basket) and bring back the makings of a great meal. Take a left at the last street before the highway and go through the open gate to a gravel parking lot.

They also carry bait, chum, and ice.

Store Information:

(305)745-3887

22.5  Overseas Highway
Cudjoe Key, FL

http://www.fanciseafood.com/


The Bat Tower at Perky, FL

Bat Tower
The Bat Tower at Perky, FL (Sugarloaf Key)

In the 1920s, this unusual structure was built by Mr. Perky to lure and house bats that would surely solve the mosquito problem and allow a planned resort to flourish.

Not so fast, as you can read in Joy Williams’ Guide to the Florida Keys.

This structure, which is in amazingly good shape (though still batless), is just a few miles from the house. See if you can find it.


Bahia Honda (Great Beach)

Bahia Honda Bridge

The old bridge at Bahia Honda

Just 14 miles back up the Keys (mile marker 37) is the wonderful beach at Bahia Honda State Park.

Chosen in 1993 as “Best Beach of the Year,” this beach has a gently sloping sandy bottom with clear, warm waters.

There are also changing and showering facilities, picnic shelters, a concession with recently lowered prices, and camping and RV areas.

Bahia Honda beach

A nice long beach

The beach  is perfect for a long walk along the ocean’s edge. Read about all the other things you can do at the website below.

There is an admittance fee of (currently) $8.00 a vehicle.

Park Information:

(305) 872-2353

36850 Overseas Highway
Big Pine Key, Florida 33043

http://www.floridastateparks.org/bahiahonda/


Ninety-Two in the Shade (Thomas McGuane)

Ninety-Two in the Shade

A very funky book! Only in Key West.

This book is not nearly as challenging as Ulysses or The Sound and the Fury, but it is strange enough to befuddle or offend some. It is definitely a Key West classic and is often referenced by authors who have chosen to write in the South Florida genre.

Thomas Skelton wants to be a Key West flats fishing guide. He single-mindedly pursues this goal in a Key West populated by a girl friend who is widely affectionate, a father who is lovably aberrant, a mother who is tolerant as only a fomer prostitute can be, and a grandfather who is a  standard corrupt South Florida politician.

Skelton’s chief obstacle is one of the two leading Key West fishing guides, Nicole Dance. Mr. Dance, due to a practical joke (his own) gone terribly wrong, is in implacable opposition to Skelton’s assuming his chosen occupation. 

This book is hilarious as it tracks purposefully toward tragedy. It really doesn’t respect the standard things. Prepare to be jolted at times: Skelton’s father opted out of WW II and called Adolph Hitler an invention of the Chamber of Commerce for crying out loud.

And there is so much more to this book.

It should be noted that 92 in the shade is not a temperature achieved in Key West, but back in Tennessee where Dance shot a man on a day of that temperature.


Guided Back Country Kayak Trip

Back Country Kayaking

Captain Bill leads the way.

We wanted to try kayaking in the back country around the Lower Keys, but were a little reluctant to try it the first time without some expert guidance.

So, we signed up for a three hour tour with Captain Bill Keogh, a naturalist and author of a Keys paddling guide.

We started at the Niles channel on the north eastern end of Summerland Key and ended at Blimp Road on Cudjoe Key.

Kayak picnic

Stopping for some lunch

We did some neat exploring of mangroves, saw some beautiful birds, including a Roseate Spoonbill, and some sea life. We stopped and had a picnic lunch.

Probably the neatest thing was navigating through some dense mangroves.

It was a great introduction to Keys kayaking and although it got REALLY windy as the trip went on, we had a great time.

Mangrove channel

Exploring the mangroves

We also bought his book, Florida Keys Paddling Guide, and use it to plan our self-guided trips.

 
Contact Information:
 
 305) 872-7474
 
Old Wooden Bridge Fishing Camp on Big Pine Key


Email: bigpinekayak@aol.com

http://www.keyskayaktours.com/


The “Cudjoe Reveille”

In a juice glass:

  • 1/2 shot Absolut Citron
  • 1/2 shot Tequila
  • Juice of one full Key Lime
  • Ice as desired
  • Fill with freshly squeezed Florida orange juice

Comes across as a “sour.” Excellent wake up call. Comments from guests very complimentary.


Sugarloaf Key Bike Trips

Sugarloaf Map

Sugarloaf Bike Trips

We often bicycle from Cudjoe to Sugarloaf to go to the KOA Campground, or its neighbor Mangrove Momma’s. Both of these make nice destinations for a drink (KOA after 3:00pm).

If we want to bicycle more extensively on Sugarloaf, we put the bikes in the car and take them to the Surgarloaf Lodge where we mount up and ride through the Sugarloaf housing area, which is quite nice, all the way down to Loop Road.

Loop Rood is a closed off loop of asphalt road that can be walked or bicycled without fear of traffic. If you don’t feel like biking all the way from the Lodge, you can also park near the entrance.

You just walk your bikes around a barrier and take the road straight, over a bridge, until you see Loop Road on your left. After about a quarter of a mile on the loop, you end up with water on both sides. Sugarloaf Sound is on your left and a lagoon inside Loop Road is on your right.

Usually there are plenty of birds in evidence.

Another interesting thing about Loop Road is that you will see some signs of recent use by cars, tire slicks for instance. This is because they stage a sports car competition here now and then. It is known as the Bay Bottom Crawl and a description of it can be found on the internet.

If Loop Road isn’t enough, you can explore Old State Road 4A in both directions. Most of this old Keys highway is very beat up and overgrown. To the east you can bike about half a mile to the burned out bridge over Tarpon Cut. If you had followed the Old State Road from the KOA Campground, you would have gotten to the other side of this bridge.

Following the maintained road to the west, you eventually come to a dead end that leaves you a similarly unmaintained poriton of the Old State Road. This section is much longer, several miles, and it goes all the way to the end of Sugarloaf Key to where a wooden bridge used to cross to Geiger Key. You can still see some of the old pilings. If you had a blow up Kayak with you, you could have lunch at the Geiger Key Marina.

When you get back to Sugarloaf Lodge, you can see if you can find the nearby famous “Bat Tower” and then have a drink at the Lodge’s Tiki Bar right on the water.


Little Palm Island

Little Palm Island

Beautiful (expensive) place

Little Palm Island is a very exclusive resort about five miles up the road. You must take their launch out to the island. It is certainly beautiful! The food is excellent as well. However, it is (to me) absurdly expensive.

Our guests love it though, and since they usually pay I usually go. We hear Sunday brunch is a pretty good deal. We plan to try that next.

I have to echo Joy Williams in her guide book , “You’re really going to go there?”

Very, very pricey.

Restaurant Information:

(305) 872-2551

Little Palm Island Resort & Spa
28500 Overseas Highway
Mile Marker 28.5
Little Torch Key, FL 33042

http://www.littlepalmisland.com/littlepalmisland_home.aspx


Mango Opera (Tom Corcoran)

Mango Opera

First in the series

This is the first book in Tom Corcoran’s Alex Rutledge series of crime action novels. This is not Shelock Holmes and Baker Street, but it does feature authentic Lower Keys locales everyone who loves this place will apprieciate.

It is so cool having a murder solved around the corner from your house.

Alex Rutledge is a photographer with a talent for seeing what others do not. An awful lot of murders in a short time and limited locale seems a bit improbable, but hey, it’s fun. I have read all six books in this series and I’ll buy the next one when it comes out.


The Florida Keys (Joy Williams)

Joy Williams

Best guide book ever!

By novelist  Joy Williams. This is the best guide book ever written (with the possible exception of Michener’s Spain and Hawthorne’s Alhambra). It is a hilarious introduction to the insanity that is the Florida Keys.

Even (or especially) if you live in the Keys you should read this. I send a copy to everyone who visits us.

Don’t expect the usual sappy recommendations of every venue. She is merciless.

This book is out of print and has not been updated in a while. It is still worth the price.


Missy N’ Joe’s Deli

Evie’s is now Missy N’ Joes’s Deli. It is our local, walk to/bike to, sandwich shop. They have delicious subs which are made remarkable, as are most other foods, by a great pepper sauce.

We had one great lunch by buying four different sandwiches, cutting them into quarters, and everybody trying a little of each.

Evie’s hours were somewhat variable, however, Missy N’ Joe seem to be much more reliable.

Costs more than Subway, but it’s local and really good.

Restaurant Information:

(305) 735-4488

22836 Overseas Highway
Cudjoe Key, FL, 33042

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Missy-N-Joes-Deli/164680133621808