Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Key West, Florida

After spending several weeks in central Florida, where the temperatures were a bit chilly, we returned to Naples and a fairly constant 70 to 75 degrees. Boy are we getting wimpy! Not much to post since we visited Blue Springs. We have been spending many days visiting friends, walking on the beach, or on the Bay Forest trails. However, on the 18th, Mary and John Cole arrived for a week and we spent part of their vacation in Key West.

John Cole is an accomplished photographer and he willingly shared some of his photos with me to put up on this blog. I noted his name below the shots that belong to him. He has a website where he posts some of his work. If you care to take a look check out www.johnsdigitaldarkroom.com. Mary also takes great shots and I have given her due credit when a photo was hers. Thanks Mary and John for sharing.

We started off the week with a visit to Doc Ford's Rum Bar and Grille in Ft Myers Beach. The traffic getting there was a nightmare, since it was Everyone's vacation, but once there the restaurant was not too crowded and we got a table on the upper outside deck over looking the water.

View from our table.

John Miles and Mary Cole. I could not get all four in my picture because the isle was narrow.
Our waiter was fun and he assured us everything on the menu was "fantastic". He was right. I had fish tacos (Thank you Jenny Bridgers for introducing me to them). These had shredded cabbage along with very fresh perfectly cooked fish. We also shared a couple of orders of muscles which were cooked in a "Fantastic" garlic and tomato sauce. Great Meal and a great view.

The next day we took off for Key West, all five of us in our little Prius. It was going to be at least a five hour drive but of course we made a few stops along the way. About an hour into our trek we pulled into Collier Seminole State Park to have a look at the "walking dredge" that Marlin and I had seen last year and knew John Cole would be interested in learning about.

The spider looking piece of machinery was used in the construction in 1928 of the Tamiami Highway that crosses the Everglades from Naples on the west coast to Homestead on the east coast.

The dredge is basically an enormous shovel suspended between 4 long flat skids thirty three feet apart and twenty eight feet long. Any ordinary digger could not function in the swampy mud that was layered on top of a limestone base. After the limestone was broken up by blasting, this walking dredge would dig up the broken rock and mud to make a borrow pit for road building.

When it had to move forward, a center skid was pushed down, raising the outside skids off the ground. With a series of pulleys the outer skids were moved forward, then the interior skid was raised and the outside "feet" lowered into a new forward position. What is truly amazing is this machine was manned by two men who worked 18 hour days, 6 days a week!

Our next stop was the studio of photographer Clyde Butcher in the Big Cypress Swamp. Mr. Butcher is famous for his very large black and white photos of the Everglades as well as other National Park scenes. His large format camera and the amazingly enormous enlarger he uses are intriguing. If you are interested in seeing his work, his web site is www.clydebutcher.com. The short nature trail surrounding his studio provided John Cole with some great wildlife shots.

A tricolor heron by John Cole

A great Egret by John Cole

There were several alligators in the water next to the studio. This fellow swam up to the edge of the water about three feet from where I was standing. I got a picture, but John's was much clearer.

On the nature trail there were three or four of these huge stag horn epiphytes. I am amazed at the huge size that these air plants grow down here.

We finally arrive in Key West around five o'clock. We had booked our reservations on line and when we were driving in we began to wonder what we would find since the neighborhood didn't look all that promising. We were more than delighted when we checked in and got to our room. It was a two bedroom suite with two bathrooms, a full kitchen, and full living room. What really impressed us was when we opened the french doors to the back deck. Below is our view looking over the pool to the ocean. It was marvelous to say the least.

Views from our balcony

The complex was a U shape. This was looking across to the other units. Time shares are available! That night we spent some time in the hot tub and pool. We could have just hung out here all week, but we already had other plans.

The next morning, after relaxing on the deck for awhile we took a walking tour of Key West. First stop was the Key West light house. Built in 1849 at 66 feet, its height has been increased twice to the current 100 feet above sea level.

John Cole is a light house buff, so he took these great shots and climbed (alone) to the top for the mesmerizing shot of the stair way down.

View from the top

Love this one John.

When we were in Key West a couple of years ago, Linda and I found the Eco Discovery Museum. At that time we knew Mary would enjoy this spot, so I wanted her to see it on this trip. We didn't take any pictures but it was just as enjoyable as the first trip here. The exhibits are all ocean education, with tanks of live coral, fish and ocean organisms. A 20 minute film about snorkeling in the mangrove and ocean is a joy to view and an exhibit about a NOAH underwater research station was fascinating. The museum is not well publicized in the tourist literature for some reason. We think it is one of the best takes in the city. Guess others come to Key West for different reasons.

All that walking called for lunch. Where else when in Key West but Jimmy Buffett's "Margaretta ville" restaurant! Lots of concert videos of Jimmy and others playing on the multiple screens throughout the place. As usual my eyes were bigger than my belly and after drinking two tropical concoctions I couldn't finish my fish sandwich!

Photo courtesy of John Cole. (That is Marlin on the right.)

Next stop was the Truman White House. President Truman loved Key West and returned here often. In those days he paid for all his food, help, and even postage for the letters he wrote daily to his wife Bess.

The house is on the Naval base and was originally built for commanding officers. Lots of good stories were told by our guide. Truman was quite a poker player, but did not think that should be common knowledge that the President and cabinet members were gambling, so the poker table could be covered with a solid dining table when not in use.

By this time it was late afternoon so we headed to Malory Square for the entertainment and to see the sunset on the southern most point in the USA.

On the way, Mary got a fun shot of a hen with her brood of chicks. She hustled them off into the hedge behind her when we got too close. We guessed that was where she had hatched them.

Mary also got some of the roosters on camera. Key West has a healthy population of wild chickens and roosters that roam the streets and crow at all hours.

After the long walk we found a comfy place to rest and wait for the sun to set.

We picked a great spot to sit. It was directly across from where Mustafa, the street musician of NPR fame, was playing. He serenaded us the entire hour we waited for the sun to set. Mary and I both bought one of his CD's to remember this visit to Malory Square in Key West.
At the end of the evening, Mary stopped to talk with Mustafa about his CD. Photo by John Cole

All along the walkway that is Malory Square street performers entertain the crowd with acts of daring and great commentary. Of course the object is to get everyone to put some money in their box. They all have a great gift of gab and try to hold your attention the longest so you won't go on to the next performer. This gentleman was no youngster.

The hatchet, knife, and torch juggler on the unicycle asked that no one put his picture on the internet because his mother thought he was in college! He was fun to listen to.

I think this was Mary's shot. She captured him at sunset looking like he was walking on water.

This gives you a small feeling of how many people gather here every night to see the sights. The performers probably make a decent living on some nights.

The evening finale - sunset. (I'm not sure if this picture was John's, Mary's or mine, it was just good.) Probably John's

Our next adventure took us on the Yankee II ferry, out to the Dry Tortugas National Park and Fort Jefferson. These seven small islands are 70 miles, and a 2 hour boat ride, west of Key West. Fort Jefferson was built on Garden Key. Construction began in 1846 to protect access to the gulf of Mexico and continued for 30 years but was still never completed. Apparently just its existence was a deterrent. The army abandoned the fort in 1874 and in 1908 it became a wildlife refuge to protect the sooty tern rookery from egg collectors. The area was re-designated in 1992 as Dry Tortugas National Park.

The ferry when it was docked on Garden Key

During the Civil War the fort was used as military prison, with its most famous prisoner being Dr.Samual Mudd, the man who treated John Wilkes Booth after the Lincoln assisnation. The doctor was pardoned, after spending four years here, for his tireless services during a 1867 outbreak of yellow fever at the prison.

The entire fort is surrounded by a moat. The original plans, drawn up in the northeast, called for the moat to be washed out with each change of tide. However, the tidal rise and fall here was very limited, unlike tides in the northeast, and the moat became a smelly sewer instead.

Looking inside from the fort walls

This light house is made of metal (photo John Cole)

The entrance at one time had a draw bridge. Today it is permanent.

My personal favorite. John is very good at patterns and artistic shots.

This is Bush Key where the sooty tern nests along with brown noddies, brown and masked boobies, roseate terns and the magnificent frigate bird.

Another view of the lighthouse. (John Cole)

Walkway along the outside of the moat provided good viewing of the coral and fish that thrive on the outside edge of the walk. (Mary Cole photo)

The canon windows were equipped with iron shutters that closed after a shot was fired. However, in the salt air the iron rusted and expanded, causing the brick work to be ruined.

The magnificent frigate bird. There were dozens of these huge beauties cruising in the thermals created when the breeze swooped up the southern edge of the fort. John got many great close ups of these birds with their seven foot wing span. My pictures were just black dots in the sky! Thanks again John.

If you click on this picture it will enlarge to full screen and you can see some of the varied coral and tropical fish that were swimming just over the edge of the moat wall.

Mary caught me as we walked along the outside of the moat. We were bemoaning the fact that we did not bring our swim suits and missed out on snorkeling in these sparkling clear, fish and coral filled water. Next time we won't forget our suits. Mary said the snorkeling was as good as she had seen in the Caribbean.

More coral and fish.

At 3:00 we returned to the ferry for our ride back to Key West, then on to Naples for us. A long and enjoyable day that began with a 7:00 breakfast on the boat, a guided tour of the fort, with lots of history and stories of the hard life for wool clad Northern soldiers building here in this tropical climate, and ended with a peaceful cruise back Key West. I would definitely recommend anyone going to Key West to take this all day trip to the Dry Tortugas.

After we returned to Naples we spent an evening on a sunset cruise that took us through the Cocohatchee River estuary. There were about 20 people on the 40 passanger boat that cruised through the mangrove islands all the wat to the ocean outlet at Barefoot beach and a magnificent sunset.

A nice mound of mangrove that really shows the root system where many many creatures make a safe nursery. (John Cole)

John Cole captured this great close up of the black crowned night heron who nicely posed as we passed.

Another great sunset shot by John Cole and a perfect end to an almost perfect week. Among the great sights and beautiful scenes were many sad moments thinking of Linda and wishing she were our sixth traveler. So many places she would have been so excited to experience or to see again. We missed her every moment of the trip.

On March 1st Marlin and I will leave John Miles and Naples to head back to Collier Seminole State Park in the Everglades, then on to the East Coast of Florida before heading to North Carolina for Ben Baldwin's March 17th wedding on the Outer Banks.

1 comment:

  1. It sure was a good week for us to 'escape' the New England weather and the visit with you, Marlin, and Miles was very enjoyable. The sign of good friends is when you can just pick up where you left off -- something Mary & I always enjoy!