Post #42 – THE END OF THE ROAD – TWICE – Day 272, January 29, 2015 – On board: Paul, Hank (my Dad), Red Southerton, Jim K
Flamingo is the absolute end of the road – it was our next destination after leaving the anchorage in the Ten Thousand Islands, 70 miles away. Located at the very southern tip of the Florida peninsula, it is the southernmost outpost in the mainland United States. I say outpost, because it’s hard to claim it’s a village or a town – no one actually lives there, and it is an hour’s drive down a road through the wilderness to the nearest town. Other than some small out-buildings containing restrooms and the like and a few houses that provide temporary housing for the park rangers, there are only two buildings in Flamingo, one of which houses a small marine/souvenir type store and the other of which houses the southernmost headquarters of the Everglades National Park, the Visitor Center, and, surprisingly, a café with outdoor, screened-in seating that is open only during the winter season. However, there is a marina and a campground, and there was a surprising amount of activity with campers, canoers, kayakers, and boaters in small boats coming and going – outdoor activities are king here. Flamingo is the southern terminus of the 99-mile Wilderness Waterway, a winding water route through the Everglades from Everglade City to Flamingo. We were the only cruiser in the small marina, as this is not a normal sop for Loopers on the way to the Keys (or any other cruisers, for that matter). It is about 30 miles out of the way, and the channel carries only 3 feet of water at low tide; therefore, we again timed our arrival and departure to coincide with higher tides. Mosquitos and “no-see-ums” rule the dusk and the dawn here, and some people walk around completely covered with mosquito netting (I wonder why more cruisers don’t come here…?). However, it is an interesting place with interesting people and an interesting history. Flamingo was originally located 4 1/2 miles west of the current location, but the few residents were relocated shortly after the National Park was created – all that remains of the original settlement are some foundations. In 1959, a 103 room lodge and 24 cabins were built, but those were destroyed by the 9-foot storm surge when Hurricane Wilma roared ashore in 2005. Wilma did extensive damage to the other facilities as well, which are still being repaired – we had to move the Joint Adventure several times before we could find one of only 2 or 3 electrical stations that hade been repaired from damage from Wilma 10 years ago!
Here are some images from Flamingo:
The modest but sturdy store in Flamingo – one of the two buildings that make up the “town”.
The Visitor Center/Park Headquarters building, overlooking Florida Bay is the other building in Flamingo. The screened-in café is on the lower level, facing the Bay.
The screened-in eating area at the Flamingo Café. The food was surprisingly good, and we had alligator tail for dinner (how could you have anything else in this setting…?). The kitchen is housed in a mobile trailer, seen in the background, which can be hooked to a truck and taken elsewhere during hurricane season or if a large storm approaches.
The campground in Flamingo, overlooking Florida Bay. Numerous trails into the Everglades and the Wilderness Waterway originate from Flamingo. A healthy breeze will keep the mosquitos and no-see-ums at bay, but there was no breeze the evening we were there, and they came out in force at dusk.
The southern tip of Florida is home to the rare American Crocodile – this handsome specimen is from a picture, not a live one that we saw. You can differentiate the croc from an alligator by its teeth, which protrude on the outside of its mouth whereas the teeth of an alligator are inside its mouth (now you can tell them apart the next time you meet one…).
Red & I did some exploring by bike – according to Red, it was the first time in some 20 years since he’d been on a bike – Yayy, Red!
We left early the next morning before the tide ran out, headed 40 miles nearly due south to the town of Marathon on Boot Key. The weather was ideal and the run was pleasant, though the water throughout Florida Bay is shallow, ranging from a foot or two to 8-10 feet deep.
The sun rising through some clouds as we left Flamingo early in the morning.
Red at the helm on our way to the Keys on a rare, perfectly calm day on Florida Bay.
Paul broke out his “Keys wardrobe” on the boat in anticipation of arriving in Marathon on Boot Key.
We made it to the Keys, our first stop being Marathon on Boot Key! Marathon is a dichotomy – the culture is clearly an “island culture” and its residents are on “island time”, while it is the largest commercial center in the Keys. A new and opulent Hyatt Hotel just opened on the Gulf side of the island and there are some large and luxurious homes; however, most of the island’s residents live in very modest homes, many of which are small trailers in fairly dense trailer parks. The large, relatively deep harbor is filled with perhaps a thousand boats, ranging from megayachts to small, old boats containing live-aboards. Restaurants abound, many of which are modest, open-air places with reasonable prices. A portion of the people here are vacationers or retirees, here to enjoy the climate, while the larger portion of the people are working-class people earning a living by servicing the vacationers and retirees. Most of the buildings are 60’s-era. All in all, it’s a very interesting place. The only certified turtle hospital in the world that is dedicated exclusively to the rehabilitation of turtles is here, and there is an interesting Natural History Museum with a 25 acre preserve with extensive interactive walking trails on the island. There is both a movie theater and a live community theater as well, both of which we took advantage of.
The perfectly calm weather with which we arrived abandoned us, and we ended up staying an extra day due to high winds. Here are some pictures from our stay:
A magazine article called “Dive Bars – Friends in Low Places” identified eight of the “loudest, rowdiest, most fun establishments on the water” along the Florida coast. Surprisingly, I had been to three of them, though not necessarily during “prime time”, including Flora-Bama at the border between Alabama and the Florida panhandle, which we visited on this trip. So we had lunch at a fourth, the Dockside Tropical Bar in Marathon, pictured above. Unfortunately, we didn’t make it back there at night when the band plays and it apparently fills up and then some.
Boudines marina, near the entrance to Boot Key Harbor, featured Happy Hour with live music during the sunset & dinner period. We were docked at the marina next door, so we made ample use of their Happy Hour.
The restaurant/tiki bar at Sunset Point is a larger, more upscale place where crowds gather every night to watch the sunset, have a cocktail, and enjoy dinner.
The beach in Marathan was pleasant but smaller then I expected. However, we went for a swim in the warm water amidst the tropical breeze.
Most of the original railroad bridge from the mainland to Key West is unusable for vehicles and has been replaced with new highway bridges. The old railroad bridge going west from Marathon is open to pedestrians and used as a walking/biking trail and fishing pier. A section has been removed in the middle, however, to allow higher boats to pass through. The newer highway bridge can be seen to the left in this picture.
While cruising Boot Key Harbor in the dinghy, we came upon the vessel Dede skippered by Henry and his wife Dede, whom we originally met on the Trent Severn Waterway last summer. Henry & Dede spent four years building Dede themselves to cruise the Great Loop, which they will complete this Spring when they reach their home port of Norfolk.
As I mentioned above, the only full-time turtle hospital in the world is located in Marathon. The founder, after retiring from his career-job, bought a small motel in Marathon. It had a salt water pool but his guests were more interested in a fresh water pool, so he built one then converted the salt water pool to a huge fish tank for the entertainment of his guests. One day a child asked him why there were no turtles in the pool, so he decided to add a couple. However, he found that sea turtles were protected and one could only get a permit to acquire them if they were injured and needed to recuperate in a protected environment. So he obtained a permit to acquire two such turtles; the turtle hospital was born and grew into a full-time non-profit operation which has rehabilitated and returned to the sea over 1200 injured turtles:
We took a 1 1/2 hour tour of the Turtle Hospital and saw many species of turtles in various stages of rehabilitation.
This enormous sea turtle was hit by a boat – you can see the damage to his shell. It will take about 6 months, but they will repair the shell, nurse him back to health, and return him to the sea.
This is a creative advertising slogan that I hadn’t encountered before…
The winds eased for us for a day, and we headed 50 miles to Key West on a beautiful tropical day. KEY WEST! The REAL end of the road!Another milestone – the southernmost point on our Great Loop voyage. From this point on, we start gradually working our way in a northerly direction towards home.
Key West! What an interesting place. From a distant outpost inhabited largely by hippies, outcasts, and other “interesting” people, it has morphed into an upscale resort area – however, it has managed to retain it rebelliousness, its irreverence, and even some of its crudeness. Restaurants and pubs abound, nearly all of which are open to the streets and many of which have live music which spills out onto the streets as well, reminiscent of Bourbon Street in New Orleans. You can buy Jello shots and shots of vodka on the sidewalks, which teem with people into the wee hours, even on a Sunday night. Apparently they hold a 10-day Fantasy Fest in October, with parades, balls, drag queen contests, nude body painting, and much more. Our stay was a bit more tame, but certainly interesting. Here are some images:
We just had to celebrate our arrival at the southernmost point on our trip with a “dockage beer” on the bridge of the Joint Adventure
During our “dockage beer”, Todd & Kelly, visitors from Canada, were noticing the Joint Adventure, so we invited them aboard to share our celebration. When we asked them about their profession they replied that they are both police officers – we quietly hid our contraband…(just kidding).
My Dad enjoying the view from the deck at the Tiki Bar at the marina –
Founded in 1933, Sloppy Joe’s is a famous bar on Duval Street, the main entertainment area in Key West. It’s most famous patrons were Ernest Hemmingway, who coined the name “Sloppy Joes”, and the infamous rumrunner Habana Joe. Mentioned in the movie “Citizen Kane”, the bar is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Today it features live music from noon to 2:00 AM, including a show band in the evening and a dance band starting at 10:00 PM. Of course, Red and I had to check it out, and the music was excellent!
Paul & Red enjoying a beer at Captain Tony’s – it is the original location of Sloppy Joe’s where Ernest Hemingway spent many evenings drinking and partying with the owner of the bar and their buddies. The bar owner leased the building. However, when the owner of the building raised the rent by $1 per week, Hemingway and the bar owner removed all of the toilets, light fixtures, and equipment and moved them into the new location of Sloppy Joes’ where it remains today.
There are bars and bands of all sizes, shapes, and sounds throughout the “downtown” Key West area, but this was by far the smallest bar, as its sign suggests – about 8 feet wide and 12 feet deep.
We couldn’t resist visiting the fifth “Dive Bar” listed in the magazine article, since it is on Key West – the Green Parrot. It lived up to its image…as I arrived, there was a patron holding onto a wrought iron screen on one of the windows shouting at the top of his lungs to tourists on an open tour bus “Help! Please help me! I’m trapped here! They won’t let me out!! Please come get me out!!
This building contains a bar with three levels, the third of which is on the roof. The vegetation around the perimeter is a screen because the top level is “clothing optional”. I talked Red into a visit, arguing that you can’t come here and NOT check it out. Unfortunately, the only person with no clothes on was a man sitting at the bar. Oh, well. It was quite cool while we were there, so maybe in warmer weather…
There appears to be some snobby places here as well….
These desserts must be REALLY, good…
On a more serious note, Key West, we discovered, is more than just a fun-in-the-sun place. There is a great deal of history and culture here, and many more interesting stories than I could put in the blog. Here are some examples:
Mel Fischer was a famous treasure hunter who, after searching for 17 years, finally found the remains of a Spanish ship sunk in 1622 by a hurricane. The recovered treasure is valued at half a billion dollars, the loss of which at the time nearly caused the collapse of the heavily indebted Spanish government. The Mel Fischer museum in Key West is fascinating, featuring displays and artifacts from the ship, including solid gold chains, silver bullions, and a multitude of silver coins, plus extensive displays and artifacts from the many pirates who plied the waters of the Keys, Cuba, and the Bahamas.
This sign tells the fascinating story of two women pirates during the Golden Age of Piracy
Nineteen months after Harry Truman became president, his doctor told him he would suffer the same fate as Roosevelt if he didn’t take a vacation. So he was sent to a house on the Naval Base here, and fell in love with Key West. As a result, he ended up spending 175 days – or 10% of his presidency – in Key West. The house became known as the Little White House, and is now on the National Register. It became an office as well as a retreat, and Truman held several cabinet meetings there, requiring cabinet members to remove their white shirts and ties and wear a brightly colored “Key West” shirts. In the evening, he often played poker with his visitors on a table that had a removable top so Bess wouldn’t know it was a poker table. The table and virtually all the original Truman furniture remains and is still used today. Other presidents have continued to use the house, including Eisenhower, Kennedy, Carter, and Clinton. There are scheduled tours of the entire house, with knowledgeable tour guides with story after story about Harry and the Truman years.
Ernest Hemingway spent a great deal of time in this home that he owned in Key West, and wrote many of his books while here. He was a renegade, and stories abound about some of his antics while here. The house is open for tours.
The Shipwreck Museum focuses on “wreckers” – professional salvagers who made fortunes salvaging treasure and merchandise from the many ships that were wrecked on the shoals along the Keys. At its heyday in the mid 1800’s, an average of a ship a week would wreck on the shoals, and most of the population was in some manner involved with the salvage industry in which salvaged goods would be sold at auction – salvage from one ship could bring in as much as $1 million in today’s dollars. As a result, Key West during the golden age of shipping became the richest per capita town in the entire country!
Key West also features an Art & History Museum – this enormous statue is in front of the Museum in the downtown area
This statue is on the grounds of the Art & History Museum. I wonder what that guy on the ground is thinking…?
Every evening, upwards of a thousand people congregate on the waterfront in Mallory Square to watch the sunset. There are street performers, vendors, portable bars, and great people-watching. The view is spectacular.
The sunset from Mallory Square on our first night in Key West
This enormous monument marks the southernmost point in the continental US, and is the most visited single place on Key West. But it’s a fraud. It WAS the southernmost point before World War 2. However, during the war, the Navy needed to expand the naval base, so they increased the size of the island to 1 1/2 times its original size – including a substantial portion which is south of this point!
He may be 90, but my Dad can still spring into action to save this tree from collapsing onto the parking lot…
Here are a few things that caught my eye when wandering around the downtown area:
The sign next to the door of a bar in downtown –
You can get a T-shirt that says pretty much anything in Key West
There you have it….
For my two lawyer-daughters…
It’s hard to read, but the words on the bottom of this picture say “is really slow”. Dogs have a tough life sometimes…
Don’t leave home without one….
We continue to be laundry-challenged. After putting the laundry and soap in the machine and inserting the coins, I couldn’t get the coin tray to push in to start the machine. It jammed and, try as I might, would not go in. Impatient and angry, I went to the office to complain indignantly and, when asked, I showed the attendant the coins I had inserted. “Sir, those are dollar coins, not quarters” he patiently explained. I slinked out with my tail between my legs and inserted quarters. My Dad then went to move the clothes from the washer into the dryer. He was soon in the same office talking to the same attendant, explaining that he needed help – he had inserted Canadian quarters (which I had given him) and the machine was jammed. I’m not sure they are going to let us use the laundry machines again…
So we took the ferry for a day trip to the Dry Tortugas, a small group of island comprised of sand and coral 70 miles west of Key West. It was named Las Tortugas by Ponce de Leon because of the abundance of turtles, and the word “dry” was added to early maps to warn sea captains that there was no fresh water to be had there. Since the islands are located in a strategic spot in the shipping channel between the Florida keys and Cuba, the Army decided to build an enormous brick fort and a fleet of battleships there. The fort covers virtually the entirety of the largest island, and is the third largest fort ever built in the US. Construction was started in 1846 and was finally halted 30 years later,in 1875 – the fort was never completed.
Here are some images:
Fort Jefferson on the Dry Tortugas, as seen from the ferry. When the Civil War broke out, the U. S Army was in the process of installing artillery, but none were yet installed. Shortly after the war started, a Confederate battleship anchored next to the fort and sent a messenger demanding the surrender of the fort. The fort’s commander yelled back to the messenger: “You tell your Captain to be gone within 10 minutes or I’ll blow his ship out of the water!”. The bluff worked, and the fort remained in Union hands – it was critical to the successful Union blockade of the South throughout the war.
A moat was constructed around the entire fort, for two reasons: First, since the fort covers virtually the entire island, the outer wall of the moat provides the fort some protection from wave action. Second, the wall prevents enemy ships from reaching the wall of the fort in an attack.
The fort has six sides, and the enormity can be somewhat gauged in this picture that shows about half of one side. Sixteen million bricks had been used by the time construction was halted. Bricks were shipped to the fort from Pensacola until the outbreak of the Civil War, after which, believe it or not, they were shipped from Maine. The cannon in the foreground weighs 50,000 pounds!
This interpretive sign highlights the difficulties of building the fort
Sometimes it doesn’t pay to hire the lowest bidder…
The fort was used in part as a prison, although it was not designed for that purpose. One of the prisoners was Dr. Mudd, the doctor who was convicted as a co-conspirator after treating John Wilkes Booth when he broke his leg after assassinating President Lincoln. This was his cell. When the fort’s regular doctor and nurses died of Yellow Fever, Dr. Mudd, then the only doctor at the fort, was called into service to treat other patients. As a result, President Johnson granted him a pardon in 1869.
This is one of several boats at the fort that successfully brought Cuban refugees to the US. Under Federal law, any Cuban refugee who reached dry land in the US can stay. As a result, boats reach the Dry Tortugas on a regular basis, and the refugees ride the ferry back to Key West along with the tourists. None arrived while we were there.
A bit hard to see, but we were very fortunate to see a an American Crocodile that showed up a few years ago at the fort. Sightings are rare, but he happened to come into the moat during our visit.
So Key West turned out to be much more than we expected, and we could easily spend another week or more here. However, we expect a reasonable weather window tomorrow, and plan to head east and work our way towards Miami.