(C) 2002-2014 J. Watson All rights reserved
|WHAT TO EXPECT
After a day of fishing or strolling along the beach join the celebrations of
sunset in the Florida Keys. Explore the Everglades and see bird species
you've not seen before. Tour the NASA Space Center or visit the make
believe world of Disney. Add to this historic points of interest and the
spring training camps.
Florida is a popular winter haven. Retirees who stay for the winter are
referred to as “snow birds”. (In Texas they’re called “winter Texans”.)
Southern Florida and the Florida Keys are “sold out” Christmas week through
February so reservations are strongly recommended. There are occasional
frost warnings north of Palm Beach during the winter so not all of Florida is
as warm as some think. Hurricanes from time to time have ravaged parts of
Florida’s coast – so changes may have occurred since we visited. Recovery is
usually fast, as far as tourists are concerned.
As you read this you may wish to trace the route on your road map.
Our visits to southern Florida preceded the storms of 2005
At Florida City go west to…
Everglades National Park. This park is at the southern tip of the
US mainland. Flamingo, at the southernmost point, is a birders’
paradise. You’ll likely see birds you’ve only heard of – best seen
early or late in the day. Take the boat, or rent a canoe, and go
up a canal. You’ll see alligators, birds, and learn about this
swamp, really a slow moving river that flows for hundreds of
miles. Learn of the ecological problems. (Make sure you have a
supply of bug spray, you may or may not need it.) Take a sunset
boat trip out to the islands to see the white pelicans roosting.
Then back to Florida City and to the Tamiami Trail US-41. Why
not Alligator Alley (I-75)? you ask. Well, if you want to see
alligators and stop to view them you can do that on US-41, while
you can’t stop on the Interstate. On Tamiami Trail US-41 go west
to a point where you can take an airboat into the Everglades. It’s
fun. You’ll see alligators, birds and, who knows, maybe a
crocodile. Then, continue to I-75 north to…
Sanibel. This island on Florida’s west coast is a shellers’
paradise. Each tide brings up new shells and shark teeth. Bring
a bag for your treasures. Also, after strolling the beach visit the
Ding Darling bird sanctuary. You’ll surprise yourself when you
realize the amount of time you spent watching the birds. Then
Fort Myers. Visit the winter homes of Thomas A. Edison and
Henry Ford. Learn more about these remarkable men.
SIDE TRIP. Disney World and other Orlando area
attractions are east of here off I-4. There is so much to do
in this area that people planning to visit should use a
guidebook of the area before leaving home in order to
make the best use of their time. Now north on I-75 to …
Sarasota. Visit the John and Mabel Ringling Museum of Art. In
addition to the masterpieces there are associated exhibits of
interest — their home and, of course, a circus museum.
Ocala. Follow signs for Silver Springs. The springs are
outstanding. The water is clear, take a glass bottom boat to
observe. The volume of water produced is so great that it is the
beginning of a substantial river. As you drive around the Ocala
area you’ll see the noted horse farms that have trained champion
racers – many Kentucky Derby winners. Then north to I-10 and go
west to …
Pensacola. This is a large naval air station, which has very good
exhibits. We look forward to visiting.
From here connect to Routes I Gulf coast to California
or Route K Atlantic Coast to New York
Drive south of the Georgia state line on Florida's east coast to…
Titusville. From here you can visit the John F. Kennedy Space
Center and the Merritt Island bird refuge. The space center is
another “must-see”. At the northern end of the island is a bird
sanctuary that has more endangered and threatened species
than any other refuge in the lower forty-eight.
SIDE TRIP. From I-95 you can swing west on I-4 to the
Orlando area to visit Disney World, and other major
attractions. There is so much to do in this area that people
planning to visit should use a guidebook of the area before
leaving home in order to make the best use of their time.
Then, head south on I-95 until you can get on the Florida
Turnpike, fee (this has less traffic). Continue south of Ft.
Lauderdale and Miami to Florida City and take US-1 to the
FLORIDA KEYS. (A key is an island) This can be an
expensive area for lodging especially during the winter
months. The least expensive campsites are the state parks
that are at Key Largo, Long Key, Curry Hammock and Bahia
Honda and they are all good. The beach, fishing and other
recreation are the attractions. Camp reservations needed.
State Park campsites in the Keys are reserved minutes after
they start taking reservations. Long Key State Park sites are
all waterfront, most with 30 amp and water – this is 68 miles
from Key West.
Fishing in the Keys is about the best. (Check fishing license
requirements as they are rigidly enforced!) There are
abandoned railroad bridges alongside US-1 that are now
designated fishing bridges. Rental boats are also available as
well as jet-skis. Charter boats and party boats leave from
various locations (no license required) between Key Largo
and Key West. The color of the water changes constantly –
as vivid as a van Gogh painting.
You’re in good company if you fish here. The first President
Bush favored Islamorada; President Hoover liked the Long
Key area; and President Truman had the Little White House in
Key West, now open to tourists. Learn the difference between
“pirates” and “wreckers” by visiting the Indian Key Historic
State Park offshore of Lower Maecumbe Key, about mile
Key Largo. The state park has glass bottom boat tours that
give an excellent view of the coral reef and tropical fish. This
is a memorable experience. You can also snorkel or dive to
observe the fish.
As you go south you may see opportunities to parasail and fly
on ultra-lights (photo). Both are fun. However, if flying in an
ultra-light be careful of the pilot’s qualifications as there have
been several fatalities. Both give a great view of water from a
few hundred feet – see the fish and sea turtles that are more
than two feet wide. Sometimes you can see them from the
fishing bridges. I like the bridge at mile marker 67, at the
south end of Long Key.
Key West. This is the southern-most point in the continental
US. It is a fun island with nothing more important than to
celebrate sunset—they make a big fuss of this every evening,
even when it rains. Down on the wharf at sunset, at Mallory
Pier, there are entertainers – jugglers, mimes, fire-eaters, etc
– you get the idea. Visit the sights; two or three days at Key
West may be enough. Learn of the “Conch Republic”. See
Truman’s Little White House, Hemingway’s home as well as his
favorite hangout – Sloppy Joe’s. Fishing in the Keys is about
the best. Visit the sights. If you want an interesting day trip
take either a small plane or boat for a trip to Dry Tortugas
National Park. That too is on our “to see” list.
After leaving Key West, stop at the northern end of 7-mile
bridge (about mile marker 47) as you enter Marathon, going
north, on the right hand side is the visitors’ center for Pigeon
Key State Park. Learn of the construction of the railroad that
opened the Keys to tourists to better understand the history of