About the Keys.....

Kick back, relax, and enjoy!

One thing I can say we have noticed about the Keys is that everyone seems happy and content, and are very laid back.  Definitely "no jacket required".  When you drive down the street and see "businessmen" going from one place to another, the first thing you notice is no coats and ties, pretty much no long pants, either.  Most of the guys have shorts and t-shirts on.  Lots of ponytails.  Lots of tans.  Lots of retirees.  Lots of characters in the Keys.. a varied mix of artists, writers, musicians, chefs, dive captains, fishing guides make their living here. 

Life focuses on the water.  There are boats, boats, and more boats.  Power boats, sailboats, fishing boats... the Keys are home to some of the most sought after gamefish..sailfish, dolphin, tarpon, marlin... as well as grouper, mahi-mahi, and snapper.  

We have definitely enjoyed stone crab season, one of the area's finest seafood delicacies.  These taste like sweet lobster, have a firm texture, and are served with a mustard sauce to die for!

From the largest island, Key Largo, to the tip of Key West, the Keys are connected by 42 bridges scattered along historic Highway 1, including the spectacular 7-mile bridge right here where we are in Marathon, Florida. 

What's with all the mile markers in the Keys??   US 1 is used to travel the islands of the Florida Keys.  There is only one way in and one way out of the Keys... and that is US Highway 1.  All along the highway, there are mile marker numbers.  The "0" mile marker number is found in Key West.  Mile marker numbers continue to increase until the pass through Monroe County line at Mile Marker 112, north of Key Largo.  Our boat is located in Marathon, Florida, at mile marker 48. 

Want to learn a little about the history of the Keys?  Click here.

First Stop....Key West

Key West is a treasure trove, and not just because of the multitude of shipwreck artifacts and memorabilia.  Its Old Town section is rich with historic sites and architecture. Its colorful cast of characters have ranged from Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon to President Harry Truman, who vacationed in the "Little White House" on Front Street.   Long a haven for creative spirits, the island inspired acclaimed writers such as Ernest Hemingway (click on Ernest Hemingway's name for more info), Tennessee Williams and Robert Frost.  

Bisecting Old Town is historic Duvall Street, known as the longest main street in the world because it goes coast to coast....from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico.  The street is lined with high end shops and art galleries, and off course, the obligatory tourist bars and hangouts.  Very similar to New Orleans... except cleaner, and without the crime element.  One block away is equally historic Whitehead street, home to the Hemingway and Audubon Houses.  

and the Key West Lighthouse......

All roads in Key West lead to Mallory Square and the Hilton Resort and Marina, where crowds gather for the world-famous sunset celebrations.  These nightly extravaganzas attract thousands to see vendors, artists, musicians, and street performers.

 

 

And, of course, those spectacular Mallory Square sunsets.....

Key West, the Southernmost City

               One of the biggest attractions on the island   is a concrete replica of a buoy at the corner of South and Whitehead streets that claims to be the southernmost point in the contiguous 48 states.  This point was originally marked with just a sign, which was often stolen.  In response to this, the city of Key West erected the now famous monument in 1983.  It is one of the most visited and photographed attractions in Key West. The claim "90 miles to Cuba" isn't entirely accurate, though, since Cuba, at its closest point, is actually 94 statute miles from Key West.

 

We visited the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory. Click here for Photos of Butterflies.......

Scenes from Key West 

 

 

Some of the places in the Keys we visited:

Marathon

Marathon, located approximately halfway between Key West and Key Largo, Marathon and its Middle Keys are known as the "heart of the Keys".  Marathon is spread out... it incorporates Conch Key, Duck Key, Grassy Key, Crawl Key, Fat Deer Key, and the largest, Vaca Key, which was named by the Spanish for its abundant population of manatees (sea cows).  (Vaca is the spanish word for cow).  This area was home to New England fishermen in the early 1800s to Bahamian farmers in the latter 19th century, and later to a massive community of railroad workers.  Their presence, and the task they faced, gave the city its modern identity.  

The story holds that the name Marathon reflects the mammoth task facing the construction crews as they set out to build a bridge across seven miles of open water.  Their accomplishment, the old Seven Mile Bridge, now provides a route to Pigeon Key, a group of museums and natural history displays.  The old bridge is also in much demand by fishermen.  

 

On the ocean side of Marathon, fishermen find the "Marathon West Hump" an underwater platform that attracts blue and white marlin, Mako shark, blackfin tuna, and other prized gamefish.  On the gulf side of Marathon, deep waters and a wide assortment of natural ledges, artificial reefs, and wrecks offer prime locations for pursuit of mangrove snapper, Spanish mackerel, and cobia.

 

 

Islamorada, acclaimed as the "Sport Fishing Capital of the World", Islamorada Fishing provides a jumping off point to world-class deep sea and backcountry fishing. Thousands of fishermen return to this area year after year.  Marina after marina offering charters and boat rentals line this area and there are all kinds of boats everywhere.  Boats for sale, boats for rent, and boats being towed up and down the road!  Lots of action in this area.

Snorkeling in Key LargoKey Largo, the largest of the Florida Keys, is about 30 miles end to end.  Scenes for the popular 1948 film Key Largo, starring Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, and Edward G. Robinson, were shot in the area.  Today, the area owes it fame to the seas... it is known as the "Diving Capital of the World".  Two of the Keys' most beautiful underwater attractions lie off-shore.  The nation's first underwater park, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State park, and the adjacent Key Largo National Marine Sanctuary include 190 miles of coral reefs, seagrass beds and mangrove swamps.  The sea life includes 55 types of coral and 600 species of fish.  Named for John Pennekamp, who wrote articles urging preservation of the reefs, the park provides a base for snorkeling, diving, glassbottom boat trips, canoeing, and kayaking.

 

Photos: Stephen Frink

We also had the pleasure of visiting the Stephen Frink Gallery and Studio in Key Largo.  We have long admired the underwater photography of Stephen Frink.  He is the world's most widely published underwater photographer, shooting for clients such as Nikon, Rolex, and National Geographic.  We enjoyed viewing the beautiful photographic gallery in his studio, which brought back many memories for us from our own days of underwater photography.

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