Florida, Where We've Been

The Florida Keys

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The Florida Keys

The Florida Keys are made up of a bunch of little islands just off the southern coast of Florida. This chain stretches for over 180 miles, encompasses 800 keys, and is connected by one main highway with 42 bridges. When you reach the end of the highway, you’ll have reached the farthest key, also known as Key West.

The drive out to Key West is incredibly distracting. It’s a one lane highway most of the way with speed traps every few miles. Trying to drive while taking in the clear, turquoise blue water is a real nail biter. 

Key West is small, measuring only 1 mile wide by 4 miles long. Because of its small size, traffic is heavily congested and parking can be both limited and expensive. A lot of people choose to either walk or bike in the downtown area. There’s also a bus that circles the area every 20 minutes. We took advantage of the free ride to keep from getting too tired as we circled the key on foot.

On the south end of the key, is a marker that designates the southernmost point of the U.S. It’s only 90 miles to Cuba from this spot and as tropical a climate as you will probably get in the continental U.S. 

We went out to Fort Zachary Taylor State Park. There’s really not that much to see at the fort, but that’s not what everyone is going there to see. They head over to the fort in order to go to the beach and that’s what we did too. 

The waves at the beach were small, but surprisingly powerful. This beach was touted as a spot to do some snorkeling, but the waves and sharp drop off made it an unwelcoming spot to snorkel. The palm trees, seascape, sunsets, and atmosphere were all amazing though and greatly made up for lost snorkeling opportunities. Did I mention the water temperature in February was perfect?  

This is also the location of the destinations sign found on Key West. 

As the sun set, we watched many ships going in and out of the harbors.

From the view below, you can see just how dense Key West was designed to be.  The key sits at sea level, but the buildings and shops tower several stories above, each competing for space on the island. This was shot in the early morning, so there aren’t many people milling about yet. 

The Key West Lighthouse stood for many years sending out its light beam that warned passing ships of the nearby land. This worked well for those approaching Key West, but off to the south and east side of the keys there was another problem that plagued the ships as they passed by the keys. About 7 miles off shore lies a strip of coral reef that runs parallel to the keys. The lighthouse on Key West was not able to keep ships from running aground on the coral reef, so several additional lighthouses had to be placed within the coral reef itself to warn passing ships of the nearby danger. 

These lighthouses also had to be manned to be able to keep the lights lit. Keepers would man the lighthouses from brick structures that were built to house them. They were later destroyed by hurricanes and as technology advanced, they were replaced with metal structures that we see today.

Why did the chicken cross the road? To get to the other side of Key West!

Seriously, these roosters are everywhere and yes, they do randomly cross the road here in Key West. They will come right up to you while you’re eating and wait for you to drop your food for them to be able to share a bite. They’re noisy too – cock-a-doodle-dooing all day long.

Bushes growing right out of the seawater? This plant is a mangrove and it has adapted to drinking salty water, filtering out the salt through its leaves. Growing out onto the shallow sand bar below, this plant also helps to build land. Sand and dirt gets trapped between its pencil-like roots and then builds up over time allowing for more expansion of the mangroves onto the shallow land.

Since we didn’t have much luck snorkeling at Fort Zachary Taylor, we decided to try another location. We took a boat ride out to the coral reef 7 miles offshore. I have to say that was the most miserable 3 hours I’ve been in a long time. I spent most of the time in the bathroom or leaning over the side of the boat loosing my breakfast. Jaden didn’t have a great time either and instead of snorkeling, sat down in the middle of the boat with his head in between his legs for most of the journey.

Ben and Ellie, on the other hand, did get to go in the water, but it was so choppy! It was a good thing they were wearing life vests, because with waves cresting at 3′-4′ tall, just treading water would have been a struggle. Unfortunately there wasn’t much either of them could see either as the waves had stirred up the sands below and made the water murky. A looming man-of-war jellyfish in the water didn’t help matters either. They had to make their way to the back of the boat and hopped back on.

I did get to see a few coral fish from my vantage point as I unleashed my breakfast at them though, so not all was a loss. I know, ewwww, sorry!

We did finally find a place to snorkel!

While Key West makes a great destination spot, the other keys are also fun to explore if you have time and are in the area. Bahia Honda key was rated a top 10 beach in the U.S. and it’s where we were finally able to go snorkeling. The water has a turquoise hue and you can see clear to the bottom. It’s shallow, maybe only 2′-3′ deep, and the waves are calm and perfect for snorkeling. The best part is that you can walk all the way out to the coral (sea grass) and watch the fish swim around in it. 

The sand was fine and white. This is what gives the water its turquoise color. Because the water is clear and shallow, the reflection of the light off the bottom of the white sands makes the water color appear lighter.


Naval Air Station Key West

The Navy has a main base and several annex’s on Key West. There are several RV parks in the annex areas. We stayed at Sigsbee Campground on the northern portion of the island. It’s a mix of dry camping and full hookups.

The people in the check-in office were very friendly and inviting. They got us hooked up with security passes and the camp host escorted us to our site.

Most civilian RV parks in the keys are over $120/night, but being a veteran has its perks for areas like this. We were able to secure a dry camping site for only $32. Score!

They could upgrade the number of showers, washers, and dryers as they didn’t seem like enough for the number of people using them. There was always a line to get the next shower or washing machine. If you’re in dry camping in a place like this, though, just know that you’ll be listening to generators run all day as most are not set up to boondock.

Starlink ran smoothly at 117 down / 22 up. Verizon on the phone was at 3 bars and Verizon and AT&T were both at 5 bars with the cell antenna.