America through the Windshield--Getting to Know the First Americans travel blog

Headed to Key West February 20, 2012

Today was our moving day. We pulled out of North Fort Myers, Tamiami (as in Tampa and Miami, spoken as Tam—ee—am—ee) RV Park . We were on the road by 10:30 with a full tank of diesel after a quick stop at Pilot Truck stop. It was Presidents Day and we had no real need to watch the clock per getting back home, to prepare for a work day on Tuesday. However, we saw hundreds, possibly thousands of cars leaving the Florida Keys as we drew nearer to Key West. It’s nice to miss the “busy-ness” of juggling work and play, especially in winter weather. We check the weather for our locale, Baltimore, New York, Mississippi and Nashville each day. We always think of family, friends and colleagues, reminding ourselves that we are not in any of those places because winter is just such a painful experience and to be avoided when possible. Even though the northeast had a usually mild winter, we still were very glad to be in Florida. Once we got south of Tampa, nothing but very light clothing, Greg wore shorts and t-shirts and never turned on the heat.

We had to cross Florida from the west coast to the east coast in order to then head south to the Florida Keys. We chose to use I-75, a four lane interstate, versus the two-lane Alligator Alley. Surrounded by swampy, wet lands, we crossed through Big Cypress Swamp and the northern edge of the Florida Everglades. We continued to see alligators in canals, lots of cranes, waterways for fishing and air boats, mangroves and extremely flat marshy lands with only a few trees reaching to the skies.

After turning south we got off I-75 to avoid additional tolls and were delighted with close-up views of the farm lands. We were continually amazed as we drove past farm lands in various stages of maturation. We saw acres and acres of staked tomatoes, some fields had only green ones, some fields were ready for picking with piles of red tomatoes spread along the row entries. The corn and sugarcane fields were equally impressive, as were the groves of fruit trees. We think we saw avocado trees along side fields of tropical plants with both acres of palm trees planted in rows and then flowering shrubs (think Hibiscus in all of the tropical colors of peach, yellow, pale aqua) planted in pots and furrowed rows. We saw rows and rows of strawberries and tomatoes ready for “U-picking”. Our eyes eagerly searched each new crop, garden, nursery, grove and road side vendor as we barreled on southward. Greg even saw a sign stating “Locally Grown Coconuts”.

Our southern trek took us through Homestead, the town and community that were almost wiped off the map by a hurricane a dozen or so years ago. Our momentary observations appear to indicate that the day-to-day operations are back to normal; but, we had no way to know that for a fact. Our observations were based upon small businesses operating as well as lots of small homes. The population appears to be primarily Hispanic all along the farmlands and as we drove through the downtown portion of Homestead. The majority of the produce / nursery / u-pick signs and billboards were printed in Spanish throughout the farming area until we got on the Southern Dixie Highway (Hwy 1).

After Homestead the Southern Dixie Highway was two-lane all the way through the Keys. As we neared the Keys, we began to see the commercialization that is expected in the deep sunny south. There were hundreds of beach resorts, motels, small beachside homes, stately mansions, seashore shops, restaurants, marinas, boats / boaters, roadside/ private beaches, state parks, preserves, boaters, swimmers, fishermen, marine / sea birds and 29 bridges from Key Largo to Sugarloaf Key, the location of our KOA RV Campground. We are the last major key prior to Key West (less than 20 miles away).

Brenda had not considered that the Keys were so very narrow. There were many times that we could see the beaches on either side of Highway 1 even though at times there were many homes, hotels, motels and businesses that had private beaches. From Key Largo we drove past gigantic power poles, all made of concrete as they supported the thousands of miles of electrical wires. We wondered if these high reaching concrete poles were more sturdy in tropical and hurricane force winds. Brenda was also a bit surprised by the fact that on the larger Keys the highway was crowded with commercial and touristy businesses. The larger Keys were definitely more commercial with the smaller Keys being more residential and with a few Keys being undeveloped.

We drove past dozens of public beaches along the Keys and a great number of state and local parks. Beach lovers are definitely welcomed in this part of the country. It was so obvious that the majority of the people were in the Keys for fun and sun—definitely a slower pace of life with the focus being the water. We had wondered if the Keys would be crawling with senior citizens! We’re glad to say that there were lots of American and international visitors, many with young children as well as many young couples vacationing at the beaches.

Upon our arrival at the campground we were led to the most prime RV parking space that we have ever had. It was a “good luck” event. We were on the end of a row, easy parking. Greg pulled up, unhooked and parked the car, then backed into our spot, nice and level. Andy and Heidy could hardly wait to get out. We took a quick walk, a rest stop and then they had their dinner and were ready for their PM walk. There were dogs and new friends to meet as we strolled through the campground. Lots of new smells; lots of new trees and grass. We were on the lookout for wild iguanas. Thank goodness we did not find any, even though we saw two crawling around as we drove into the campground.

We are in the “ideal” location in our little corner of the park, right across the road from one of the beaches (the swimming beach). We are only a few steps away from the pool, the clubhouse and the entry / exit plus the KOA store. Jennifer arrives on Thursday and staying until Sunday. She’s going to love the access to the beach and pool, even if we no longer are big fans. And, we’ll all enjoy this tropical paradise and all it has to enjoy, especially the food. We can hardly wait to have mouth-watering seafood dishes.

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