Monthly Archives: May 2016

Tropical escape, part 3

The Florida Keys

The Florida Keys had long been on Eric’s and my bucket lists. It was finally time to go! Come on along on a photo tour as we see what Ernest Hemingway and Jimmy Buffett made a such a fuss about.

Here we go on the Overseas Highway, the 113-mile, 42-bridge, southern end of US 1, which links the Florida Keys to the mainland. Most of the highway is two-lane like this, but a few places have been upgraded to four-lane. Our destination: Key West.

Crossing the 7-mile bridge on U.S. 1, Florida Keys

Seven-Mile Bridge

We planned to drive straight through, but it wasn’t long before we pulled over to take pictures of that water. If you’ve ever been to the Caribbean, you know what I’m talking about—the colors are incredible. If you haven’t, well … you need to go.

Shallow cove of aqua water in Bay of Florida

Aquamarine

The highway follows alongside the remains of the old railroad or the old highway (I couldn’t always tell which). The railroad, built in the 1920s, predates the highway, which was built in segments during the 1920s and 1930s. The continuous highway opened for traffic in 1938; it’s been partially updated.

Cars parked on old Hwy. 1 in the Florida Keys

Part of the old highway is now a very long fishing pier.

Key West

Arriving in Key West, we made straight for famous Duval Street, a mile-long strip of tourist restaurants, loud bars, and tacky t-shirt shops. For some reason, Key West is overrun by feral chickens. They’re everywhere. People love them or hate them—I think it depends on whether they’re trying to get some sleep.

We hoofed it through the sauna-like air down to a long pier at the end of the street—the southernmost point in the US.

Later we learned that the pole at the end of the pier is not really the official southernmost point. The official southernmost point is the painted buoy at the corner of South Street and Whitehead Street. (It’s not a real buoy … it’s an old concrete sewer junction box that’s painted to look like a buoy! Ha! Tourists beware.)

Painted "buoy" at southernmost point in US, Key West, FL

Southernmost tourist point in the US

But wait—that’s not the real southernmost point, either. The really real one is on nearby US Navy property and not accessible to civilians. Anyway … we were damn close.

It was getting on toward sunset, so we beat feet to Mallory Square, all the way at the other end of Duval. This is the iconic plaza where the crowd gathers every evening to watch the sun sink into the Gulf of Mexico behind Sunset Key. Every tourist on the island was there, plus souvenir vendors and performance artists … maybe even some locals. The place was packed, but we managed to find a spot at the rail, so to speak. I was so busy watching the sunset that I didn’t think about turning around and taking a picture of Mallory Square itself. Here’s one taken from a cruise ship, which gives you a much better perspective than I had.

Crowded Mallory Square from the air

Mallory Square [onboard.com ]

Here’s what was distracting me. Wow, what a show! I can’t possibly cull my photos down to one favorite shot, so enjoy the gallery. None of these photos has been Photoshopped or color-enhanced. (Click to enlarge.)

The next morning we toured the Hemingway Home and Museum use to get a cat fix. Ernest Hemingway and his wife Pauline lived in this charming house from 1931 until their 1940 divorce. We were lucky to be there when the African tulip tree was in bloom.

A plaque beneath this 1928 photo explains that Hemingway got the gash on his forehead when he yanked on a skylight chain, thinking it was the toilet chain. The skylight shattered over his head. I’m sure alcohol was not a factor.

1928 photo of Ernest Hemingway with a curved gash on his forehead.

Nine stitches

Hemingway had a polydactyl cat, and the present-day house and gardens are crawling with kitties, some of whom are said to be descendants of Hemingway’s cat. Many are polydactyl. All are safe and content, and do what cats do in the heat: snooze. They even have a feeding station designed to match the house.

How about this for a bathroom? Windows on three sides! I love the Deco tile floor—fish are always at home in a bathroom.

Yellow, black and white bathroom at Hemingway house in Key West, FL

As big as our bedroom

We peeked in at Hemingway’s writing studio over the old carriage house. A suitably masculine place to hang out. But it’s blocked off … we could only stand in the doorway to look and imagine him typing the manuscript for To Have and Have Not.

Hemingway's Key West studio over the carriage house.

Hemingway’s studio seen from the house’s balcony

Interior of Hemingway's Key West studio

Inside the studio

From Papa Hemingway’s place, we walked to the other end of town (again) to catch a glass-bottomed catamaran cruise to the barrier reef. (Alas, I am neither swimmer nor snorkeler.) The Florida Barrier Reef is the third largest living coral reef in the world (behind Australia and Belize). I thought it would be cooler out on the water, but it was mercilessly hot and humid. The woman next to me mopped her face with a Kleenex, which disintegrated and stuck to her skin.

Back on shore, we walked some of the side streets. Just a block or two off Duval, Key West is quiet and distinctly Caribbean.

We strolled by Harry Truman’s Little White House, which was being set up for a wedding (even the bride’s little dog was wearing a lace gown). I was amazed to find coleus, which back home are small potted plants, growing taller than me!

Bahia Honda Key

We wanted to stay longer, but we had a schedule to keep and a wedding to get to, so back we went on US 1. We stopped to take photos of the Bahia Honda Bridge. This one was obviously a railroad bridge … right? Yes … and no. The new four-lane bridge sits to the north. Beside it, the old bridge is slowly crumbling into the sea. It was originally a railroad bridge, but when a hurricane wiped out many railroad bridges in 1935, the state bought what remained of the bridges and used them to build more of the highway. In this case, the pavement is on top of the railroad structure. Something tells me they wouldn’t get away with that these days.

Marathon

In Marathon, we visited the Sea Turtle Hospital, an experience that I’ll always remember. This nonprofit hospital rehabilitates sea turtles that have been injured by boats or nets, have eaten trash, or are suffering from disease. It’s set up in an old motel, and the staff lives onsite. What a perfect use for an old property! The old salt-water pool is too dilapidated for humans, but it works just fine for turtles. Some of these turtles are permanent hospital residents. For instance, a collision with a boat can force air into the turtle’s body tissue, deforming its shell and causing it to float head-down, bottom-up. This condition, called bubble butt, can be compensated for by gluing weights to the turtle’s shell … but the weights will eventually fall off, so the turtle cannot safely to return to the sea.

Key Largo

That night we ate at a seaside restaurant whose boat dock was lit from underwater. As darkness fell, I snapped this otherworldly photo with my cell phone. I think it’s the shot of the trip.

Boats at dock with water lit from below with green lights

One last stop before we returned to the mainland: John Pennecamp Coral Reef State Park on Key Largo, where we discovered a beautiful aquarium. After studying the sea life there, I was able to identify all the types of coral depicted in Finding Nemo.

We walked down a wooded trail and along the beach, where we found these large coral rocks. Easy to see remnants of sea life here.

Coral texture on large rock

Love the patterns

As we were leaving, we passed the kayak rental. Why do these colorful kayaks remind me of fruit?

Detail pf multicolored kayaks in a row

Bananas?

Goodbye, Florida Keys … we’ll be back someday!

Coming next: My final post about Florida, featuring gardens, lighthouses, and a wedding!

Green ginkgo leaf with 1913 - 2013 below it

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Tropical escape, part 2

Gators in the ‘Glades

After reveling in the retroglam of Miami Beach, we lit out for the territory to visit something wilder—Everglades National Park. We’d already had a glimpse of the Everglades from our plane. It looked like this: On one side of the canal, dredged waterways and man-made islands covered in homes and golf courses … on the other side, miles of uninterrupted grassland.

A long straight canal divides development from natural grassland in the Everglades

Houses on one side, sawgrass on the other [qz.com]

The Everglades is not a swamp. It’s a shallow, slow-moving river, draining water out of Lake Okeechobee to the ocean. This vast grassland covers the southern end of Florida. Everglades National Park is at the southernmost tip of the overall Everglades area.

Like many of our natural areas, the Everglades has been ruthlessly exploited and nearly destroyed by humans. The northern part was converted to grazing land and sugarcane fields. Canals, levees, and roads blocked the natural flow of water and decimated animal life downstream. Urban development crept ever closer from the East Coast. Approximately 50 percent of the original Everglades has been developed as agricultural or urban areas [Wikipedia]. I won’t go into the horrifying history of what humans have perpetrated there, but if you read about it, it will make you sick. Fortunately, restoration efforts have been underway since the 1990s, with the $7.8 billion Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan signed by President Bill Clinton in 2000. Better late than never, right?

Map showing loss of Everglades habitat in the 20th Century

Loss of Everglades habitat in the 20th Century [fas.org]

After a brief stop at the main visitor center to plan our day, we continued a little further into the park to Royal Palm Visitor Center, where we walked the .8 mile Anhinga Trail. Most of this accessible trail is a beautiful boardwalk that allows you to peek down into the brush and water.

Man walks on wooden boardwalk in Everglades National Park.

What’s around the next bend?

Green lillypads float in Everglades National Park

Lillypads floating in the clear, shallow water

Young mangrove tree growing in Everglades National Park

A young mangrove tree

Cardinal air plant growing on a tree trunk

Cardinal air plant (tillandsia fasciculata)

Spherical white flower in Everglades National Park

This may be a powderpuff (related to mimosa?)

Before long we found some wildlife … this turtle was lounging on the warm mud.

Turtle sleeping in the sun

Lazing in the sun

Smack in the center of this photo is an alligator bag. No, wait—it’s a real alligator!

Alligator resting under a tree in Everglades National Park

See him?

Alligator in Everglades National Park

A better view

Here’s another one, facing away from me.

Alligator hides among grasses in Everglades National Park

We never saw a gator in action … they were all just lying around

I didn’t know much about the Everglades, other than what TV shows lead us to believe. Here’s what I thought it would be like.

Cartoon gator inviting you to take an airboat tour

Thankfully, airboats aren’t allowed within the national park. We certainly did not expect to see this:

Smoke from wildfire hangs over Everglades National Fire

An eerie landscape

The Everglades were on fire. Lightning-induced fires are not uncommon, and sometimes prescribed fires are necessary to burn off spilled fuel or to reduce invasive plant species, but this 3800-acre fire was caused by some idiot who got careless at a campsite.

We had hoped to take a boat tour into the interior of the park, but because of reduced visibility from the smoke, the Forest Service made us wait for a lead car to escort us through part of the main park road. We waited. We missed the boat. By the time we arrived at Flamingo Visitor Center, only one last boat tour was available, out into Florida Bay. (Florida Bay is between the mainland and the Florida Keys.)

Pink Flamingo Visitor Center in Everglades National Park

What color did you think Flamingo Visitor Center would be?

As we cruised into the bay, the captain ran through the mandatory flotation vest demonstration. “If you fall overboard and can’t remember how the life vest works,” he said, “just stand up.” Florida Bay is only three or four feet deep … six feet in dredged boat channels.

Aerial shot showing southern Floida and Florida Bay

You can see the park and the shallowness of Florida Bay. [Google]

View from dock at Flamingo looking toward Florida Bay

Looking south from Flamingo Marina toward Florida Bay

FLorida Bay with island visible in the distance

Heading out into Florida Bay

From the water, we saw birds … lots of birds. Ubiquitous brown pelicans, white egrets, terns, and this nest of osprey.

Three osprey chicks and their mother on a nest on a harbor navigation marker

These osprey chicks look almost ready to fly.

Brown pelican diving into water

A pelican dives for dinner

Perky terns

Perky crested terns perch on a piling

A graceful white egret perches on a mangrove root.

A graceful white egret perches on a mangrove root

Out in the bay, distant mangrove islands shimmered in the sun like mirages. They seemed to float above the water.

Distant island shimmers in heat

Mirage?

These islands begin as a single mangrove seedling that breaks off the parent tree and floats away. If the seedling gets hung up on a shallow spot, it can put down roots in an hour. As the tree grows, its dropped leaves decay and build up, eventually forming a small island.

Small mangrove tree grows near the water

Baby mangrove

Over many years, this island may gain enough elevation—just a few feet—to support hardwood trees. These small humps are known as hardwood hammocks. We passed many hammocks as we drove through the park … but we don’t have a single photo to show you. Guess we’ll have to go back.

Everglades cross section

Everglades cross section [USGS]

Reflection of mangrove roots in the water of Florida Bay

Reflection of mangrove roots

After the cruise we lingered at the marina, hoping to see the manatees that often visit there … but we were disappointed.

Two manatees under water

We did not see these manatees [Keywestaquarium.com]

Cruise boat docked at Flamingo Marina

Our cruise boat in manatee-free Flamingo Marina

The only manatees we saw during our whole trip were these popular mailbox holders. They’re so cute and kitchy, I suppose I would have to have one.

Manatee mailbox holder

Close, but no cigar

A few hours in Everglades National Park was only enough to scratch the surface. We’ll have to come back to catch that boat into the interior, meet a manatee, and hang out in a hammock with a Florida panther. But now, off to the Keys!

Tropical escape, part 1

FLORIDA.

The word conjures white sand beaches and swimming pool-colored water, graceful palms, alligators in the Everglades, and Don Johnson in a pastel suit. We discovered it’s all these things, and more.

In my last post I threatened to take a tropical vacation instead of continuing with plaster repair. Of course, Eric and I had this escape planned for months because his son, Andy, was getting married in Vero Beach. Neither of us had explored Florida, so we made the most of our visit to the opposite corner of the country by stretching our trip to 16 glorious days.

For a flight that long, I told Eric I’d go only if we flew first class, which I’d never done. So we cashed in every air mile we had and pretended we do this all the time. I have to admit I felt a certain smugness as we sat there sipping our first drink while the endless parade of less fortunates trooped to the back of the bus. I loved that feeling. Plus, I’m certain that the flight is shorter when you fly first class. I told Eric that I’m done flying in steerage. It’s first class all the way for me from now on, baby. Eric replied that I’ll be staying home a lot if that’s the case. Ah, well … it was grand while it lasted.

But, Florida … Put on your walkin’ shoes, because we’re going to cover a lot of ground!

Ft. Lauderdale

This was our first glimpse of Florida’s Atlantic Coast on the day we arrived.

Palm tree and ocean at Ft. Lauderdale beach.

This is what we came so far to see!

People have to watch the sunset backwards here, which made me laugh.

Man facing the sunset on Florida beach

Where we come from, we face the ocean at sunset.

We were delighted to find velella velella, a jelly-ish invertebrate that “sails” on top of the water. We also have rare velella velella sightings in the Pacific Northwest, except ours are purple.

We were soon to discover that the entire south Florida coast is lined with a wall of high-rise condos and resorts, which warehouse hundreds of thousands of gray-haired folks. You can’t even glimpse the ocean from the road. All the buildings have sea-inspired names. Any combination of sea-related words you can think of surely is represented: Sea Breeze, Admiral, Commodore, Miramar, Turtle Bay, Tarpon … they’re all there. I defy you to come up with some oceanic name that hasn’t been used. Well, maybe not Sharkbite Sands or Flotsam Bay.

Condos line the beach at Ft. Lauderdale

Condos north and south, as far as the eye can see.

Miami Beach

The next morning we reported to the Miami Beach Art Deco Welcome Center for a walking tour. Miami Beach is a separate city on a barrier island between the Intracoastal Waterway and Biscayne Bay. It began as resort playground for wealthy Easterners in the early 20th Century, until a hurricane wiped it out in 1926. During the 1930s and 40s, lots of smaller, affordable, cheaply built hotels sprang up, designed in the latest decorative style, and Miami Beach thrived once more … until World War II.  What to do with all these hotels rooms when the war kept vacationers away? Why, fill them with soldiers-in-training! And that was my first connection to Miami Beach: my dad was one of those soldiers. Somewhere I have his photos of the hotel in which he stayed, and even as a kid I drooled over that cool building. (Did you know that the name “Art Deco” only became popular in the late 1960s? Before that, the style was usually called “Jazz Moderne.”) Now, Miami Beach has the largest collection of Art Deco buildings in the world, thanks to the preservation efforts of Barbara Capitman in the 1970s.

The Art Deco style is known for symmetry, repetitions of three, vertical elements, fluting, ziggurats (stepped designs), eyebrows (horizontal ledges over windows to shade them from midday sun), wavy lines, and frozen fountains. Many of these design elements are Egyptian-inspired. See how many of them you can pick out in my photos.

Let’s start with the Congress Hotel. It’s got it all—three stories, vertical lines in sets of three, eyebrows, waves, frozen fountains, and a really cool typeface (Eric and I are typography geeks, and we were in heaven).

Congress Hotel, Miami Beach

This manikin wants you to notice the frozen fountain panel flanking the entry. Interestingly, the pastel colors are not original. When these buildings were built they were all white.

Detail of COngress Hotel entry showing pastel-painted frozen fountain motif

The Hotel Shelley with fluting, waves, triple horizontal lines, and intricate bas-relief panels above the entry.

Cream and gray Art Deco facade of Hotel Sheely

The Beach Patrol Headquarters building looks just like a boat with its round corners, porthole windows, and three-tiered pipe railing. The wall out front is made of coral limestone, which we found all over Southern Florida.

Art Deco building that resembles a boat

Buildings that occupy prominent corner locations tend to have elaborate entries. Doesn’t the Tiffany Building look like a rocket ship?

Whit Art Deco building on corner, with tall mast sign.

Mast atop Tiffany building with neon letters

Inside the Tiffany, the walls are made of coral limestone, polished to resemble gold and green marble, echoed in the terrazzo floor. What a beautiful lobby!

Staircase made of polished yellow and green polished coral

Art Deco lobby of Tiffany building

The Sherbrooke Hotel reminds me of an ocean liner.

Sherbrooke Hotel looks like an ocean liner

Detail of Sherbrooke sign in Broadway typeface atop hotel

Sherbrooke’s sign in Broadway typeface

This little gem sat in a row of small Art Deco hotels. Boutique hotel companies sometimes operate several small buildings as one hotel. The next time we come to Miami, we’ll stay in one.

Fancy detailing on the Taft Hotel

Icing on a wedding cake

A lovely detail of a bas-relief frieze with a palm motif.

Gray, carved palm motif frieze on white building

The famous Breakwater Hotel was the backdrop for lots of action in the 1980s TV show, Miami Vice.

Breakwater Hotel with famous vertical sign

A very Miami Beach color scheme–blue and yellow

A Banana Republic store never looked so at home! Love the corner quoining and detailing at the roof line, and how the striped awnings draw attention to the horizontal stripes on the building.

Art Deco Banana Republic store with black and white striped awnings

Right at home in the palms

Look at the beautiful detailing on this classic diner.

Shiny, patterned aluminum diner with glass block corner window

Like a jewel box …

We saw more than Art Deco. Amongst all the Art Deco buildings are a couple of historic bungalows made of coral. Neither was open for visitors, although I would have loved to see the interiors.

Small house build of rough coral limestones

One of two coral bungalows

This building has more of a Mediterranean Revival flavor (another predominant style in Southern Florida). I took the photo just because of the matching car.

Cream and orange vintage car in front of Mediterranean style building.

Nice when your car matches your restaurant’s awnings.

After the Art Deco style fell out of favor post-WWII, Midcentury Modern filled in. We found several examples of “MiMo” (pronounced “MY-mo,” short for Miami Modern), but we didn’t have enough time to seek out more. One prevalent feature of Mimo is openwork screening of brick or cement block. Here are a few Mimo examples (click to enlarge).

Even the lifeguard huts look like colorful spaceships.

Colorful lifeguard station at Miami Beach

We retuned to town that evening to see the place lit up. Ocean Avenue after hours is loud music, overpriced restaurants, ambling tourists … and neon. I’m a sucker for colored lights. Click to enlarge.

So, I finally can check off the Miami Beach Art Deco district, which has been on my bucket list since I was a child … before bucket lists were invented. Driving around, we saw that the Art Deco influence extends far beyond Ocean Avenue. Even small apartment buildings on quiet side streets are pastel, simpler Art Deco examples. Despite it being a tourist Mecca, Miami Beach is a place I’d return to and continue to explore.

Next stop: Everglades National Park.

Green ginkgo leaf with 1913 - 2013 below it