Tropical escape, part 4
As we made our way south, then north, and then south again along Florida’s Atlantic coast, we stopped at several lighthouses, which are some of Eric’s favorite subjects. We make a point of “bagging” lighthouses everywhere we go. We never know what we’ll see as we’re pursuing our quarry.
Our first up-close encounter was Cape Florida Light on Key Biscayne, just south of Miami. Our first glimpse of this 95-foot tall, bright-white lighthouse was from the beach side—oops, no access from there. We approached down an alley of palms and sea grape trees. Unfortunately the lighthouse was closed, so we just ambled around the grounds and visited with a friendly lizard at the old caretaker’s cottage. Eric snapped this painterly selfie in one of the lighthouse’s windows. It’s one of my favorite photos from this trip. What strikes me as unusual about this light is that the taper of the tower changes slightly above the last window. (Click to enlarge.)
A couple of days later we found ourselves at the foot of Key West Light, just across the street from the Hemingway Home. It’s much shorter, just 65 feet, and although it stands in the middle of town at only 15 feet above sea level, the island’s so flat that its height was adequate for years. I have only one crummy photo. WHY didn’t we climb this light? I thought it was because it was temporarily closed, but Eric claims it was because I was tired, hot, and, um … grumpy, and I didn’t feel like it. I wish he’d quit making this stuff up!
We made a quick stop to find little Key Largo Light, hidden away on someone’s private property on a canal. The chase is part of the fun–you never know where you might go. This modest lighthouse, once (and perhaps still) a private wedding venue, looks as if it’s searching for a preservation society.
From the Keys, we drove wa-a-ay up the east Florida coast to Jacksonville to visit my step-son Andy and his fiancée Kelly before the wedding. On the way north we found Hillsboro Inlet Light, locked safely behind the gates of a country club. We stopped at a park across the water to get these shots of the 135-ft iron tower. Yes, you can climb it, but the tight spiral stairs inside the central cylinder might be too claustrophobic for me.
Further up the coast, we thought we’d drop in on our friends Tiger, Greg, and Gary on Jupiter Island, but they weren’t home. The local lighthouse society wanted $10 for a guided tour. We passed and took photos from a respectable distance.
Family was gathering in Jacksonville, and we all headed to St. Augustine for the day. Eric and I took the opportunity to climb the magnificent St. Augustine Light. This one’s much taller—165 feet, with 219 lacy wrought-iron steps to the top. I’m not good with heights, so upon stepping out onto the lantern deck, I flattened myself to the wall and inched my way around. Once I’d made the 180-degree tour and convinced myself the thing wasn’t going to fall over, I made it to the rail with relative confidence. I’d always wanted to visit a spiral-striped lighthouse!
The next day we drove to Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse, just south of Daytona Beach. At 175 feet, it’s the tallest lighthouse in Florida (and second tallest in the US, behind Cape Hatteras Light). But it has only 203 steps–a noticeably steeper climb than St. Augustine Light. I love taking shots of the stairs, up and down, in towers of any kind. And really, when I got to the top, the views were worth the vertigo. An outbuilding displayed a glittering collection of lenses, including the 1860 first order Fresnel lens from the old Cape Canaveral Light. If I had a lighthouse to climb every day, I’d be in much better shape … but if I had to haul a bucket of kerosene to the top, like lighthouse keepers of old, I’d be dead.
McKee Botanical Garden
Whenever I think of Florida now, I picture the lush tropical vegetation that flourished everywhere we looked. What fun to create one’s very own jungle garden! Once we arrived in Vero Beach for the wedding, we made time to explore McKee Botanical Garden—18 acres of trails, streams, lagoons, and groves. (I grew up running around my grandparents’ greenhouses and florist shop as a child … I felt like that long-ago eight-year-old, let loose in paradise.) The garden featured a special dinosaur exhibit incorporated into the forest. We snuck up on several of them, as you’ll see. Or did they sneak up on us?
Lagoons full of multicolor water lilies are McKee’s signature. I’d never seen so many different colored water lilies … so beautiful!
It wasn’t until we were home that I had a chance to look up what some of the other flowers were. I discovered ginger blossoms come in all sorts of shapes … like these beauties.
The jungle plantings grew so thickly that we could have gotten lost without a map.
We came upon three hive-like structures made of willow branches. Environmental artist Patrick Dougherty and a team of volunteers constructed them in January, and named them “The Royals” after the Royal Palm grove they grace. The Royals will remain in the garden until weather and time cause them to break down.
I loved this African sausage tree. In April, the sausages looked more like giant cucumbers, but they’ll turn brown and then burst open with dark red flowers.
Eric got pretty close to this rat snake before he decided maybe the snake was getting peeved.If we watched the ground for a few seconds, it came alive with cute brown Carolina anole lizards.
The culmination of our trip was Andy and Kelly’s wedding in Vero Beach. We stayed put in one hotel for three consecutive nights—that never happens! Our room looked out at the ocean. Eric rose before dawn each day to take sunrise photos. Just spectacular.
The wedding was spectacular, too, despite punishing heat and humidity. Andy and Kelly are a beautiful couple. I didn’t take many photos because—you guessed it—I was so miserably hot that I couldn’t focus past the sweat trickling down my back. Andy’s mom handed me a tissue in case I cried. I used it to mop my brow.
See you later, alligator
The biggest impression I took away from Florida was COLOR. As our plane circled Seattle to land, I was shocked at how dark my beloved Pacific Northwest looked, even though it was a sunny day. My eyes had become accustomed to Florida’s bright green foliage, turquoise sea, and golden sunrises. In contrast, our water is dark gray-green (and 53ºF!), the forested hills are dark Douglas fir blue-green, and the houses are typically earthy colors of tan and gray. Not that it isn’t beautiful here—the mountains and the sea are stunning. It’s just not tropical. Florida, though, is bursting with color, but it’s color that’s sat out in the sun for a few years, consumed too many margaritas, and faded to a mellow, laid-back patina. The dominant color for houses and small commercial buildings is sunshine yellow, trimmed with sky blue or sea turquoise. So light and fresh. You needn’t hesitate to paint your house pink in southern Florida. It’ll fit right in. These colors look so right in the tropics, but they would never work in the Pacific Northwest.
We talk often of retuning to the southern Florida coast. I wonder … how long will we wait?