Thursday, April 30, 2009

Long Key State Park

Were I to ask someone to name three state parks in the Florida Keys, I have an idea the answer might be, Bahia Honda, John Pennekamp (especially if they dive) and most likely Fort Zachary Taylor if they frequent Key West. I use the annual State Parks Pass to explore as many of the parks as often as I can as it allows free access. It costs something like $85 per calendar year for the pass while a day ticket for one person is $3.50 at the park entrance or $6 for a car. Ironically two people on two motorcycles thus cost more than four in a car!The Monroe County stamp on the pass is applied by parks in the county to allow free entry to the parks in the Keys because that stamp on the pass costs five extra dollars. If you have a parks card without the stamp you pay 50 cents to get into Monroe County parks. Aren't we special in the Fabulously Expensive Florida Keys!Long Key State Park is at or around Mile marker 67 just south of the City of Layton (see my essay of January 17th 2008,, and it is in the pantheon of second class State Parks in the Keys just because they tend to be less well known. I like it a lot and on my first visit to the Keys in 1981 I stayed at a campsite on the beach, such as it is and used it as my base for exploring further. Probably one reason why Long Key suffers second class status is because it doesn't have a beach though it has a massively extended waterfront for a park a thousand acres in size.The park is long and thin like it's namesake key wedged between the Straits of Florida and the Overseas Highway. The park promotes birds as one its major attractions including "herons, egrets, willets, sandpipers, plovers, terns, and seagulls," which should be enough for anybody. Additionally there is canoeing on the Long Key Lake in the middle of the park and there is camping in the slice of parkland alongside the Overseas Highway next to the water:
The day use area has a small slice of sandy beach for people riding motorcycles or with picnics:Which was where I spotted a piece of artwork as I ate a granola bar and emptied a thermos of tea for lunch:For some people standing at the water's edge and admiring the view is an entirely satisfactory activity:For others the way to pass an afternoon is to stand thigh deep in salt water water to try to catch fish. This dude was quite a ways out proving that my little pocket camera has quite decent reach with the built-in telephoto, and also that the water shelves very gently along these islands:Some people enjoy cycling the roads inside the park, a way to enjoy pedaling and not get run down on the highway:For myself the plan was to take a walk as I haven't been out in the woods for a while, so I headed down the main road... the boardwalk at the head of the main trail which heads towards the beach:I found a chair parked rather mysteriously in the shade as though someone enjoyed taking in nature's glories in comfort, so much so they dragged their own chair to that very spot:Along the way our thoughtful Park service puts up little notices describing flora, fauna and sights to left and right:There was also a sturdy observation platform built above the mangroves but the view was I have say, somewhat less than enthralling:My goal was the main circular trail through the back of the park on something they call the Golden Orb Trail which is named for a spider and is about a mile and a half long. The helpful signs suggest a leisurely hour long walk and even though I was wearing motorcycle boots and long pants I covered it in a little less than that.
The second half of the trail after I crossed the plank bridge shown above, is described as a hammock environment, which in South Florida means an area of raised dry land above the water level such that trees can grow in real dirt. Only thing was, this was the first sandy hammock I had seen. It reminded me of chaparral seen in western states:And I was not entirely alone. I met another walker, rather more suitably dressed than I, and we played trail leap frog, exchanging remarks while not willing to impinge on each other's privacy too much:She was a visitor to Florida and spent more time than I on the useful little signs along the way, though we exchanged a few comments as we passed each other.Closing in on the parking lot, where the Bonneville was parked in the shade, it being that warm, the trail started to get the mulching treatment a sit passed trough buttonwoods that look more like a "proper"hammock to my untutored eye.
Thence home, leaving unexplored the canoe launch and the Layton Trail, across the Overseas highway. The good thing about a parks pass is that it encourages return visits.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Sawyer Lane

I worked in Fast Buck Freddie's warehouse for a almost six months on William Street and never bothered to take a walk down Sawyer Lane, just across the street from me. The entrance to Sawyer off William is pretty enough in the usual Old Town sort of way. By day:
And by night:The house on the other side of the entrance is less fancy but equally Key West-ish:The porch has an emphasis on outdoor activity, required no doubt in a small house. The porch becomes an extra space, a place to store stuff or get stuff done, more than just sitting in a rocking chair and drinking lemonade.This house is also framed by some yellow plants which I cannot identify, but I am reliably informed are the tropical standard frangipani:What struck me about Sawyer Lane was the greenery and the flowers all over the place. The lane is but a block long and full of stuff sprouting:
I think the pink plants are hibiscus though I could be wrong though I should know if for no reason than that they were blooming in profusion:Sawyer Lane is a bit of a canyon as the homes seem very tall and they in turn are overshadowed by old growth trees:J Wills Burke in Streets of Key West says Sawyer Lane is named for one Benjamin Sawyer, mayor of the city from 1844 to 1846, which seems a short enough term to have accomplished much. Preferred candidates are General Abe Sawyer a famous dwarf who lived in the city and is now buried there. famous for what other than being short isn't specified. There are also two Sawyer bothers buried in the city cemetery, James and John who Wills Burke identifies as being the oldest residents therein. James' death occurring in 1829 and John in 1843. Who knew...
I did spot what I thought was an exceptionally tall eyebrow house, one of those constructions with large overhangs in front:I've mentioned it before but the idea behind the "eyebrow" was to allow windows to remain open out of the way of rain or sun but the overhang apparently traps hot air. It still looks pretty:White picket fences are frequently derided as suburban stereotypes but on Sawyer Lane the picket fence looks perfect, naturally also displaying a plant or two:This fence was unusual in that it was a double row of pickets, for what purpose, if any, I know not. Wills Burke notes that Sawyer Lane meets Roberts Lane at the end of the block, which in Google maps is shown as Roberto Lane. Mind you they also show Sawyer as Sawyers Lane so there is room for extra vowels and consonants in their mapping, good though it is. While I walked the two lanes I parked the Bonneville at their confluence:Roberts Lane comes off Caroline Street next to Key West Marine Hardware known to boaters locally as Cuban Joe's, with the store's long private driveway parallel to Roberts:Which ends in a gravel driveway to a large parking area, which, not to put too fine a point on it doesn't look like a public roadway:It always causes me to wonder how such a small crowded island has all these unused spaces. Long may they stay that way. A final view of Sawyer Lane at night:Dark, leafy indistinct, as it should be on a warm tropical night.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Bed Racing

It happened in 1982 that the Federal Government had one it's periodic crack downs and the Border Patrol as was set up a check point on Highway One to make sure "illegal aliens" weren't using the Keys as a back door entry to the US. This unaccustomed heavy handedness caused tourist operators to fear the worst for their income and they did the all American thing and took the Immigration and Naturalization Service (as was) to court.The story goes that pressed by reporters on what he was going to do next, Mayor Dennis Wardlow, in consultation with his advisers huddled for a moment in the courthouse lobby sought and found the inspiration that sometimes strikes the desperate. So he announced that he was going to secede from the United States. A declaration that made headlines. And so it was that the Border Patrol (as was) found itself shamed into taking down the check point and restored easy travel between the US and the Conch Republic, which in the meantime, having got into the spirit of the moment pressed the US government to fork over some "foreign aid," seeing as how the islands were blockaded from the mainland. And so people gather under cloudless blue skies to watch other people make gentle asses of themselves in public:In an effort to keep the revenue up for the "hospitality industry" the latter part of April is a time set aside for celebrations in Key West to mark the ever popular act of secession. Much of it involves the usual drinking, parading, and bikini contests with the addition of a "sea battle" which the Coastguard joins with local boats, and the whole thing wraps up with a bed race up Duval Street."Where else but Key West," my wife the former public defender wondered out loud, "would you find the cops escorting beds down the street?" The Conch Republic is big business for one week and they hire off duty cops to keep order, which needn't be a tough assignment at a family event like a bed race. Officer Standerwick was keeping an eye on the crowds as the start line:When one says a "family affair" this is one human family, not at all like the Swiss Canton of Appenzell Innerrhoden which the BBC reports has voted by popular acclamation to outlaw naked alpine hiking, a problem I hadn't previously known to have existed. Key West doesn't actually allow nudity on the streets, but the One Human Family label covers a multitude of sins where the benefits of commerce are involved and peculiar garb, and the less of it the better, is designed to attract crowds and their money:So they line the beds up two by two, and they push them down the street, raising money for charity, laughs for the crowds and cans of beer for refreshment:
Duval Street was closed for several hours on Saturday afternoon as the pushers pushed and the crowds cheered them on. Between pairs of beds Eaton Street was opened to traffic by Officers O'Connell:And Jewell:

Who kept order at the busy intersection reminding riders that Duval was closed, as though that weren't obvious even to the oblivious, and to cross the street before the next pair of beds came flying past. The crowds were huge along the street but it was an easy going bunch of people who came out to check on the weirdness galloping down the street. The spectators, unlike at Fantasy Fest, kept their street clothes on as they gave their off spring an education:

Rob O'Neal, a photographer from the Citizen was busy documenting the speeding beds, and we exchanged a few pleasantries on the future of Cuba, and the hope that the embargo might soon vanish:

As it is there is more animosity welling up between the Upper Keys and the Lower Keys, never mind Cuba, over this Conch Republic fantasy. Peter Anderson who styles himself the Secretary General of the Conch Republic is involved in a copyright dispute of embargo proportions with a group of copy cats in the Upper Keys who have seen the popularity of the Key West festivities and want to peel off a piece of the action themselves and hold their own more suburban gathering of the "Northern Territories of the Conch Republic." Rather than have a bed race to sort out the rights to the name (which seem obvious in light of Anderson's longevity) they are going back to the real roots of the Conch Republic: The all American Courthouse.