Thursday, December 9, 2010

Boca Chica Beach

The sky was cloudy, and I hoped it was a good day to go deep into Boca Chica Beach, a notoriously buggy place. We parked the car, Cheyenne and I alongside the only other vehicle currently at this most popular beach, a van whose occupant had the engine running and a laptop perched on his steering wheel. He nodded cheerfully as we stumped by and then my Labrador and I were alone in the beach wilderness.I had plans this early morning (8 o'clock is early for a lot of people) and they involved walking as far as we could in ninety minutes before I had to drive in to Key West to meet my wife. The old road was torn up by Hurricane Wilma in 2005 but prior to that this stretch of asphalt was open to cars and it was much wider than the narrow strip still open to bikes and walkers. The ocean is unchanging if a little melodramatic this fine morning.I had remembered to apply copious layers of insect repellent so I'm not sure if precautions were effective or if the threat of cool weather was enough to keep mosquitoes at bay.Boca Chica is a strip of public land backed by the Boca Chica Naval Air Station which regularly flies jets off the runway here. They fly low and loud simulating aircraft carrier exercises, but the beach itself is open to public use, this side of the green hurricane fence. The power poles along here mark the old state road bed (not Highway One as some believe. The Old Overseas Highway used to pass through Boca Chica Base itself and a portion of it is still used as a second entrance gate). I have seen these "State Beach" signs for sale on Duval Street. There is no doubt however that people fling their clothes off with gay abandon around here, whether such activities are state sanctioned or not. Not, most likely, as Florida has a government that enjoys very much interfering with people's private passions. In the name of freedom, naturally.
Anyway, by the time you encounter a middle aged naked man (not me!) down here you will have been amply warned. Someone with too much time on their hands has been adding to the sole tree on the beach. A testament to the indestructible plastic pollution of our coastal waters:This Cuban chug used to be further down the beach closer to the tide line but it has apparently been pushed up further onto dry land. It was quite a sophisticated home built escape vehicle, with a hull made of sheet metal bolted together sheathed in fiberglass to make it water tight. It has engine mounts inside and seemed to have canvas flotation rings around the top of the hull. It is also filling up with trash after long exposure to lazy passers by. The US Coastguard OK is supposed to indicate the boat has been inspected and accounted for as much as possible by the Coasties. Cubans are always floating over, or dying in the attempt, when the ocean is calm and the breezes die down.Speaking of time on your hands there is a stone hut construction also on this beach and very elaborate it is too.It has chambers and paths and decorations and everything. Crusoe would be at home here.Further down the beach the way is obstructed by water, a pond spilling out into the ocean. Across the salt pond the eagle eyed guardian of Boca Chica Naval Air Station.Hurricane storm surge has made a mess of the coastline here. It's what Nature tends to do, tearing up the dirt and making human access more complex. Someone has strung up a set of polyethylene rope between the trees to enable people to totter dry foot using rocks as stepping stones. Cheyenne and I, properly clad fear no water- my Crocs and Cheyenne's paws are amphibious.A good spot to pause.Someone left a copy of Conch Color magazine in this pleasant reading spot on a small chunk of waterfront sand, well shaded with a nice ocean view. Here is a surviving culvert from the old road. We had to get our calves wet to cross another outgoing stream of salt water to get to the next chunk of beach.Another someone with a lot of time on their hands has been piling up rocks to create another causeway. They need to buy and wear waterproof Crocs instead.More old road, more old power poles stretching to the horizon.These rocks mark a divergence in the trail. To the left follow the beach picking your way through mangroves. To the right turn inland.Quite a few years ago I brought a bicycle down here and rode to the end of the road. The road peters out at the end of the island, ending abruptly in the middle of the bushes as I recall at the spot where an old wooden bridge collapsed.We were alone in the shrubbery, still drippy and wet from recent rains.And, technically speaking, not completely alone:I was surprised to come across this magnificence in the middle of the road. Later I spoke with Robert about this channel which allows the salt ponds to flush with the tides and he said it was built a couple of years ago. The steel plates looked quite new.We stood on the bridge for a while watching the water flow under the road and then it was time to turn back toward the car. We walked briskly along in companionable silence cutting the return journey in half, and in less than thirty minutes we were back at the car.