Our agreed upon plan is to drive across the Florida Keys to Key West tomorrow morning in the bright morning sun, but dim moonlight now lights my way. We are a day early; choosing to drive the last 192 miles to Boyd’s Key West Campground instead of dry camping in a Cracker Barrel parking lot near Fort Lauderdale.
Our Near Catastrophe!
We are 32 miles from the campground; traveling at 35 mph. Tricia and Susan are sitting upfront with John and I, glad that we are close to the end of a long day. Suddenly, as Tricia looks at the rear view camera, she says, “Somethings not right with the jeep!” Then more loudly, “The tow bar’s disconnected; on the left!” At first I don’t see anything wrong, then…maybe I do, or is it the street lights or an optical illusion. I pull over quickly and we all pile out to investigate. All of us look; I push and pull on the tow bar and on the jeep. What a relief; both sides are firmly connected, the lights are playing tricks. We agree that we are tired and need to keep an eye on the jeep as we travel the last few miles.
Now, I’m accelerating, 5, 10, 15, 25mph…it’s no optical illusion! All four of us watch as the passenger side connection breaks away. One of the two tow bar connections is separating from the jeep. “Ohh $^#!, the jeep’s about to drive off on its own.”
Finally, we Arrive at the Campground!
After the near disaster, John offers to drive the jeep, while I continue in the RV. Finally, after driving 709 miles in one day, we arrive at Boyd’s Key West Campground. I teach John about the blue chores; Tricia explains the pink chores to Susan. Tricia extends the slide-outs, John connects the water, I connect the electricity, hot water heater is on and the AC is cranking on high, and we toast our safe arrival. Our camp is finally set-up after a long day of driving, and one near catastrophe. By 11:30pm, we are settling down, ready to start our Key West vacation in the morning, after we find a shop to weld/repair my tow bar connector.
Key West in Five Days
It is now September, known as the wettest month and in the middle of hurricane season! We check the weather and hope for clear weather for the next few days as we watch Hurricane Irma develop. After all, we do not want to lose a day as we are looking forward to exploring Key West and Dry Tortugas National Park. We discuss our plans to snorkel, SCUBA dive, fly to Dry Tortugas, visit museums and historical sites. We are saving most of the late afternoons and evenings for relaxing, having a cold beverage, and watching the day slip away.
Multiple Key West Museums/Historical Sites.
During our time in Key West, we visited several museums and historical sites.
The Mel Fisher Museum shows and tells the story of Mel Fisher’s determination to find the Spanish Galleon “Atocha” and it’s cargo of gold and silver, which he does find after many years. Some of the original cargo and replicas are on display; some of it is for sale.
The Customs House Museum is the home to the Key West Art and Historical Society. This museum covers several topics related to military history, railroad history and life in and around the Keys. Currently, it also features an impressive original pen and ink art collection by Guy Harvey that depicts Ernest Hemingway’s tale, “The Old Man and the Sea”.
Ernest Hemingway’s home is easy to find; just look for the brick fence surrounding the property. He had the wall built to maintain privacy after his house was added to a Key West tourist guide. Today, guided tours are available, and after the tour, visitors are free to roam the property and re-enter the home. Cat lovers, like Tricia, enjoy this home since there are over fifty cats that roam the property. Many of them are polydactyl (six-toed) cats, some of which are descendants of Ernest Hemingway’s polydactyl cat, Snow White.
The Lighthouse Museum and Fort Zachary Taylor are interesting for those that enjoy nautical and military history. Lighthouse visitors can ascend the 88 steps to the top of the lighthouse for a view of Key West and the sea. If the curator at Fort Zachary Taylor is available, he will gladly explain the history and his current efforts to explore, restore and maintain the site.
Dry Tortugas National Park
Several months before the trip, float plane tickets were purchased to fly to Dry Tortugas National Park. The anticipated highlights of the trip are the scenic low altitude flight, touring Fort Jefferson, snorkeling around the fort and photography opportunities. On the morning of our flight, we awake to overcast skies and thunderstorms in the distance. After a couple of disappointing phone calls to and from the airport, it’s confirmed; the pilot is canceling the trip due to less than favorable flying conditions. The airport informs us that the pilot could make the bumpy flight, but we would not have a scenic flight and would possibly land at Dry Tortugas in the rain. Then, after checking for open seats, we find that there are no available seats during our remaining our time in Key West. Sadly, we would miss the highlight of the Key West trip.
SCUBA and Snorkeling the Eastern and Western Dry Rocks Reef
Miles of beautiful water and many reefs surround Key West waiting for exploration. We charter a boat through Captain’s Corner Dive Center to snorkel and SCUBA dive. The Captain and Dive Master are professional and do an outstanding job in assuring the safety of all on board. The experience level of the guests range from those new to snorkeling, those completing their SCUBA certification, old rusty guys like me and certified Master SCUBA Divers. We witness one person decide SCUBA was not his hobby of choice, and one snorkeler stating that he now understands why people would want to obtain their SCUBA certification.
In speaking with the others on board, many tropical fish, an octopus, a sea turtle, a sting ray and moray eel were all seen while SCUBA diving and snorkeling. Also, during our first entry into the water, at Western Dry Rocks, a person on-board our boat watches a fisherman within 150 yards of our location catch a 4-foot shark. Tricia would like me to claim this as my Diving with Sharks experience. Not!
The entire time that we are enjoying our time in Key West, we are keeping an eye on Hurricane Irma. Friends and family are strongly encouraging us to leave now, every day, through phone calls, Facebook and Instagram. We don’t listen, but leave on Tuesday as planned, one day before the Key West mandatory tourist evacuation. We are fortunate and can safely return to the Florida panhandle after cutting our 2 night stopover in Fort Myers to 1 night.
Prior to leaving for Key West, many others tell us that all that we need is 3-4 days and we can check Key West off our list, no need to return. This definitely does not apply to us. As we drove East on the Keys, then North to the mainland, we discuss what we experienced and what we did not get the opportunity to experience. More SCUBA diving, snorkeling, a visit to the Turtle Sanctuary, fishing, a flight to Dry Tortugas, tent camping on Dry Tortugas, a visit in April to celebrate the Conch Republic Independence Day, Offshore Boat Races; the list goes on as we drive North. We are already looking forward to our return trip.