Pahokee, FL

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Next stop on the way north was Pahokee – literally “grassy water.”  This is a very small town on the banks of Lake Okeechobee.  The lake it the largest fresh water body in the state of Florida and is large enough that you can’t see across.  As mentioned in a previous post regarding the Everglades, historically the everglades were created from Lake Okeechobee overflowing its banks in the rainy season.

Today the flow out of the lake is very controlled.  After hurricane flooding in the 1920s they started constructing a levee or dike system to protect the surrounding area.  Major flooding struck again in the  1940s and by 1960 the lake was almost completely surrounded by the Herbert Hoover Dike with a system of controlled canals providing water for surrounding farm land and presumably the everglades.

I have never seen a lake surrounded by a dike.  You don’t get a view of the lake from the roads nor do people living around the lake have lake front property???  Luckily they have developed a mostly paved trail along the top of the dike for recreation, that is open to the public and enjoyed by all.  Some areas also have a canal running along the landward side of the lake, so you may have a canal view and boat access and then a dike and then the largest lake in the state all in your back yard.  Interesting, but it must have been necessary.

There is only one break in the dike where Fish Eating Creek empties into the lake.  Because of the dike, today Fish Eating Creek is the only free flowing tributary to Lake Okeechobee.  It is also a popular kayaking spot that was unfortunately on the exact opposite of the lake about 2hours away.

In Pahokee we stayed at the City RV park and marina.  It was on the inside of the dike so we truly had lake front property.  The scary part was getting the coach over the dike…  The lake front provided a wonderful sunset view and visits from our almost daily alligator swimming by.

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This too was a very relaxing place to stay and was only an hour from Jupiter beach and the famous Palm and West Palm beaches.  This is a beautiful area and the water was amazingly turquoise blue.  We took Nellie for a run on the beach and we would have gone for a swim (the water was that warm) except for the Portuguese man of war covering the beach???  We were scared to let Nellie off leash just because I know she wanted to play with them.

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Just for laughs …  a “Real Life” Ranch for Kids???  Hmmmmm…

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Peace and love.

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Gulfstream Downs – Hollywood, FL

We left the Keys on Feb 3rd as scheduled and the departure was bitter sweet.  Ready to hit the road after a month, but sad to leave the beauty, peace and slowed down pace of life in the Keys.  It was a needed change in attitude.  On our slow trip north, we decided to stop in Hollywood for a quick trip to the horse track.

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Gulfstream Downs is near Hollywood and has races 5 days a week starting at noon.  Knowing nothing about horse racing, we arrived just in time for the first race, not in time for betting but in time to see the race.  This track has two tracks an inner track which is turf (grass) and an outer track that is dirt.  Being on ground level with the tracks, it is really hard to see the horses running until they are right in front of you.  They have solved this issue with a large screen on the track showing the race and colored squares on the bottom denoting each horse and their position in the race.  Easier to follow than I expected, but similar to watching at home.

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So, the race is only part of the action at the track.  While bets are being placed the horses are paraded around a small ring inside the building so you can pick out the prettiest horse if you want.

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They also show real time odds on the screens as bets are being placed so you know how favored your pick is.  We don’t really understand all the odds.  Among other options you can bet to win, place or show.  Win is self-explanatory, place = 1st or 2nd place and show = in top three.  Odds such as 2-1 means that for each 1$ bet you get 2$ back (only betting to Win not sure how they calculate the show or place winnings).  20 -1 odds the means that you get 20$ for each 1$ bet, but at times the odds read 3-4 which to me means that if your horse wins you owe the bank???  Not sure how it works??  Either way the finish line is right at the viewing stands and as the day went on it got more and more exiting.

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Our bets were based on odds, names and appearance.  We kept our bets low 1 or 2$ per race and ended up basically breaking even, top win was a little over 4$.  Winnings did not cover our beer, but the fun was worth the cost!!!

Other small consolation prize was our campground.  We stayed at T.Y. (Topeekeegee Yugnee) Park a Broward County park, very nice and scenic with large oak trees, banyan trees and a lake.  Nice place to stay if you are in the area.

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Peace and Love.

Kayaking/beaching in the Keys

 

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The Keys are mostly coral and limestone rock islands, and therefore do not have many natural beaches.  The shores are mostly covered with mangrove or other vegetation or are rocky.  The sand on the few beaches is pretty coarse and is made of crushed coral and skeletal remains of other organisms.  We did find a couple of beaches to take Nellie for a run on.  The closest was Boca Chica beach which boarders the naval aviation training base.  We really enjoyed watching the fighter jets taking off and landing and ended up having a nice kayak off shore there.  You can see two in this pic.

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Of course, we kayaked since this area is mostly water.  Not as thick, but similar to the Everglades, there are a lot of mangrove islets, creeks or open water.   Above was open water at Boca Chica Beach which is also clothing optional.

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So glad we did not run in to this on the open sea…

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Sammy’s creek was pretty short but with the tide falling and the big winds we had fun paddling up the creek to the bay and floating back, rinse and repeat, short track but fun.  It is located on lower Sugarloaf Key and connects Sugarloaf bay with the Atlantic Ocean.  Had a nice picnic and ran across this large iguana.  Must have been 5-6 feet long (mostly tail, but still) and a couple of others in the trees, what a wonderful surprise!!!

Just to let everyone know after the storm they are all still Key Strong, and show spirit in small ways such as this pine with a star on the top and most branches gone…  We are resilient.

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All in all, it was a wonderful month of R&R and adventures!!  Peace, love and keep an eye to the blue sky!!!

Oversea Railway and Pigeon Key

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The Florida Keys have been inhabited for thousands of years first by native Americans and later by fishermen before booming with commerce and tourism.  They were first “discovered” or at least first put on a map by the Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon in 1513.   By 1889 Key West was the largest and wealthiest city in Florida, but realize it had a population of only 18,000 at the time.   As the Panama Canal was being built Henry Flagler, of Standard Oil and the Florida East Coast Railway notoriety, decided it would be a good idea to extend the railway thru the keys to Key West for cheaper and easier transportation of imported goods.

Since Key West had a deep-water port, the Panama Canal meant that the FL Keys could be instrumental in transporting goods from not only South America, Cuba and other places south and east, but also goods from the west coast of North America and beyond.  The railway was known as the “Overseas Railway” and was known as the 8th Wonder of the World when it was completed in 1912.   The project was completed in 7 years, cost $50 Million (of Flagler’s personal wealth) to complete and at one point had over 4,000 men working on the project.

The overseas railway was not build from one end to the other, it was all being built simultaneously.  There were over 80 work camps on the route for the workers to live.  The only one (that I am aware of) that exists today is Pigeon Key which is pretty much like it was when utilized as a work camp or later as bridge tender and maintenance quarters is located part way across the original seven-mile bridge.

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It is remarkable that some of the original buildings still exist.  They have lasted thru multiple hurricanes one so bad that over 40 miles of the railway was damaged beyond repair (the Labor Day storm of 1935).  It should also be noted that by this time the automobile had gained popularity and railways were not considered as important, a fact that probably contributed to the decision to not rebuild??  Anyway, construction played a large part in these buildings surviving for so long.  You can see in this photo how the roof is bolted on with angle boards, and how high the pitch of the roof is.  Also, you can see the open screened section at the top of the walls.  The high pitch roof collects the hot air in the room and the screened sections allow a breeze to draw the warmer air out.

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Having the open air around the roof but also having it bolted on allows hurricane winds to blow thru but not blow the roof off.  The windows are pocket windows that slide sideways to open and can be removed and stored during storm weather.   You can also notice how far out the eves of the roof extend on the outside, this provides shade to the windows cooling the room even more.  So these old buildings are not only still standing, but also come with built in air conditioning.

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There are 42 bridges between Key West and the mainland.  As you drive down you will  see that in most places there are two bridges, the old bridge and the new bridge.  I am not sure when they were all replaced, but the new seven-mile bridge (actually 6.8 miles) was opened in 1982.  Being on Pigeon Key you got a great view of the old and new running parallel.

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On the old bridge you can see the original steel I beams that initially carried the rail cars, and the concrete slabs that were later added for automobile traffic.

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Currently most old bridges are still used for fishing or bicycle/pedestrian traffic.  Although some are closed for storm repair I believe the they will be reopened in time.   There is one remaining bridge from Bahia Honda Key to Spanish Harbor Key that is called the “old railroad bridge”.  It is very interesting looking bridge, most of the original railway bridges were build using concrete pillars (see 7 mile bridge above) or arches where this one uses steel trusses.  I am not really sure, but it appears that on the original bridge the railcars ran on the lower section thru the trusses and when it was converted for automobiles, the road bed was put on top of the trusses??

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Peace and Love

 

 

 

 

 

Key West

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Now this is a destination vacation.  You don’t just stumble upon Key West you intend on coming down here or you really messed up and took the longest wrong turn in history.  We came down here in the mid 1980s for three nights and had a blast.  Atlantic shores on the south end of Duval St was our home away from home.  It is no longer there and a lot has changed, but many things remain the same.

Key West is about 150 miles south west of Miami and is the southern most point of the USA.  I know I had one of these from 30+ years ago, just sorry I can’t seem to find it…

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This was the end point of the overseas railway completed in 1912.  The railway was destroyed in the labor day hurricane of 1935 which was a very small yet powerful storm.  They say it had the lowest barometric pressure ever recorded. the remains of the rail way was subsequently sold to the state of Florida.  The rail-bed was converted for automobile use and extended US Highway 1 to Key West.  US 1 is the longest north south US highway running over 2,300 miles from Key West, FL to Fort Kent, ME or from Fort Kent to Key West depends on which way you look at it.  So, we not only visited the end of US 1, but also the beginning of US 1 at Mile 0.

 

In 1889, Key West was the largest city in Florida with the highest per capita income and this was back when it was only accessible via boat.  The growth was partially due to having a “safe” deep water port for easy access.  This port is still used by shrimpers as a safe harbor during inclement weather.  On our arrival it was blowing a gale and I guess the shrimpers needed a safe harbor because as you can see here over 10 boats anchored on the horizon.

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Key West of course had a light house and has been popular with artist, writers, politicians and every other creative soul you can imagine.  Familiar residence/visitors include – Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, Harry Truman, John James Audubon, John Kennedy just to name a few.  You can visit the Truman Little White House, Hemingway’s home the lighthouse and various other attractions for the right price, but since you know us you know that we did not visit these places.  But got a couple of pictures.

Key West is also very well known for their party atmosphere, drag queens on Duval St and the sunset celebration in Mallory Square.  Since it is not 30+ years ago, we did not participate in the excessive partying or drag queens, but had to visit an old haunt from our previous visit – The Bull.  We spent part of every night of spring break at The Bull enjoying a one man band who loved to play Cat Stevens and we loved to listen to it.  This time we had an afternoon beer for old time sake.  This building has three bars one on each level the top level is clothing optional, needless to say we stayed down stairs.

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Sunset on Key West is an event like no other – you’ve heard of the green flash?  Every night there is a gathering complete with entertainers of varying talent in Mallory Square.  We went down one night with neighbors and had early bird ½ price dinner and drinks (not in college anymore).  The town was not as vibrant as in past years – per our neighbors – and did seem a little tame from what we remembered from spring break (but it was 6-7 pm not 11pm-2am), we assume this is due to the recent hurricane and skeptical tourist choosing another destination?  Anyway, we caught the very last act from the “cat man” and almost missed the sunset, and what we saw was partially blocked by a cruise ship – beautiful none the less.  Many people also go out on chartered tall sailing ships or catamarans to see the sunset.

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End of an other wonderful day!!!  Peace and love.