|Wednesday, July 25, 2018: We headed outside to have breakfast of sweet rolls, milk, and fruit juice.
|Four large iguanas were begging our fellow guests for food.
|An even larger iguana was sunning himself on the dock not far away.
|We took our customary seats overlooking the water and were sad to have to leave.
|One of the curly-tailed lizards stopped by, but he didn't have much of a tail left to curl.
|Buh-bye, beloved chairs and view!
|Off we went, driving southwest down the Overseas Highway, ...
|... and photographing every Key sign we saw.
|The giant conch was looking even more radiant in the morning sun.
|On Upper Matecumbe Key, just north of Islamorada Brewing Company, ...
|... we tried out one of the automated ice vending machines for the first time.
|Two dollars and ten seconds were all it took to get a big bag of ice to fill our coolers. We're big fans of this system.
|Here's a halfway decent shot of one of those manatee mailbox holders we first saw on Monday.
|So, back to the Key signs. Here's the Tea Table sign. Wait, where is the word "Key" in this sign? It's not there!!
|Here's Indian Key Fill, which was basically some land created not far from actual Indian Key, just to the south.
|This is Lower Matecumbe Key ...
|... and it looks like this.
|This was the first day of the two-day mini lobster season, and lobster traps were stacked high up and down the Overseas Highway.
|We are not exaggerating.
|This bridge crossed Channel #2.
|Craig Key sits between Channel #2 and ...
|... Channel #5. No idea where Channels #1, #3, and #4 went.
|We're headed back down the Channel #5 bridge toward Long Key, which you can see here even though we forgot to get a photo of its sign.
|Next up: Fiesta Key, ...
|... Conch Key, ...
|... Duck Key, ...
|... and Grassy Key. Pretty much attached to Grassy Key as part of the same land mass are Crawl Key, Little Point Key, Little Crawl Key, Fat Deer Key, Knight's Key, Key Vaca, and Boot Key, but none of them rated actual signs on the Overseas Highway as far as we could tell.
|Marathon is a large town that spans all of those keys.
|We saw lots of small boats out on the water, each of which had a diving flag. Most of them were watching over snorkelers and divers who were probably hunting for lobsters.
|We had seen a couple of dolphin mailbox holders, but this was the first one we saw that was painted bright pink.
|Much of the scenery on the Overseas Highway is lovely, like this.
|But occasionally, you get into a town like Marathon and it loses its tropical flair. However, local businesses do their best to carry the marine theme throughout town.
|This giant queen angelfish was one of our favorite giant sea statues.
|This giant pink shrimp was pretty great too.
|We saw lobster Reubens on several menus during our vacation, but we never ended up trying one. Partly because Debbie doesn't like Reubens and partly because there were so many other amazing things to eat.
|Stoplights are fairly infrequent along the Overseas Highway, which makes it a really pleasant road to travel. However, if you're trying to cross it or get onto it, it's much more pleasant to do it at a light if possible.
|There were several places where you could take your photo with a shark's head. We didn't try it.
|With wide concrete paths on either side of the highway in many places, it would probably be fun to ride your bike along here in the winter. In summertime, it's much too hot.
|After Marathon, we started to cross famous Seven Mile Bridge.
|It's seven miles long. For real.
|The original bridge follows along on the north in various states of decay and is only open to pedestrian and bicycle traffic.
|Pigeon Key is connected to the bridge but can no longer be accessed by car.
|This is Moser Channel.
|And we're still driving.
|We saw lots of boats with divers around the base of the old bridge, presumably lobster hunting.
|We reached the end of the bridge at Little Duck Key eight minutes after we started.
|There was no sign for Missouri Key, nor for Ohio Key shown here.
|Here's Bahia Honda Key.
|There was still 2017 hurricane damage all around if you were looking for it. Large sections of fencing and road edging had toppled along this stretch of road.
|That's Old Bahia Honda bridge in the background. It is slowly falling apart.
|Here is Scout Key, previously known as West Summerland Key until 2010.
|Crossing the Spanish Harbor Channel to ...
|... Big Pine Key, where we missed getting a photo of the sign. However, Big Pine Key is immediately recognizable for its Deer Crossing signs every 2/10ths of a mile.
|Deer crossing signs? Yes, this is the land of Key deer, a subspecies of the white-tailed deer that lives only in the Florida Keys.
|This bridge was freshly renamed the Irene U. Hooper Memorial Bridge as of 2017.
|It crosses the North Pine Channel to ...
|... Little Torch Key.
|We missed the sign for Ramrod Key, so Summerland Key is up next.
|We saw this blimp way, way off in the distance.
|Here's Cudjoe Key ...
|... and Sugarloaf Key.
|Upper Sugarloaf Sound features extremely light aqua water.
|Park Key is sandwiched in between Upper and Lower Sugarloaf Key.
|Check out that water.
|Here's Lower Sugarloaf Key.
|Saddle Bunch Keys - play along with us, won't you? There is no sign for Saddle Bunch #1, so we'll just assume that we are on it at the moment.
|Here's Saddle Bunch Key #2, ...
|... Saddle Bunch Key #3, ...
|... and Saddle Bunch Key #5. Where is Saddle Bunch Key #4? We swear we were watching closely!
|There's Shark Key ...
|... and here's the sign telling you where to go to get there.
|Here's Big Coppitt Key, one of the more populated islands.
|These brand new residences were still under construction, with a fourth one coming soon. Which color will it be? Our money is on yellow. (Three years later, we found out!)
|There's Rockland Key ...
|... and its matching sign.
|Why, yes, we will visit the Dry Tortugas National Park! We have our tickets all ready to go for tomorrow!
|Here's Boca Chica Key.
|This is the bridge over Boca Chica Channel, ...
|... and the bridge over Cow Key Channel, ...
|... which is the last bridge before ...
|... Key West!
|The drive into Old Town Key West goes past all the modern stuff on the northern shore like fast food restaurants, strip malls, and big box stores.
|When you get closer, the scenery changes to large resorts and marinas.
|Finally, you get closer to the narrow streets ...
|... and quaint buildings that Key West is known for.
|We were headed to Fort Zachary Taylor.
|It's next to the Key West Naval Air Station.
|There was a long wait to get into the park, ...
|... but the lovely park was worth the wait.
|It was noon, so we were starving. We got some lunch at the cafe; a cheeseburger for Debbie and a Cuban sandwich for Tom.
|Then we changed into our snorkeling gear, locked our stuff in two lockers (at $7 each), ...
|... and got in the water at 12:30.
|After hearing that there was good snorkeling here, we were disappointed once again. Visibility was poor, ...
|... but we did get to see some fish. Here's a sergeant major with a silver porgy.
|Here's a blue tang with some parrotfish ...
|... and here's another parrotfish of some sort.
|Here's some unusual coral or something.
|Another sergeant major.
|This might be a knobbed porgy.
|But you're probably thinking, "Hey, these pictures aren't bad. Why are you complaining?" Because the photo right here is what we saw most of the time when we saw fish, which wasn't often.
|When we are snorkeling in the ocean on our own, we always use our flotation vests partially inflated, especially when we are in the open water as we were for a fair amount of this snorkel.
|We spotted this green heron carefully watching the water for his next meal.
|Yes, the snorkeling was disappointing but it was all worth it when we ran across a group of six small cuttlefish floating side-by-side just above the ocean floor. They're all visible in this photo if you look closely at the diagonal from lower left to upper right.
|Here's a closer look at three of them together, ...
|... and here's an even closer look at just one of them. We have never seen cuttlefish before in the wild, so this was a great find.
|There were four rocky islands that helped protect the swimming area and provide snorkeling opportunities. Most were pretty crowded with people on the calm side, but we visited all of them.
|Here's a view of the beach. Umbrellas and chairs could be rented for the day, but at this time of day, most were already claimed.
|We took one last half-hearted photo of some sergeant majors ...
|... and got out of the water. The park has great freshwater outdoor showers and good facilities for changing, so we got cleaned up and headed out.
|We drove past the Southernmost Point in the Continental US and took a photo from the car ...
|... rather than try to find parking and then wait in line in 90 degree weather to have our photo taken with it.
|Here's a cool building.
|There's the Key West lighthouse.
|We also took this Mile 0 photo from the van. Sightseeing is easy from an air-conditioned vehicle!
|That's a pretty cinema.
|We checked into Westwinds Inn on Eaton Street.
|We just had time to unload all of our luggage and bring it to our room, since there is no onsite parking.
|Our room was in the next building over, with a very narrow walkway ...
|... and the brightest key lime green baby iguana we've ever seen. These things are highly invasive, unfortunately.
|Our room was really tiny but the air conditioner was able to keep it nice and cool.
|The bathroom was also tiny, with a folding door with slats that didn't close for minimal bathroom privacy. It was our second Keys hotel that had slats in the bathroom door, so it must be a thing down here.
|We then drove the van two blocks to a parking garage where it sat for the next two nights at $18 a night. Our hotel's reduced-rate parking voucher turned out to be a mythical thing that exists only on its website.
|We walked back to the hotel to settle in and cool off for a minute. Our room was on the side of this building that looks like a regular house.
|Shortly after 5:00, we went out sightseeing. If we hadn't already had places we needed to see, we would have gladly stopped at this cute restaurant a block away because it was instant-sweat hot out.
|But we were on a mission to recreate some photos. Here's the Curry Mansion Inn on Caroline Street.
|Here's the photo we were trying to recreate from our 2002 visit here. Things have changed a bit, especially the landscaping, but we got a pretty close match on the photo.
|We turned right on Duval Street ...
|... and walked past the now-empty building where Papa's Restaurant was back in 2002. We didn't take a photo then, so this is all we have. It's been a Johnny Rocket's since then, but now awaits a new tenant.
|Our destination was the Conch Shack on Duval Street.
|We waited for our order in the partial shade of the alley behind the restaurant.
|Debbie ordered a Maine lobster roll and Tom had the Conch Trio: conch fritters, cracked conch, and ceviché with fries. It was a million degrees out but that was a delicious dinner.
|Next, we headed to the corner of Greene and Whitehead streets to recreate a 2002 photo of Tom standing in front of the Key West Art and Historical Society.
|Here's the 2002 photo. The concrete and street have been redone and signs have moved around, but it's close. No, that's not the same white polo, we promise.
|Right next to us was the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum. Maybe we'll visit it on a future visit.
|We headed northeast on Greene Street to ...
|... Kermit's Key West Key Lime Shoppe. We had shopped here in 2002 but hadn't taken a photo, so we were here to make amends.
|We were also here to sample key lime cookies ...
|... and key lime salsa.
|We passed on buying Stewart's Key Lime soda, ...
|... but we did leave with a bottle of key lime juice and a bag of key lime cookies.
|There's the Key West Bight Marina, ...
|... and the unusual decor of B.O.'s Fish Wagon.
|A block away was Margaret Street, which was assume was named after Tom's mother.
|This little decorated gate next to Harpoon Harry's was worth a closer look.
We were back to the hotel by 6:00 and spent the evening soaking up the air-conditioning in our miniature hotel room.
Copyright © Deborah Schilling/Thomas Bundy