Off we go to the southernmost point on the continental US, Key West, Florida. Finding an RV site nearby was a challenge. We really wanted to stay at Bahia Honda State Park but that’s like winning the lottery. So we reluctantly settled for a commercial park, Boyd’s Campground, on Stock Island just north of Key West. This turned out to be every reason we hate commercial parks: overcrowded, expensive, unpleasant neighborhood and noisy. Had it been just us, we might have cancelled and walked away from our deposit but we had a good friend from Charlotte flying in to join us.
The site we were given was so tight that it took three park employees to guide Steve in and at least twenty back and forth moves to get in place. At one point our rig was so close to a palm tree that only the fronds kept us from rubbing against the trunk. If the site across from us hadn’t been empty we would never have gotten in. Once in our site, the box on the rear was in the bushes. We couldn’t have gotten our bikes off even if we wanted to ride them. The site was unpaved and unlevel. The “sitting area” barely held three chairs and our slide was only 18″ from our neighbor’s sewer connection. Oh yes, to add to the ambiance we were in the flight path for the Key West International Airport and Boca Chica Naval Air Station where they train the Top Gun pilots. The surrounding neighborhood was industrial buildings mixed with rundown mobile home parks (slums). Finding a place to walk Opal was a challenge for sure. All this for four time so what we normally pay.
Having gotten most of “the bad” covered, we’ll go on to the “the best” part.
Key West today is geared to tourists but still has the flavor of bygone pirate and starving artist days mixed with “Margaritaville” and grand old homes. When you find a parking place (all are paid spaces) you stay there and walk…and walk…and walk. One of our first stops was the Audubon House. John James Audubon stayed here during his trip through Florida in 1832. At that time the property was owned by a wealthy harbor pilot and master wrecker, John H. Geiger. The property remained in the family for four generations but fell into disrepair by 1958 as the family fortune dwindled. When the last owner, a Howard Hughes type of recluse, died the property was scheduled for demolition. Through the efforts of a local benefactor the property was restored and now showcases life circa 1850 with eighteen original Audubon prints on display. One, the white crowned pigeon, was painted using the tree that still stands in the front yard. This painting had special memories for me as my Mother, an avid bird lover, had this print and the one of wild turkeys in the dining room of my childhood home. The gardens around the house are beautiful and a wonderful introduction to subtropical plants of the area. There is a brief docent lecture then you continue on a self-guided tour. Photography is allowed but no flash inside the home.
Stop number two was the Mel Fisher Treasure Museum. Located in an old firehouse near the cruise ship pier it is a must see stop for anyone who has ever dreamed of finding buried treasure. Two ships of the Spanish treasure fleet, the Nuestra Señora de Atocha and the Santa Margarita were enroute from Havana to Spain in 1622 laden with gold and silver bars, coins and wealthy colonial passengers. Their treasure was desperately needed by the royal treasury to offset the cost of the Thirty Years War and Court expenses. The two ships carried over a million and a half pesos which in today’s dollars would be over 400 million. The Atocha was fitted with twenty cannon and sailed in last position. The fleet sailed in September, six weeks late, at the height of hurricane season. Caught in a storm just off present day Key West they sank taking their treasure with them. Of 265 passengers only five survived. The Atocha treasure would not see the light of day until relocated by Mel Fisher and his team on July 20, 1985, sixteen long years after the search started. If you want to read more about Mel Fisher or the treasure ships visit http://www.melfisher.com. If you are a certified scuba diver perhaps your bucket list would include the vacation package to dive The Atocha.
For us landlubbers, a visit to the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum must suffice. There you will find conserved artifacts of gold, silver, porcelain, emeralds and religious items along with maps and photos of the recovery site. But we went further than just seeing the artifacts behind glass. We took the behind the scenes tour to the conservation lab. It costs ten dollars in addition to museum entry and is offered Monday-Friday. Schedule your visit ahead as only small groups are taken into the lab on each tour.
No visit to Key West is complete without playing tourist as you stand in line waiting to take a picture of yourself at the Southernmost Point in the USA Marker. While there we learned about the cable hut in the same location. This was transported to Key West by Flagler’s railroad. Its job was to protect the connection between the land line and the 125 mile underwater telegraph line between Key West and Havana, Cuba.
Old Town is filled with funky shops, restaurants, sidewalk vendors and the ever present Key West chickens. Everyone gathers at Mallory Square and Sunset Pier for the spectacular orange sky sunsets.
To give ourselves a break from walking, we took a day and drove to Bahia Honda State Park. This is the closest state park to Key West and Florida’s most visited state park. The water temperature was listed as 73 but oh it felt a lot cooler than that going over your stomach. However we were not going to come to the Keys and not go in the water. Mind over matter!! Once in it wasn’t bad at all. We drove over to the campground and checked it out for future visits. On our way out we asked the gate volunteer for a restaurant suggestion. He said a place called The Wharf was good. We can second that. After a relaxing day on the beach a good meal on an outdoor terrace was the cherry on the sundae. We even watched an iguana have dinner on leftover veggies from the restaurant.
More sightseeing took us to the Truman Little White House and Ernest Hemingway’s home. The Truman Little White House is located in the Truman Annex neighborhood of upscale homes and condos in Old Town Key West. Originally the home was built as officer quarters for a submarine base. Although it bears Truman’s name because he visited here more than any other President he was not the only President to come here. President Taft came enroute to his inspection tour of the Panama Canal. Taft was known for his love of driving the countryside. Each year the museum crafts an original Christmas ornament. One year it used the car Taft drove loaded with presents. Thomas Edison stayed for 6 months while developing new weapon systems. FDR visited here several times. The Department of Defense was created here by the Key West Agreement. President Eisenhower stayed here to recuperate from his heart attack in late 1955-early 1956. President Kennedy visited twice in 1961 and 1962. The base was closed in 1974. Other Presidents who have stayed here after their term of office include Presidents Carter and Clinton. The property was deeded to the State of Florida and opened as a museum and historic site in 1990. A list of the most popular Presidents was posted and Truman ranked #5 after Lincoln, Washington, FDR and Teddy Roosevelt. Rounding out the top ten were Kennedy, Thomas Jefferson, Dwight Eisenhower, Woodrow Wilson and Ronald Regan. Bringing up the five least popular were Harding, Harrison, Pierce, Andrew Johnson and Buchanan. We were given guest passes because of our connection with Dr. Watson that we mentioned in an earlier post. The tour was very informative. Having read Truman’s biography, we enjoyed our visit very much.
Our last sightseeing stop was at the Hemingway House. This was the best tour we took. The stories the guide told were funny and informative. Hemingway was an enigmatic character: handsome, hard drinking, outdoorsman and philanderer. His books are classics as are the movies made from them. His home is also the home of over thirty six toed cats. One of the stories told is about the cat’s water bowl. Hemingway was a frequent face at Sloppy Joe’s Bar. When the bar moved from its original location he brought home a urinal from the bar stating “he’d pissed enough of his money down it to buy it.” His then third wife took it and after cleaning it up made it the cat’s water dish. Another story relates to a penny buried in concrete at the home. When his wife (can’t remember if it was number 2 or 3) installed a pool over his objection he threw a penny into the concrete saying she now had his last cent. This visit made me want to read more about Hemingway and his books.
We decided to have dinner at Sloppy Joe’s and enjoyed the fish tacos and nachos but the key lime pie was terrible. It was prepackaged and the sugar wasn’t dissolved giving it a granular texture. Find your key lime pie elsewhere. Be sure to locate the web cams and call a friend who can go online and see you.
Now we return to “the bad” part of our visit. Steve had realized that Boyd’s Campground was so crowded we would not be able to exit following the proper direction of the road. That should speak a bundle about the poor design and crowded conditions at Boyd’s. We spoke to two employees who after looking at the situation agreed we’d need to go out the “IN” route. They said “don’t worry, we’ll get you out OK. We do it all the time.” The next morning when we were ready to leave we got them to assist us. One man drove a golf cart ahead to make sure no one entered while we were exiting. The other employee walked ahead of our RV and at each and every turn faced our rig and gave Steve verbal and hand signals to ease us through the tight turns. We’d made it to the last turn but there were times we’d missed cars by just inches. The last turn took us out of the campground and past the office. There were two RVs parked on the left in the waiting area and another car parked on the right at the laundry. This forced us to make a sharper turn than we would have preferred. At no time did the employees try to open up space by asking the RVs to back up, move the parked car or ask campers to move the cars in front of their rigs parked just inches from the road. Any one who knows anything about trailers knows the tighter the turn the more the rear end of the trailer will swing. We were 90% through the turn when we heard the sickening sound of metal scraping. The right corner of the box on the back of our trailer had sideswiped a car. We stopped of course. Police were called but no citation given because the accident occurred on private property. We claim that we were under the direction of the park employee and that the park is at fault for not giving enough clearance for safe exit. They are claiming no responsibility. How this will end is unknown. We can only warn anyone considering a stay at this park, DO NOT COME!