Family Florida Keys Adventure

Outdoor Journey
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If you have ever been to the Florida Keys you know that it is filled with great places, fun adventures and friendly people.  Our trip to Keys West was going to be different because it would be a family vacation with the girls.  So we would see the Florida Keys as a family, which was very different than when we were single.

Glenn and I discussed our plans and tried to figure out exactly the places we wanted to go. Many things were listed.   We quickly came to realize that at least two weeks would be needed in order to see and do everything we wanted.  So we shortened the list and were happy with the final outcome.

Since we were driving to Key West we knew there were a few things we wanted to see and do while on the drive from Central Florida.  Our path would take us pass Card Sound Bridge (State Road 905).  Glenn fished that area frequently as a teenager in his John-boat with friends.  Many fishing stories were being told but the girls weren’t as excited about the bridge crossing into the keys as Glenn was.  So the journey continued.

First stop Florida Bay Outfitters.  If you love to paddle this is a neat store that has many interesting paddle related things.  If you plan it right, you can take a paddle into Florida Bay’s backwaters right off their launch.  We did a paddle there many years ago (before kids) when we lived in South Florida.  We were on a tandem so I got to relax a lot and look around while Glenn paddled (LOL).  Years later Glenn went to one of their demo days with a friend and our friend won a canoe.  The demo days at Florida Bay Outfitters are very informative and many vendors are there with their equipment to test and compare.  We inherited that canoe when our friends moved away and have had many adventures with it since.  One in particular one was a trip we did at Weedon Island Preserve but that one will have to be for another day.

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We stopped at Bass Pro Shops, Islamorada, FL.  The store has a replica of Hemingway’s fishing boat Pilar that you can climb around in.  As we climbed aboard the boat and thought about the time that Hemingway actually fished from the boat and wrote his stories.  We all agreed that the technology on the boats now sure do make it more comfortable to fish and boat.

A replica of Hemmingway's Pilar in Outdoor World in Islamorada.

A replica of Hemmingway’s Pilar in Outdoor World in Islamorada.

Next stop Robbie’s of Islamorada.  If you have never been to Robbie’s’ it is a must see.  Glenn wrote about it for All At Sea,  check out his story.  So we paid our entrance and bought some buckets of fish to feed the tarpon.  First up, the girls. Trying to convince the girls to stick their hand out over the dock and let this 150 lb prehistoric fish jump out and grab the fish took a few words.  Check out the video and some pics of the action at Robbie’s.

Feeding the Tarpon at Robbies.

Feeding the Tarpon at Robbies.

We were done with our stops so now it was straight to Key West.  There is something for everyone in Key West.  The first things you will notice when you arrive on the island are the chickens, lots and lots of chickens.  They are quite amusing and beautiful.  You will fall in love with these chickens.  The negotiations going on in the car to have a chicken come home with us was entertaining.  Many tourists stop to take pictures of them as we did.

Roosters rule Key West

Roosters rule Key West

Key West is small enough to walk around in some parts but you can rent bikes or moped rentals, there’s also a jolly trolley that you can jump on and off throughout the island or just ride around town.  We decided to drive to the Southernmost Point of the United States and took the touristy picture there.  This is the buoy that marks the Southernmost Point in the continental US.  It’s located at the corner of South Street and Whitehead Street.  As the buoy says it’s only 90 miles to Cuba.  From that corner in Key West, Cuba is closer than the nearest Walmart. Doubt Cuba has as much stuff as Walmart though.  We went early in the morning and it’s a good thing we did.  While waiting in line people seemed to have finished their breakfast and come out of their hotels to line up.   The line was quickly down the block by the time we took our picture.  So my recommendation go early, maybe first thing as the sun rises, if you can get your kids to move fast enough and your husband.

The southernmost point in the US and only 90 miles from Cuba.

The southernmost point in the US and only 90 miles from Cuba.

One of the best value family passes is the Florida State Parks passWe buy this pass every year and since we own one, we were able to visit Fort Zachary Historic State Park.  It was drizzling that day so there weren’t many people.  We did a self-guided tour at the Fort that was built in the mid – 1800’s.  The fort played an important role in the Civil War and Spanish American War.  We didn’t get to enjoy everything the park had to offer, like the snorkeling and swimming.

Cannons had a limited view.

Cannons had a limited view.

Another must see and do is Mallory Square at sunset.  This has changed a great deal in 20 years but it’s still fun.  The square comes alive with street performers and many local artists come out to sell their pieces.  We walked around had a drink and waited for the sun to dip into the water.  Once it did the spectacular colors that radiated from the horizon reminded me of how blessed we are to enjoy this.  Humans can do many things and destroy things also, but there are always certain things in life that no human can change, that is the sun will rise in the East and the sun will set in the West.

A Key West sunset.

A Key West sunset.

Glenn and I have always loved to kayak.  We’ve kayaked in many places around Florida.  We even kayaked on a glacial lake in Alaska, which was very cold but amazing nonetheless.  Of course as a paddling family we wanted to SUP on our trip in the Keys.  We were invited to join a friend at the naval beach in Boca Chica, Florida.  This is a quick 20 minute drive out of Key West.  Any drive in the Keys is beautiful and scenic.  We entered the facility, parked and unpacked the 40 million things that a family packs when going to the beach.  We grabbed some boards and headed for the water.  The girls loved seeing the oyster beds, corals and fish.  One even tried some yoga poses which didn’t quite work out the way she wanted as she landed in the water.  Any day on the water is a great one even if you take an unexpected dip.

Supping in the crystal clear waters of Key West

Supping in the crystal clear waters of Key West

The simple fact is that we could have easily spent two weeks in the Keys and not done all there is to do there. It is a great destination for singles, couples and families who love the water, great scenery and experiences like no other. The Keys really do have it all

The Start of The Overseas Highway.

The Start of The Overseas Highway in Key West.

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Manatees Shut Down Waterway Due To Cold

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It seems that this week just about every part of the nation has felt the brutal cold that has brought travel to a standstill. The cold weather has even been felt here in Florida. It seems that everyone and everything is feeling the chill. Not only have schools and offices been closed but also a river in West Central Florida. It hasn’t iced over but has become clogged with manatees.

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Manatees crowd into the discharge waters of a TECO power plant in Tampa to escape the cold Gulf waters.

Authorities have closed off access to the Three Sisters spring area of the Crystal River in West Central Florida for the next couple of days to all water traffic, including swimmers and even kayaks, as a result of a large migration of manatees seeking refuge in the constant 72-degree temperature of the spring’s waters. Billing itself as the Manatee Capital of Florida, the upper portions of the Crystal River attract manatees as water temperatures drop in the Gulf. It is not uncommon to find manatees in the river enjoying the clear and warm waters. What is uncommon is to see over three hundred packed into the warm headwaters of the river, as has occurred during this cold spell. As the cold continues the number has been increasing.

According to the Tampa Bay Times an aerial survey of the manatees is slated for Wednesday to determine the number of manatees in the area.

Manatees typically seek out the warmer waters of springs and power plant cooling outlets on both coasts of Florida when winter temperatures dip below comfortable levels, providing an opportune time to view these mammals in their habitat. Although on-water access will be limited in Crystal River viewing the manatees from land is still possible. One such land-based viewing location is the Tampa Electric’s Manatee Viewing Area in Apollo Beach. When temperatures of the Gulf waters drop below 68 degrees the warm waters of the power plant’s cooling system draw manatees from miles around. Before this week’s cold snap there were well over 100 manatees bustling each other in the high 70-degree waters. As temperatures continue to drop the numbers will certainly grow.

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A mother and baby manatee enjoy the warm waters of a power plant discharge canal while getting a cleaning from fish during a recent cold spell in Florida.

If you are traveling by boat in any waterways around Florida there is a need to be abundantly cautious, as manatees are in search of warmer water and increasingly populate canals, springs and warmer protected waters.

First Day Hike

January 1, 2014

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Our family has a tradition to visit a Florida State Park on New Year’s Day for a family hike and we always pack a picnic lunch.  We have done this for four years now and we all enjoy seeing the vast lands of Florida.  Some of the State Parks have guided tours with the ranger, you can check with their events calendar.

Our day started out to be a dreary, cloudy and rainy day but our family likes adventures so we took on the challenge.  To kick it up a notch we brought the dogs.  We had two parks in mind and chose one that had more walking trails as we decided to go kayaking at the other park later on in the month.

So we sprang into action, at least me and my husband but the girls decided to leisurely get ready.  I took care of packing our picnic lunch while my husband got the car ready.  I have a mini-van and we all know how much stuff a family mini-van can carry at all times.

As we drove to the park the day continued to be cold and have that light drizzle, it reminded me of the late fall days in Chicago while growing up.  We arrived at Colt Creek State Park, in Lakeland, FL and once we got to the park to our surprise it is an unattended ranger station.  We have a Florida State Park pass which is a great investment for a family, we just referenced our pass# on the tag and deposited it in the slot.  The cost for the year pass is $120.00 for up to eight people in a group, there are some restrictions with Homosassa Springs and Weeki Wachee Springs, but still worth the cost, Florida State Park Annual Pass.

The park has a lot to offer, there is a boat ramp for access to Mac Lake where they only allow, canoe/kayak or electric trolling motor boats. If you like to camp there are two sites available one is a youth site or a second site can be used for primitive camping.  The park offers 12 miles of hiking or horseback riding trails, bring your own horse, sorry we don’t have one of those.  We chose a small trail for our hike as the day wasn’t really suited for the 12 mile hike, we’ll have to come back for that one.  If you like to Geocache the ranger has a list but we chose to use the app we have on our phone.  We found a small cache that had many things.  Unfortunately, my husband chose to take the Australian Shepherd into the brush and came out not only with the find but the sticky burrs all over the dog.  A quick trim with a leather man cleaned up all the sticky things.  Throughout the park you’ll find a few picnic pavilions, one made a great spot for our picnic lunch.
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The rain continued so there wasn’t much more for us to do.  We packed everything up and decided to leave for the day.  It was a short trip at the park but was another great day with the family.  Looking forward to the next visit.