Well, folks, I'm not even in the northernmost part of Florida, but it took me about nine hours to drive from here to Key West. It's a heckuva a long way. That means that if you're talking about the Orlando theme parks when you say, "Everybody's been to Florida," then you're talking about a place that's still seven hours from the spot where US 1 ends in downtown Key West.
Speaking of Key West's status as the really-and-truly-I-mean-it end of the road, when I started on my trip, I got my GPS out of the glove compartment and started to set it. Then I thought, "Um...I drive south to where the Florida Turnpike starts. Then I drive south for the turnpike's entire length. Then I get on US 1 South and I drive until I run out of road. If I can't find Key West without a GPS, then I really shouldn't be driving a car."
That last 125 miles of Highway 1 is so spectacular and unique that I think it should be on everyone's bucket list. It follows the route of the Overseas Railroad constructed by Henry Flagler's Florida East Coast Railway in 1912, which was considered a wonder of the world in its day. When the railroad was destroyed in the great Labor Day Hurricane of 1935, the route was sold to the federal government for the purpose of building a highway. Over the years, the old bridges have largely been replaced, but some of them still stand, adding a sense of history to the drive. Here's a picture of the Bahia Honda section of the old bridge. It's been cut, so that no one will continue using it, but it was left in place for use as a fishing pier. The new bridge is roughly parallel and to the right of the bridge as you're looking at it. As you drive across the new bridge, on the dividing line between the Florida Straits and the Caribbean, you feel like you're driving on top of endless water in every possible shade of blue and green. You can't help cranking up the radio and rolling the windows down.
On the other side of Bahia Honda Key is a world-famous beach. It's frequently on one of those Top Ten beach lists that show up in magaziens and on the internet, and it's just spectacular. It's not one of those carefully groomed and raked stretches of beach. No, I've been there three times now, and the fine sugar white sand always has a pretty decent coating of dried seaweed. This isn't surprising, because you can see dark patches of seaweed beds under the clear water. When there's a good bit of surf, as there was on the times I visited, the water is heavily laced with seaweed and murky with white sand. All these things only serve to make the beauty feel natural.
Check out this photo to see just how crowded Bahia Honda's beach was on a beautiful September Saturday. I walked down past the furthest point you can see in the picture, to the end of the island, and I found a large area of clear and seaweed-free turquoise water where I could walk, thigh-deep, far from shore. I just floated in it, practically alone, except for a handful of other folks who were far away and minding their own business. It was a little slice of heaven. (I'm sorry, but I cannot seem to make the graphics program turn it 90 degrees and keep it there. It turned the Bahia Honda Bridge photo properly. It actually turned this one properly, but when I post it, it flips over again. There are many things about computers that I don't understand. Sigh.)
On that note, I'll sign off, promising you more Key West stories and pictures soon. If you want to hear my thoughts on music and mystery writing, today's my day to post over at The Lady Killers. Hop over there and you can see a picture of my piano and everything. How cool is that? (Okay, it's not all that exciting to most folks, but it is a wonderful piano.) :)