Archive for Florida

The Positively “Off Key” Aspects of Key West

Monday, July 16th, 2012

Key West Sunset

In Key West, I found a place where its quirky aspects made it very memorable amidst all the sailboats, warm and breezy tropical conditions, outdoor cafes lining the city’s main drag Duvall Street, where the words “I’ll have Key Lime Pie” are uttered over and over.  The following aspects resonated more with me than the typical tourist quest to find “Margaritaville.”

Why did the Key West Chickens cross the road?

Key West RoostersI soon found out while walking in Old Town that one doesn’t just share sidewalks with droves of locals and tourists wearing shorts (whether they look good in them or not), but many other two-footed creatures who have ditched their short shorts altogether — chickens.   While these fowl have been around for almost two centuries, their numbers especially grew in the 1950s after Cubans fleeing their homeland brought them for use in cock fighting and food consumption.

Chickens multiplied over time after cock fighting was outlawed and grocery stores provided easier access to eggs and poultry.  The roosters don’t just crow with the sunrise either, as I found out at 2;30 a.m. in my hotel room.   Nonetheless, there’s been an uneasy tolerance for the chickens’ presence here because they do feast on pesky insects, even though they have irritated many locals because of where they choose to poop, trespass, etc.  This has resulted in various plans and schemes to deal with them over the years in what’s been called the “Great Key West Chicken Controversy” or “Key West Chicken Wars.”

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Kayaking the Florida Keys from Cow Key to Key Largo

Monday, October 10th, 2011

The Florida Keys are made up of some 1,700 islands.  From Miami to Key West, this archipelago stretches over 150 miles alone.  It’s here where I found some unique saltwater kayaking opportunities stretching from the Cow Key to Key Largo.

Kayaking through the Cow Key Channel

Cow Key  - Lazy Dog KayakThe two hour, 1.5 mile roundtrip through the Cow Key Channel beginning at US Highway MM (mile marker) 4.1(just outside of Key West) with Lazy Dog Kayak Guides involved a steady current that’s heavily influenced by the two high and low tides coming from both the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean each day.  The firm breeze helped to counter the muggy conditions.  Bethany and her four-legged companion Tucker (a.k.a. “Mr. T”) served as our guides.

Through her guidance as we kayaked through open waters 2-10 foot deep, a natural mangrove creek and one “hurricane hole” (a pond surrounded by mangroves that offer more protection from hurricanes), I got an up close and personal view of primary Red Mangrove trees, whose prop roots filter out about 95 per cent of the saltwater while the trees leaves sacrifice themselves to filter out the rest of the salt so the trees can have “potable” water.   Their death means decomposition in the channel, which creates the soil ingredients to build up the small islands.

In my 12 foot Perception model, I heard the soundtrack of osprey, Great Blue and White Heron as I paddled through the waters, ranging in depth of two to ten feet.  Bethany often stopped alongside the mangrove growth to educate our group about the plant and animal life thriving here, letting us hold them.  Creatures like the prickly-feeling Florida Spiny Sea Star, and the Sea Cucumber, which has the feel of its vegetable counterpart.   She was excited when she came across a government-protected Queen Conch, a large creepy-looking snail that would make the subject of a good horror film.

Venturing to the Key with “No Name”

The Author paddling at "No Name"Just four miles off of US 1 at MM 30, I found a more isolated, off the beaten path world, where I kayaked roundtrip over a couple of hours in waters 1-18 feet in depth from Big Pine Key to the No Name Key (where the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion was staged).   The winds whistled through the palms on a mostly cloudy morning and afternoon, helping to keep the heat and mugginess in check.   Our guide from Big Pine Kayak Adventures, was Bill Keogh.  He’s kayaked some 800 Florida Keys.

Like Bethany at Cow Key, Keogh’s four-footed friend joined, a friendly mixed breed named Scupper, who quickly won my fondness.  As we set off from Big Pine Key, the scent of sulfur permeated my nostrils because of the decomposing seagrass which this Key catches from Florida Bay.  Getting to the Key with “No Name” meant crossing the Bogie Channel’s choppy waters (about a 1/3 mile long) in a 12 foot Vapor that weighed 50 pounds.

When I looked down into the more shallow waters, I caught the sight of flat Turtle Grass, round Manatee Grass, and soft-looking Shoal Grass waving back and forth.   Being out in this wide channel heightened my sense of isolation from the hustle and bustle only a few miles away.  My eyes took in the sight of a kettle of Turkey Vultures heading south for winter.   Arriving at the No Name Key, we paddled into a deep mangrove forest via a very narrow creek, so narrow that I dismantled my paddle into halves, using one along with low-hanging branches to navigate hundreds of feet.  But awaiting my camera was a camouflaged Yellow-Crowned Night Heron bouncing around from tree to tree as well as a variety of crabs climbing the densely-packed branches. Read More→