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Saturday, March 10, 2007

Florida Keys

This is a long post, but you'll be glad you read it.

On Saturday, February 17th Josh and I flew to Miami, Florida where we met my parents at the airport. This was the beginning to a wonderful trip and journey we would all have.

Upon getting off of our plane and finding our luggage, it felt as though we were someplace international. A majority of the people we saw were speaking Spanish or varied forms of Spanish adapted by Cubans. I was surprised I could actually notice a difference.

After reaching my parents, we found their luggage. Thankfully none of it had been lost, so we headed to our rental car. Almost three hours later we reached our destination in Marathon, right in the middle of the Florida Keys.

Normally, driving that distance (about 113 miles) wouldn't take so long. The main road to reach the Keys and then all the way down to Key West is, Overseas Highway / US 1. Here is where an hour turned into almost three. Overseas Highway has a speed limit of 45 mph a majority of the time, and it even goes down to 35 mph in some places. This isn't even because of construction. We ended up guessing that it was because much of the road is one lane both ways without a shoulder or room to pass.

A view from Overseas Highway

We decided to check out Bahia Honda Key and the Old Bahia Honda Bridge on Sunday. It was really windy and quite chilly, but we had fun anyway. My mom and I collected a lot of coral on the shoreline. It was interesting getting to see the Gulf side and the Atlantic side just standing on the bridge, or even when driving on US 1. There is a color difference from one ocean to another, and there also seemed to be more coral on the Atlantic side.

Bahia Honda State Park - finding small pieces of coral

Mom and I having fun

Old Bahia Honda Bridge from a distance

Part of the Old Bahia Honda Bridge that you could walk on

This was another section of the bridge

We saw this iguana just hanging out in a tree near the bridge

Later that afternoon we drove south to Key West, about 48 miles from Marathon. Key West was very unique. Some parts of Key West remind me of New Orleans. We stopped by the Southernmost Point, which is quite a landmark. It is the marker for the furthest south you can be in the Continental U.S., and it is only 90 miles from Cuba.

Southernmost Point - landmark in Key West

Something we did not expect, was that chickens and roosters roam freely in Key West. I thought one would have gotten hit by a car. Fortunately it remained unscathed. There is even a place called, The Chicken Store which had cedar chips on the floor and the birds were roaming around inside. The store doubles as a chicken orphanage, rescue center, and adoption agency. So far, I found out that the chickens and roosters are an established 175-year-old historical feature of Key West. They also perform a valuable service by eating scorpions, ticks, cockroaches, termites, snails and other pests.

On Monday we took our first trip to the Everglades, back north to the mainland tip of Florida. The Everglades National Park is the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States. Within the Everglades you can see rare and endangered species. The American crocodile, Florida panther, and West Indian manatee are just a few.

Josh, Mom and I

Dad and Mom at the Everglades National Park sign

Just in case we didn't know, not to touch the alligators

American Alligators - I thought they were a bit more territorial than this

Pedicure anyone?

Dad, Mom and I having a great time in the Everglades

Well, hello there!

Not a care in the world

Map in the visitor's center - showing the large area that makes up the Everglades

Catching some rays

If you ever get the opportunity to go to the Everglades, do not pass it up. We all had a great time seeing the large variety of wildlife. I think we counted around 38 alligators that one day alone! Pictures can not do them any justice either. Seeing alligators only a foot or two from you was amazing.



That day my mom was in total bliss. She is an avid bird-watcher, and this was a haven for birds along with the other animals. We saw Great Blue Heron, Great White Heron, Brown Pelican, Cormorant, Anhinga, Least Bittern, White Ibis, Roseate Spoonbill, Belted Kingfisher, Wood Stork, and I could go on. I'll spare you this time.

Great White Heron


Great Blue Heron


Tuesday we got up very early to drive back to Key West for our deep sea fishing trip. When Josh made reservations with the private charter a few weeks before our trip, we decided to go all out and have a full day of fishing instead of just a few hours. This was a day for Josh and my dad. Both of them being fishermen, they had a chance to bond even more since the last time they went fishing together. My mom and I went as well, and we had a lot of fun. The guys both caught many fish.
We practiced catch and release with a majority of the fish we caught. Josh thinks Dad caught the biggest fish. One was a 20 to 30 pound Cobia, and he also caught a Lemon shark. Josh hooked into a Silky shark that managed to wrap itself in both fishing lines. Then it proceeded to shred them with its sandpaper-like skin. It was great getting to see Josh and my dad enjoying themselves, and helping my mom and I out. I think we each got a little wind burned and sun burned on our faces that day, but it was worth it.

Our boat for the day

Emptying bait fish from the cast net

Josh with a Pin fish - used as bait

I had a few bites, but I need Josh to teach me a thing or two

Dad with a Grouper

A Brown Pelican looking for something to eat

The guys having fun

Captain Paul with the cast net full of bait fish

It's a good day

Fish on!

Having a good time

Yellowfin Snapper

Mom with a Grouper

A Grouper that Josh caught

At breakfast on Wednesday, I was told that it was a "girls day". My mom told me to pick, since she had her day in the Everglades. I picked two locations to visit. First we went to the Dolphin Research Center located on Grassy Key. We were able to see Atlantic Bottlenose dolphins and California sea lions. They research the animals, as well as educating people about them and their conservation.

Tail "walking"

Catching the end of a back flip

A mom and her baby


Some of the dolphins would swim on their sides, and I could tell they were looking at us. The male dolphins would do this, but if you walked by or didn't really look at them, they would call out to get your attention. They are incredibly intelligent. Watching them work and play was a treat.

Watching us, and chattering away

A little bit later we stopped in at The Turtle Hospital to make reservations for a tour an hour later. This was a high point on the trip for me. I would have loved getting to see a manatee, but sea turtles are also very high on my list. So many sea turtles are endangered or threatened, which is extremely sad. Years ago they were hunted for their meat and use of their shells for decoration. In many cultures, people still harvest the eggs. This causes the numbers to dwindle even lower.

Sea turtles are brought to The Turtle Hospital for various reasons. Some come in because of a boat or propeller hitting the shell and causing permanent damage. Others have damage from a shark attack, fishing line entanglement around a flipper resulting in amputation, or ingestion of items like plastic bags that cause intestinal impaction. There are many other reasons as well. The hospital and its volunteers give their all trying to "rescue, rehab, and release" the turtles. They have been doing ongoing research as well on a disease called fibropapilloma. This disease shows up as viral tumors, and it afflicts sea turtles worldwide. Sea turtles range in size from 113 to 450 pounds or larger and are very unobtrusive.

X-Rays of sea turtles - the upper right one showed a large hook that a turtle swallowed

The hook was removed successfully

Dad holding the hook - it's huge!

A hatchling sea turtle

Group of hatchlings

The Turtle Hospital doesn't normally keep hatchlings unless they're sick or hurt. They were waiting until the weather was warmer to release them back into the sea grass beds.

A hatchling just swimming around

After the educational portion of the tour, we were able to visit some of the permanent resident sea turtles, along with others who are staying until they are healthy enough to be released back into the ocean. We saw Green sea turtles, Hawksbills, Loggerheads, and I believe a Kemp's Ridley as well. We did not get to see any Leatherbacks, or Olive Ridley sea turtles, since none were in the hospital. Being able to see them up close, I was amazed and truly touched by their size, appearance and peaceful manner.

A huge Loggerhead - I estimate the shell to be 3 to 4 feet across

Loggerhead coming up for air - they have such beautiful eyes

Green sea turtle - with weights on the back of it's shell to help it dive for food

Hawksbill - "Randy Rudy" with weights on its shell


Green sea turtle - "Sable" with bandages from surgery to remove fibropapilloma tumors

Green sea turtle - the red light is a heat lamp

Many sea turtles in the larger "pool" area

"Bubble Butt" and a friend

"Bubble Butt" was hit by a boat. That injury caused its shell to grow slightly deformed with a pocket of air inside, which can not be removed. This type of injury is the main reason why weights are added to their shells. The weights even out the difference made by the pocket of air and allow the turtles to swim and dive for food. These sea turtles are permanent residents, because the weights occasionally fall off, and need to be replaced. In the wild, the weights would fall off without anyone knowing, and the turtles would starve.

Thursday we returned to the Everglades, and traveled to a different part of the national park. We had the pleasure of seeing, three endangered American crocodiles. There may have been others, however these three were basking in the sun having a good time. This time around we saw many more birds and enjoyed trying to identify them.

Two endangered American Crocodiles

Teal and Shovelnose ducks

Green Heron

An Ospry sitting on its nest - there were two young Ospry inside

Friday was somewhat of a sad day, because we had to part ways and fly back home. This trip will be one we remember for years to come. I am so thankful that Josh and I were able to spend such quality time together with each other, and also with my parents. Looking back at pictures, little mementos we picked up along the way, and our memories will be things we can continue to share.

Mom and I walking on a trail in the Everglades

I can't fully describe the feelings and emotions I had seeing all the wildlife and the beautiful land during this trip. It was a mix of excitement, pure joy, awe, and sadness. Our God created such magnificent animals, yet we don't respect them. We have treated them poorly and let many dwindle to very low numbers. We also treat the land as our personal landfill, yet we are here just for a little while. I want my children, and grandchildren to have the same opportunities to see these animals and the land just as I have.

Great Blue Heron standing not too far behind an American Alligator

Thank you for coming along on this written journey with me. I hope you were able to take some bit of knowledge with you, and I also hope it inspires you to make a difference; even in your own area.

4 thoughtful comments:

Burcham Family said...

It looks like you had a great trip! You did a lot in just a few days. It's so good to see pics of your parents. I haven't seen them in a long time! Thanks for sharing :)

The Davis' said...

We had a wonderful time. Even though we did a lot in just a few days, it didn't feel rushed. I love the picture of my parents in front of the Everglades sign. (I think I may enlarge it to 8x10 for framing.) :o)

mommiebear2 said...

Looks like tons of fun! I liek the dolphins and the sea turtles but all of that nature stuff looks like a total allergic reaction comin' on to this girl. ;)

aggiejenn said...

Wow...you guys did a lot! There were roosters and chickens everywhere when we went to Kauai, too. I wonder why???

I'm glad to know you guys have a blog...I'll have to come back!

Jennifer W

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