Happy New Year from the Florida Keys

Happy New Year! We’ve been continuing to bask in the warmth of the southern Florida winter weather. Here in the Keys we’ve enjoyed temperatures in the 70s and 80s while thinking about our friends and family in the Midwest and in Prescott who are enduring typical winter weather.

We know we are so lucky to be here, especially since finding an RV site is so difficult in the Keys. We had to work to piece together our reservations this time of year. Thus, we’ve jumped around a few times over the last few weeks.

We were able to book four nights at the newest KOA around. The Sugarloaf Key/Key West KOA was severely damaged in Hurricane Irma in 2017 and has been under renovation ever since. The newly opened, completely reconstructed campground features a beautiful pool, a pub, full service marina, and all new facilities.

We kayaked right from the resort, and Steve got in some good fishing in the channel next to camp. We also took advantage of the easy-to-access Overseas Heritage Trail to get in some good runs and bike rides along the water. The dogs enjoyed the sunshine too!

New Years Eve took us to nearby Mangrove Mama’s for a drink and then back to the KOA to enjoy a local band. As usual, we didn’t make it to midnight but it was still a fun evening with lots of festivities to enjoy.

After our time at the KOA we drove about 20 minutes north along the Overseas Highway to one of Florida’s premier state parks. Getting a campsite at Bahia Honda is like winning the lottery and we scored four nights. With some of the few beaches in the Keys and breathtaking views, this is the kind of place you never want to leave. 

A highlight of the park is the broken bridge, a remnant of the park’s beginnings when Henry Flagler’s railway arrived on the key in 1908 en route to Key West. The 1935 Labor Day Hurricane swept a train off the tracks, destroyed miles of rail lines, and seriously damaged the bridge. The railroad never ran again. The bridge found new life when they laid a concrete slab on top and opened it to cars. Now it’s a picturesque viewpoint from which to watch the sunset and a silhouette that makes for great photos.

Like at the KOA, we never left Bahia Honda while we were there, except to run the trail and to kayak the bay. Steve did some good fishing under the bridge pylons. If we can get reservations here again, we’ll jump on them!

We headed back towards Key West after this incredible stay and will report on that time in the next post. Spoiler alert: it includes appearances from our friends Tom and Nancy and a few more spectacular sunsets.

Just a Start in the Florida Keys

When we say we are in “the Keys” most people assume we are partying in Key West. In fact, we are over 100 miles away from the party town and have spent a busy two weeks exploring the “upper keys.” The Florida Keys are made up of 1,700 little islands beginning about 15 miles south of Miami and extending westward beyond Key West. The word “key” is derived from the Spanish “cayo.” With so many little islands, we have a lot of territory to explore! We started with Key Largo.

Luckily, we snagged a two-week reservation at the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park campground, which made this a more affordable stay than other options in the Keys. Our next-door neighbors in the campground, Dave and Cinda, were from Arizona, and we had a lot in common. The four of us enjoyed excursions, happy hours, and dinners together, which really made our stay here even more special. 

The park itself is mostly underwater. We took the snorkeling excursion to the reef twice and were amazed with the clarity of the water and the health of the reef. The water temperature is about 76 degrees, so it’s possible to swim and snorkel with just a swimsuit. We have our wetsuits with us, so we used those just for a little extra comfort. Lots of colorful fish, calm blue waters, and plenty of sunshine made for two perfect afternoons, one of which we shared with Dave and Cinda.

The park is also known for its kayaking trails through the mangroves. We took the Botē kayaks out several times to paddle around and look for cool things in the water.

Steve also set out on a few mornings to fish from the kayak. He caught a tree and a small pinfish, but that was about it. He had better luck fishing from a nearby bridge.

The Wild Bird Sanctuary is a small, local refuge for a variety of birds. We checked it out one afternoon while we were out poking around. There are a number of these little environmentally focused organizations through the Keys and we always try to stop and support these important organizations. 

One day we had the opportunity to travel back to the Miami International Airport to meet up with our dear friend Lucia Idarraga and her nephew Alvaro who were passing through on their way back to Colombia. There weren’t many options for breakfast in the very crowded airport terminal so we set up our own breakfast cafe curbside. It was a beautiful morning and we were thankful to spend some time with our special friends. 

A highlight of every day here in the Keys is sunset. Many of the area bars and restaurants have a sunset celebration so we checked out as many as we could! That means we’ve got A LOT of sunset pictures! We’re only two weeks into our six week Keys tour, so you can expect a few more sunset photos coming your way!

Key Largo has a warm, community feel. Steve got a haircut, I got a pedicure, we went to the library, and even gave blood one day in typical Keys fashion—there were chickens!

We met a number of locals along the way who were happy to recommend sunset watching locations and favorite restaurants. The Holiday Lighted Boat Parade was a fun local event we shared with our friends Dave and Cinda.

We’ve got a lot more Keys to check out. Soon we are heading to the southernmost point in the USA. 

The Space Coast

Jetty Park Campground is THE place to stay when visiting Florida’s Space Coast. The park is run by Port Canaveral and is set right on the tip of the cape, with direct access to sweeping white sand beaches, views of the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) and its launch pads, and the now quiet cruise ship terminal. We could have stayed for weeks but it’s tough to get in here. We’ve already booked for next year and could only get five days at that.

Jetty Park is a perfect jumping off point for exploring the Space Coast, named for the presence of NASA’s activities throughout the area. Our primary goal was to fully explore KSC and we are confident that we did it!

Over three days we strolled the theme park-like complex watching movies, viewing exhibits, and riding simulators. We learned about the history of the US space program, saw the Atlantis Space Shuttle, reviewed our progress on Mars exploration, and tried out various space capsules.

Due to the pandemic, the bus tours of the launch areas and vehicle assembly building were not available. We are already planning a return trip in late 2021 with hopes of experiencing these highlights at that time. 

While visiting the Space Coast we also explored the Canaveral National Seashore. The land was preserved shortly after NASA began launching rockets in the area. It provides a buffer for the Space Center activities, but creates a quiet, natural environment for birds, alligators, and nudists. Yes, two of the beach areas are designated as clothing-free, and no, we didn’t participate and no, there are no photos.

During our picnic stop Bob met his first armadillo. He was ready to take the little armored guy on, but the armadillo didn’t have any interest in taking on a toy poodle.  

Within the boundaries of the National Seashore there are also a few short hikes that feature the history of the area. In particular, we did the short Castle Windy Trail which led us across the peninsula to the Mosquito Lagoon where we found a couple fly fishing amidst curious dolphins. No good photos of this but it was cool.

Another trail led us to the top of ancient Indian midden, which is a huge pile of shells, seven stories tall, created by some of the original inhabitants of the area. We followed the boardwalk up, up, up which ended with sweeping views of the lagoon to the west and Atlantic ocean to the east. 

One thing we try to do as often as possible is give blood. It’s our way of giving to the community, and we also get helpful health information in the process. We visited the bloodmobile in Cape Canaveral and as a result learned we are both negative for the COVID-19 antibodies.

We are extra careful with masks and hand sanitizer, avoiding large crowds as much as possible. It’s reassuring, but sometimes surprising to know we’ve avoided infection with all of our travels. While we stayed very busy on the Space Coast, we barely scratched the surface and look forward to returning.