En-route to Key west, we stopped along the way to slowly introduce the rookies with the beauty and diversity of the Florida Keys. Dropping off the bridge onto the first key, we stopped at Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park hoping to see the elusive saltwater crocodile amidst the largest continuous tract of tropical hardwood hammock left in the US. We were met instead with the ghastly ruins of some developer’s dream gone bad–an enormous concrete parking structure overgrown with vines and a blazing statement of nature over greed. In 1992, the thousands of acres were purchased by the county and will remain for all to enjoy rather than yet one more example of the affluent living their exclusive lives in gated communities.
What could have been a simple 4-hour drive morphed into an exhausting day of sightseeing, seafood tacos at a favorite marina, and culminated by a glorious sunset. Particularly impressive was the 7-mile stretch of railroad completed in the 20’s and wryly referred to as Froggler’s Folly. Froggler was a fabulously wealthy oil baron and business partner of John D. Rockefeller. He spent 80 million of his own money to build a railroad across the watery straits on hundreds of concrete pilings. He was reportedly a fair employer and hired thousands of laborers from all over the world, and completed the task in the early 20’s (at the additional expense of hundreds of lives attributed to hurricanes). Long hoped to connect the Florida mainland with a deep-water port and tap into the lucrative trade spewing out of the newly-constructed Panama Canal, the great depression rendered that traffic obsolete and the railroad was sold for 1.5 million. The original train bed was converted for automobile traffic and, in the early 80’s, a new bridge was built and its parallel companion was abandoned. A small Section has been converted into a rails-to-trails facility but most of the original is slowly rusting away and a remarkable monument to early engineering.
After checking into our condo on Duval Ave., we scooted to Mallory Square just in time to celebrate the sunset (along with several thousand others). A virtual circus with all the entertainers vieing for your attention and the expected tip, fire blowers competed with jugglers, musicians, and who knows what else in that festive environment.
Sightings for Feb. 16
Kingfishers! Ruddy Turnstones, Brown Pelicans, Great Blue Herons, Snowy Egret, <Sandwich Terns>, Royal Terns
First time sightings: 1