A Trip to Canaveral National Seashore

Nature in harmony with science make Florida’s Space Coast an adventure not to be missed. I have been to the Space Coast twice, the first time in 2012 and again last week with Steve. There are several components making up the coast, you have the Canaveral National Seashore, consisting of 57,662 acres, the Merritt Island NWR, consisting of 140,000 acres which includes NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

On both occasions, my main objective was to visit Merritt Island NWR, specifically the Black Point Wildlife Drive. Both of my visits were in late March and I was surprised by the differences. The water levels were much higher in 2012 and my visit coincided with a prescribed burn.

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It’s natural for the water levels to fluctuate and we haven’t had a lot of rain this winter.

Merritt Island NWR is home to over 1500 species of plants and animals, including 15 federally listed species. It is also an important stop on the Atlantic Flyway. You never know what you might come across during a visit.

The wildlife drive is a 7 mile, one-way road through various habitats, from shallow marsh impoundments to pine flatwoods…

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With spring in the air, wildflowers are blooming, attracting lots of butterflies…

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In 2012, I was lucky enough to be visiting when a large flock of white pelicans were resting in the marsh…

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This year, we saw quite a few northern shovelers which are in the spoonbill family…

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While we were photographing them, a grackle made his presence known. He was finding a meal in the fallen palm fronds. When I got too close, he retreated to my spare tire.

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We saw flocks of blue billed ducks. I haven’t quite identified them yet…

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And tons of coots…

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The one animal you are almost guaranteed to see is alligators…

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After we finished the drive, we decided to head over to Canaveral National Seashore. On the way, we were lucky enough to see a sandhill crane with its chick…

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Using our America the Beautiful Pass, we entered our first national park of the year. I don’t think we will visit as many parks this year as last (15 in total), but we love not having to pay the entrance fees.

Our first wildlife encounter was with an armadillo. I’m fairly sure this little guy was completely blind. He was unfazed by my presence and at one point nearly walked into me…

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We also saw what I think was a box turtle on the side of the road…

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Only one of our encounters came with its own warning sign…

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I have to admit, we were a bit surprised. The seashore has 5 areas with beach access and apparently clothing is optional at beach 5. Who knew?!?!?

The one area we haven’t visited yet is the Kennedy Space Center. I’ve heard you can spend the better part of a day there, so it will have to wait until next time.

I’d love to hear your thoughts!

 

The End of the Road

In the middle of our Big Cypress adventure, we decided to take a road trip. Yes, we were already on a road trip, but this time we wouldn’t be taking Waldo. According to the map, Key West was only about 4 1/2 hours south. A little long for a day trip, but not quite long enough to make it worth packing up Waldo for an overnight. It had been about 25 years since I had been there and Steve hadn’t ever been there. I didn’t really give much thought to how much thing change in 25 years. Mistake number 1!

With Waldo safely tucked in at Burns Lake Campground, we set off early in the Jeep for our trip south. Key West, here we come!

Once we got south of Homestead, traffic began to back up. We crawled along as the scenery changed from mangrove swamps to views of the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the Gulf of Mexico on the other. We stopped at a pull off and saw the remains of the old bridge to the Keys…

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Many of the old bridges have been converted into fishing piers

There are over 1700 islands in what is collectively known as “The Keys”. The road through the Keys is called The Overseas Highway, also known as US Route 1. Seven Mile Bridge being the longest of the 43 bridges along the way. If you glance towards the Gulf of Mexico while you are on Seven Mile Bridge, you will see Pigeon Key. Notice the gaping hole in the old bridge. Pigeon Key is now a marine research facility and only accessible by ferry.

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There was still plenty of evidence of the destruction caused by hurricane Irma, travel trailers on the side of the road and boats yet to be recovered.

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Finally, we made it…Welcome to Key West!

 

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We spent the first hour or so just driving around. We drove by the marker for the southern most point in the continental United States. I snapped a quick picture with my phone, thinking we would come back to it later for a proper picture. It’s a good thing I did because when we drove by the following day and the line to get a picture was huge.

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Since we had been driving for hours, we decided to find a place to park and walk around. We found a spot in Old Town near the Waterfront Brewery.ย  I loved the murals on the building…

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The wall of the Cuban Coffee Queen building offered tourists a neat place for a photo op.

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The waterfront was packed with shops and eateries. So much to see…

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And all types of boats line the docks at the marina…

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Instead of thinking about where we were going to spent the night, we headed over to Duval Street, probably the most famous street in Key West. It runs north/south and stretches from the gulf to the ocean. Stretches may not be the right word since it is only 1 1/4 miles long, but what makes it so famous is the fact it is lined with bars. Both sides of the street, for its entire length – bar after bar after bar! Every kind of bar you can think of, from an upscale piano bar to a gentleman’s club. Duval Street has it all.

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If you had one beverage at every establishment, 43 drinks later, you would have completed what is known as the Duval Crawl. We didn’t crawl!

With sunset coming quickly, we walked through Mallory Square and found a place to enjoy it…

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After sunset, we began to think about a place to spend the night. 25 years ago, there were lots of, how should I put this, hole-in-the-wall places. You know, the kind that line every beachfront everywhere. Well…not anymore…not in Key West! A quick internet search told us the average price for a room in the cheapest of hotels was going to run us about $400 for ONE NIGHT. I almost choked on my beer! We talked about driving north until the prices dropped some. Another internet search told us that wouldn’t happen until we were off the Keys. It was getting late, we were tired and I was getting a little cranky. This all brings us back to that mistake number 1. After 25 years, things change! Finally, with the help of my Hotels Tonight app, we pried $300 out of out wallet and got a room at the Margaritaville Resort. It was a nice room, not $300 nice but that was better than the regular price of nearly $600.

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The view from our room

Wanting to make the most of our last day, we booked a trip with Fury Water Adventures and it didn’t go out until noon and the resort was nice enough to let us leave the Jeep there. We walked around Mallory Square and killed time until the trip went out. Pride of Key West is the name of the glass bottom boat and we found it at the dock…

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After we boarded, Steve and I split up. He stayed on the upper patio and I was lucky enough to get a spot at the bow. This lady held the other great spot on the bow…

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As we were going out, we passed another Fury boat heading in…

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Once we reached the coral garden, the captain did a great job of drifting us over the sea floor and the presentation given was excellent…

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On the way back to shore, Steve and I posed for this picture before relinquishing out spot on the bow…

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Although we still had over a 4 hour drive ahead of us, there were a couple places we wanted to hit before we left the island…

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Is it the end of the road?
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Or the beginning?

I guess it all depends on if you are going north or south. The other place we wanted to get a picture of was the lighthouse…

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Our Key West adventure was over and it was time to head back to Big Cypress. Here is where we made mistake number 2. We hadn’t listened to any local news. If we had, we would have been forewarned about the wildfires. The traffic came to a complete stop when we got to Key Largo and we had no idea why. Up ahead, we could see flashing lights and detour signs. Route 1 was closed – completely! But we still didn’t know why. We followed the traffic and found ourselves on Sound Card Road, the only other way off the Keys. We soon discovered the source of the problem, a wildfire…

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I sincerely hope it is the only wildfire we ever drive through! It was more than a little scary since the top was off the Jeep, as were the doors. Smoke blanketed the road. We could feel the heat and hear the crackle of the flames. I read later, there were actually 2 separate fires and we lucked out because both Route 1 and Sound Card Road had been closed earlier. Had we checked the news, we would have known.

It was late when we finally made it back to Waldo, but we made it. We really had a good time in Key West, but learned a little planning goes a long way and nothing stays the same for 25 years!

Have you ever been to the end of the road? Or done the Duval Crawl?