|Welcoming committee at Fort Zachary Taylor, Key West, Florida|
|Our Venture at Lignumvitae Key Botanical State Park, 1982|
John Pennekamp Ocean Reef State Park – MM 102.5
We made reservations at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, located in Key Largo at Mile Marker 102.5, months in advance as all Florida State Park campgrounds fill up rapidly during the winter season. Even though the weeks following Thanksgiving are known as the best time to visit the Florida Keys, the campsites are almost always full as soon as the snowbirds head south and Pennekamp is no exception. There were no empty campsites the entire four days we were there. The RV campground is a single, dead-end paved road with a simple turn around, or cul-de-sac, and a key-pad operated security gate for entrance anytime, day or night.
|Ibis walk through the campsites|
All 47 campsites have water and sewer hookups, as well as 30 amp and 50 amp electrical service. There were coin-operated washing machines but we weren't there long enough to need them. Maximum length is 45 feet, so we were just fine with out little 21 foot travel trailer. The camping area is far enough away from US-1 as to shield the campground from highway traffic noise, but is not near the water's edge as the other parks we visited. Still, the dense hardwood forest is unique in itself and creates an environment not found at the other parks.
The swimming areas are still as inviting as ever although it was a little cool for us Floridians. Kayak and canoe rentals are more popular than ever as the number of boats available for rental is astonishing. According to the park brochure, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is the first undersea park in U.S, and encompasses approximately 70 nautical square miles. In other words, you can't see most of it from land.
|...Memories The old vacant lot in Tavernier today|
We had a less than memorable breakfast at a restaurant that no longer deserves its honors, then stopped just past Tavernier Creek for our first dose of reality, looking up the old sandspur-covered vacant lot where we used to tie up our sailboat. Today, a beautiful two-story house sits where we used to park our van, and a seawall with a boat-lift has replaced the coral rocks we used to clamber over to get to the boat.
|...and in 1981, before the building boom|
We passed Robbie's in Islamorada, having stopped there the day before only to be totally ignored by the Tarpon we were trying to feed. Still a nice place to visit if you're looking for atmosphere. You can see Lignumvitae Key Botanical State Park from the dock at Robbie's and if you want to paddle over to the state park, Robbie's rent kayaks as well. We haven't been back to Lignumvitae in many years, but we made day-sails to the state park back in the early 80's just to visit and eat our picnic lunches while we owned the sailboat we kept up in Tavernier.
|A super-male Iguana climbs a dock in Tavernier|
I look for the Peter Fancher memorial plaque every time I drive across, but I have yet to spot it. Minimum speed is 40 mph, so rubbernecking is hard to do, especially in the usually heavy, two lane traffic. The plaque is in memory of the 39 year-old bridge tender killed the week before his retirement in 1982, when a backhoe that accidentally extended while being towed on a flat bed trailer failed to clear the bridgetender's 200-pound propane tank mounted below the tender's shack. The explosion killed Fancher and closed the old swing-bridge forever. The new, 65 foot-high bridge was slated to open in less than a year when the accident occurred.
Bahia Honda State Park MM 37
if we could check out the park for future camping sites. The friendly young ranger explained the rules of the temporary pass, then handed us the full complement of brochures for the park. We took a slow tour around all three camping loops, the Buttonwood, sites 1 to 48, Sandspur, sites 49 to 72, and Bayside where the remaining eight sites, 73 to 80, are located. Only the Buttonwood loop can accept our little 21 foot travel trailer, but all sites on the loop have water and electric. Not all sites on the other loops have electricity.
Check the website (listed at the end of this article) for details. The park uses a dump station for all loops. Both of the other loops have a 14 foot size limit on trailers and RVs. Getting to Bayside involves driving under U.S. 1 where the clearance is a meager six feet, eight inches!
Yep! If you're vehicle is taller than 6 feet, 8 inches, you aren't going to use Bayside or the cottages as they are also located on the other side of U.S.-1. There are three duplex cabins on stilts, five units available total, but you won't get there with an SUV with a kayak roof-rack or a tall van.
It makes a unique, immediately recognizable backdrop to the state park. We made it back to the ranger station with a few minutes to spare, and made a note to revisit this park in the future whenever we can get a reservation. Yes, we will be back.
A short three minute video tour is at: http://youtu.be/9askoMlESkA
Curry Hammock State Park – MM 56.2
They prefer not to have visitors drive through the camping area, a policy we agree with wholeheartedly. Not as big as Pennekamp or Bahia Honda, but once again, a different way to see the Florida keys. There are 28 sites in the campground, located on a single loop with
|Campsites on the ocean at Curry Hammock|
some directly on the Atlantic Ocean. The campsites right on the water do not have
immediate access to the Atlantic because of the buffer of protected sea grasses. The only access to the water is via a single walkway through the protected area. Clean and well maintained, each site has water and full electric service. As at Bahia Honda, the park is serviced by a dump station. There is no shade. The campground is unique as the maximum RV length is 70 feet!
Long Key State Park – MM 67.5
Luckily for us, we chose to visit Long Key State Park last on our day-long, research outing. We planned to stop at the campground on our return north to Pennekamp from Bahia Honda. If we had stopped at Long Key on the way south, we would have assumed all Florida State Parks have restrictions on short-term, look-and-see visits, and probably not visited the other two parks. Long Key State Park is the only one with the strange policy requiring full admission, even if just checking the facilities.
|Mausoleum Marker in the Key West Cemetery|
Check the following sites for more information.
Bahia Honda State Park -
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park -
Curry Hammock State Park -
NEXT: Close to Home - Acting like a tourist, at:http://sleepstwo.blogspot.com/2013/01/close-to-home.html