Lighthouses of the Keys
April 27-May 2, 2000
Our original plan for this vacation was to visit friends in Raleigh, NC and then head to South Carolina to see the lighthouses that we missed back in 1997-1998. The trip fell through, so we made last minute plans (3 days notice) to visit the Florida Keys. It was the only destination that airfare was less than $1000, and I have never been there before.
One thing that you will learn in the Florida Keys is that everything is identified by a mile marker. Mile markers are little green signs by the side of the road that have numbers on them. In the case of the Keys, they will start from around 126 up at the far end of Key Largo and end at 0 which is just inside the city of Key West.
April 27, 2000
We flew out of Buffalo, NY at 6:45am and arrived in Miami at 12:30pm. Once in Miami, we caught a shuttle to Alamo Car Rental to get our car. Upon getting our car, we got onto Route 836 (Dolphin Expressway) to head to the first lighthouse. Follow the Dolphin Expressway to I-95 south. Once on I-95 south, follow signs for the Rickenbacker Causeway. There is a toll to cross this bridge, I believe it was $1.50.
You will follow the Rickenbacker Causeway all the way to the end. Towards the end it will change names to Crandon Blvd. Continue following Crandon Blvd until you reach the Bill Baggs State Park. There is a $5.00 admission charge to enter the park, but It is in this park that you will find the Cape Florida Lighthouse. The lighthouse sits on the Atlantic Ocean side rather than Biscayne Bay. Once in the park, you will be able to see the lighthouse.
We attempted to see the Fowey Rocks Lighthouse from this point, but it wasn't visible. Our next step was to head south to Homestead Flordia to see if this was a better vantage point for viewing. We followed US1 south to Canal Drive. This took us out to the Convey Point which is the Key Biscayne Park Headquarters. From there we found out that you still cannot see the Fowey Rocks Lighthouse and that there is another lighthouse out on Boca Chita Key called the Boca Chita Lighthouse. This is a replica of the old Boca Chita Lighthouse. Tours out to the reefs are available, but our timetable didn't allow this.
Our next stop was our hotel. We finished the drive south into Key Largo. By now it was pushing 7:30pm. We checked in at the Days Inn and then went to get some dinner. After dinner it was back to the hotel to relax and get some sleep.
April 28, 2000
The next day had us sightseeing and trying to find a good viewing point for the Carysfort Reef Lighthouse. We stopped at a bunch of gift shops, etc. There is one Coral Reef Tour that takes you out to the lighthouse, but only on Thursdays. We missed this trip by one day, so we were off in search of some other way to get out there. One aspect that we were thinking of was to rent a boat. That would require some expert navigation since all around the lighthouse is shallow water, so that was out of the question. Someone along the way told me to stop by a marina to see if someone would take me out there. So I did just that. I met up with a guy that just so happened to be in the Air Force Reserve base out of Niagara Falls.
Within a half hour we were on our way out to the lighthouse. However, since he wasn't familiar with the waters around the lighthouse, he didn't want to get to close. I couldn't blame him since the boat was brand new. He also said that if you run aground on the coral, you have to call for a sea tow and they notify the marine patrol which in turn fines you since the area all around there is a marine sanctuary. Anyways, he got me into range to get decent shot of the Carysfort Reef Lighthouse anyways. One thing that was hard to do was to hold the camera steady while using the 500mm telephoto with the waves rocking the boat.
The rest of the day was spent relaxing by the pool, as the next day would have us heading down to Key West.
April 29, 2000
This is the day that we would cover the most lighthouses. Lighthouses dot the reef line from Key Largo all the way to the Dry Tortugas which lies about 70 miles off the coast of Key West. The first lighthouse we would came up on was the Alligator Reef Lighthouse. The best spot to get a photo of this lighthouse is at mile marker 77. Mile marker 77 is just over the bridge that puts you onto Lower Matecumbe Key. You will start seeing the lighthouse around mile marker 80, but 77 is definitely the best position. The lighthouse is still quite a ways out into the ocean, so a telephoto is almost necessary. I used a 1000mm, and it is still a distant shot.
The next lighthouse we were in search of is the Sombrero Key Lighthouse. This lighthouse is at mile marker 50. However, this one you have to head off of US1. In the town of Marathon, you will make a left onto Route 931 (Sombrero Key Road). You will have to follow this road for about 2 miles or so to a park. It is from here that you will see the Sombrero Key Lighthouse. Again, like Alligator Reef, this lighthouse sits off-shore. I used a 1000mm telephoto lens to get the shot that I have.
We then headed back out to US1 and then headed south again towards Key West. The next lighthouse would be at mile marker 17. This one is a little trickier to find. Off of US1, you will be looking for Sugarloaf Blvd (Route 939). Make a left onto it and follow it for about two and a half miles. Once you reach the end of this, you will be forced to make a right onto Route 939A. Follow this for about another 2.5 miles until you reach a little bridge over a canal. If you look towards the ocean, you will see the American Shoals Lighthouse. Like the other two before it, this one also sits out in the ocean to mark a reef. You will need a telephoto lens just to get a decent shot of it. I used my 1000mm lens to get the shot featured.
Next stop, Key West. Head back out to US1 and then continue heading south. Our next stop was at our hotel. We stayed at the Hampton Inn in Key West. If you will be staying in Key West, I definitely recommend the place. We spent some time relaxing by the pool and hot tub. For dinner we went down to Duval Street. This is where everything is...the heart of Key West. There is a ton of gift shops to visit and something to cater to everyone's fancy. Tomorrow we would head out to the Dry Tortugas.
We had to be to the ferry dock by 7:15am to catch the ferry to the Dry Tortugas. We had chosen the Yankee Freedom II to get us out there the day before. The price is $85.00 per person, and that may seem steep, but it really wasn't. In that price you get:
- Continental breakfast.
- Lunch on the island.
- Snorkeling gear to use for the day.
- Access to historic Fort Jefferson.
- Guided tour through the fort.
All in all you are spending an eight hour day, so that really only comes down to $10.00 an hour. The ride out to the fort takes about two and a half hours, but it is a nice ride. All the workers on the Freedom II are really nice. The Captain even lets you into the bridge to talk to him, etc.
About ten minutes into the ride, you will be able to see the Sand Key Lighthouse to the south. It is a little ways off in the distance, but I got a decent shot with a 500mm telephoto lens. At about 45 minutes to an hour or so into the initial trip out there, you will come across a steel light. This is the remains of the Rebecca Shoal Lighthouse. Its no longer a lighthouse at all, but more of a light on a steel tower. That will be it until you get much closer to the fort.
The fort is immense, once you are close enough, you will start to see it rise up out of the water. It looks like a city, just sitting there. Once you begin to see the fort, to the right will be the Loggerhead Key Lighthouse and sitting atop the fort wall will be the black Garden Key Lighthouse. The boat will dock and let you off. The tour guides coordinate everything for you as far as lunch, etc.
We took the guided tour of the fort and then spent about an hour and a half on the little beach off to the side of the fort. Snorkeling is allowed all around the fort to see a variety of sea life. About 2:15-2:45 they start boarding back up for the 3:00 return trip. Again, the trip takes about two and a half hours and gets you back into Key West about 5:15. From here we went back to our hotel room to get cleaned up, then hit Duval Street again. One thing they say that you have to do is catch a sunset. So make sure you hit the sunset down by Mallory Square / Front Street area.
May 1, 2000
We hung around again for about a half day in Key West before heading back up to Key Largo. Originally we had planned to spend the whole day in Key West, then get up on the 2nd to head back to Miami to catch our flight. I didn't want to chance missing the flight and having to rush back to Miami, so we spent the night again in Key Largo at the Howard Johnson Resort.
May 2, 2000
We got up early enough to head up to the Fort Lauderdale area to see the Hillsboro Inlet Lighthouse. The closest route to us to get us up to that area was to follow the Florida Turnpike. It was probably almost a good hour or so drive. One thing that gets really annoying was having to stop at toll booths every 15-20 miles. Some were a quarter, others were seventy-five cents. We calculated that it cost us about $3.00 or so. I would have rather been charged $3.00 all at once than to keep stopping every fifteen minutes. Ok, I am done rambling about that. At Atlantic Blvd, we got off and followed that right to the ocean and North Ocean Blvd (Route A1A). We then headed north towards Hillsboro Beach. It is along this street that you will see the Hillsboro Inlet Lighthouse. The grounds are closed to the public. From what I could tell, it looks like it sits on the grounds of a country club or something. You can get some really good pictures from the little park on the right hand side of the road just before crossing the drawbridge.
After snapping a few pictures, it was time to head to the Miami Airport to get home. We decided to take I-95 south instead of the turnpike this time since its free. We followed Atlantic Blvd. again, but this time jumped on I-95 which you will cross first before the turnpike. The traffic was pretty heavy and there was a few slowdowns due to construction. We dropped the car back off at Alamo and jumped on a shuttle to the airport. Our flight left at 3:30pm and we were back in Buffalo by about 9:00pm. All in all it was a good trip. The Florida Keys have some of the most breathtaking scenery in the south.
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