VACATION IDEAS: ROAD TRIPS
Road Trip Through the Florida Keys
The most dramatic drive on the East Coast, from party-hearty Key West up to the Everglades.
Key Largo to Naples
The coral reef that extends all along the Keys is the third largest in the world, and John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, established in 1963, is the first undersea park in the U.S. It covers 70 square miles of coral reefs, sea grass beds, and mangrove swamps. We catch the 9:15 A.M. glass-bottom-boat tour. I have visions of a rickety wooden boat with a hole in the center, but the Spirit of Pennekamp is a catamaran with two large openings in the hull that resemble upside-down greenhouses. The view 30 feet down is spectacular. The reef teems with life: A guide identifies so many colorful species passing by the window that we can't keep up.
Our path home, Route 41 (a.k.a. the old Tamiami Trail) takes us through the Everglades, a haunting, brackish backwater. Gullies along each side of the two-lane road teem with alligators and waterfowl, especially lots of great blue herons, spoonbills, and snowy egrets. At the Oasis Visitor Center, a boardwalk allows for an up close look at fierce-looking gators sunning themselves.
The landscape becomes more modernized the closer we get to Naples. "The flat plainness of Florida doesn't impose itself on you," wrote Susan Orlean in The Orchid Thief, "so you can impose upon it your own kind of dream." What else have we been doing but visiting sites wrestled from nature by people with dreams both big (Flagler's Over-Sea Railroad) and modest?
Over the last few days I've spotted a book, Quit Your Job and Move to Key West, in shops, gas stations, and even at a Walgreens' checkout. There are a lot of people still eager to buy into the Florida dream.
Finding your way
Street addresses along Route 1 can help you know where you're headed. With a few exceptions in Key West and Marathon, addresses that end in even numbers are ocean-side; odd indicates bay-side. To figure out the corresponding mile marker, drop the last two digits and move the decimal one place to the left. For example, 57622 Overseas Highway would be located ocean-side at mile marker 57.6. (This applies to five- and six-digit addresses only.) Also, to find other guesthouses in Key West, visit historickeywestinns.com.