The Florida Keys are about 130 miles long, from the peninsula of Florida to the tip of Key West, and are all connected by the Overseas Highway. We visited the upper keys (Key Largo and Islamorada) from our stay in Florida City, and then moved to Sugarloaf Key to explore Key West, Marathon, and Long Pine Key. The main reason we moved to the lower Keys was to visit Dry Tortugas National Park, which is accessible by boat leaving from Key West.
When we moved to a campground on Sugarloaf Key, I expected the move to be pretty easy, since we were only going about 2.5 hours. As we were hitching up, though, the power jack stopped working! The internet told us we had likely blown the fuse, and sure enough, we had. We didn’t have another fuse, and the truck was already connected to the trailer (the jack was stuck in the ‘up’ position), so we weren’t going anywhere with the truck or trailer. Brian quickly learned how to use an adapter and drill to manually override and lower the jack. We still have so much to learn about living in a trailer! In a lot of ways it felt like home nearly immediately, but it’s a home we don’t fully understand yet. It definitely keeps things interesting, and every time we learn a new thing we feel like we’ve accomplished something.
The KOA on Sugarloaf Key is nice enough, and was cheaper than some of the campgrounds near here (the Keys are expensive), but the campsites are tiny! We barely fit with our trailer, truck, and camp mat.
When we first started exploring Key Largo we noticed that several houses and businesses have funky mailboxes. Manatees are very popular.
We visited Robbie’s Marina, which has a restaurant and vendors selling souvenirs and crafts. They also have a big group of Tarpons (huge fish) that hang out near the pier, and you can buy buckets of fish to feed them. Sometimes they jump out of the water to grab the fish! Brian fed the Tarpons while I tried to protect the bucket of fish from the flock of pelicans that weren’t shy at all!
The size of fish these pelicans were eating was ridiculous! Sometimes they would swim away from the other pelicans just to work on choking one down.
We did manage to snorkel at John C Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, but it wasn’t a good day for it. It was windy and wavy and the water wasn’t very clear. The waves were so strong that it was hard to stay on top of the reef. It was cool to see all the fan coral stand straight up, and then all lay flat as the waves came through.
We ate a lot of delicious seafood in the Keys, but there was one thing that became Brian’s favorite. He never wants to go back to the same restaurant twice, but he made an exception for Island Grille: Home of the Original Tuna Nachos! The tuna nachos are basically a small layer of fried wontons, topped with seaweed salad, covered in a pile of raw tuna, with some sauce.
Nearly every restaurant in the Keys also serves key lime pie. They are all a little different, so we had to try a few! Brian prefers the ones covered in meringue, I prefer the ones with whipped cream. I got key lime pie with candles for my birthday!
There are several opportunities to explore wildlife on the Keys. There is a Wild Bird Sanctuary on Key Largo that rehabilitates injured birds, and we saw many of the same types of birds there that we have seen in the Everglades and on the Keys, as well as some owls and hawks.
There is also a sea turtle hospital on Marathon that rehabilitates and releases (if possible) injured and sick sea turtles. We toured the hospital and they explained the most common reasons the turtles need help which are digestive impaction due to eating garbage or shells, boat strikes, (which can cause the turtles to have air bubbles in their shells and not be able to dive), and a type of tumor caused by toxic water. We met the patients, and got to feed pellets to some of them.
On Big Pine Key there is a Key Deer Preserve. Key Deer are a subspecies of white tail deer that are only found in the Keys. There are only about 700-800 so they are considered endangered. The best part is they are only 2-3 feet tall, so they are also considered adorable (by me at least). We drove through the preserve a couple times, and spotted several deer. The second time we went, there were a few deer that looked like they wanted to cross the street, so brian stopped the truck. One came right over to my window and posed for me to take its picture!
We spent one long day in Key West. Cruise ships dock there, so it caters to tourists, with a lot of the typical cruise port destinations (Fat Tuesday, Senor Frogs, Jewelry stores). The downtown area is pretty small, we walked all over the west side of the Key. We didn’t really have plans to do any of the attractions (Earnest Hemingway’s house, Butterfly Conservatory, etc), and once we got there and the sun hit me, I really didn’t want to do much! Weather.com said it was only 78 degrees, but it felt so much hotter. The sun was so direct, it really affected me. We mostly just walked around, stopping into stores and restaurants. Nearly every restaurant has live music.
We did manage to stop into two restaurants during happy hour specials, and even watched the sunset in Mallory Square in between. Mallory Square is where everyone gathers to watch the sunsets, and there are street performers and vendors. It’s fun, but I think I prefer to watch the sunset in less populated areas.
I wanted to take our picture at the Southernmost point, which is 90 miles from Cuba and marked with a bouy statue. When we walked over there around noon, there was a huge line! We decided not to stand in it, and stopped by at 6:45 am the day we visited Dry Tortugas. There was only one person there, and the sun wasn’t all the way up yet.
We also met another full-time RVing couple! I found their blog (WatsonsWander) mentioning that they were staying in the Keys, so I asked if they wanted to meet up. It was great to meet a couple that has been doing this for a lot longer than we have and hear their insights on RV living and traveling.
Dry Tortugas National Park was a great day trip. More about that later.
Day 117 | Mile 10,471