Today was an “off day” – basically a travel day. “All” we saw were three world’s largest; two world’s smallest; highways with warning signs for crocodiles, panthers, and endangered deer; roadside gorillas (2), a fish, a camel, and a panther; a wide variety of funky mailboxes; the African Queen in Key Largo; two world capitals; the Everglades; and suspected Weapons of Mass Destruction. It was a Quirky day!
This is the first morning that we walked out to see an overcast sky; it was that way virtually all day. Key West was in the rearview mirror about 9 am. On the drive down, we missed several “attractions,” so we made a point to see as many as possible as we headed back to the mainland – 125 miles from Key West to the Everglades on the Overseas Highway.
The first stop was a sight that was high on my list of things I wanted to see on the trip – the Perky Bat Tower. So, when we reached Sugarloaf Key, we began the search for the Perky Bat Tower. We didn’t have good directions, so we cruised the island for a while with no luck. After asking three different people for directions, we finally found it – out in the middle of a swamp-like nowhere. The 35-foot tall tower was built by Mr. Perky in 1929 to fight mosquitoes. His plan was for the tower to house a colony of bats to eat the many mosquitoes in the area, but the bats stayed away, and the mosquitoes stayed put. This odd structure is a National Historic Landmark. We enjoyed seeing it. I figure the Perky Bat Tower qualifies as the world’s largest mosquito tower.
We drove right through the National Key Deer Refuge as we headed up Highway 1 in Big Pine Key. The world’s smallest deer (only three feet tall) are on the Endangered Species List, so there are warning signs on the road. There are 250 Key Deer on the island, but we didn’t spot a one.
We stopped at the roadside area for the Historic Seven Mile Bridge and photographed both the old bridge and the new. We also stopped in Islamorada, sport fishing capital of the world, to see the Hurricane Memorial. On September 2, 1935, over 400 refugees drowned from 200-mile-per-hour hurricane winds.
One of the many emails that I received from people before we began the trip was from a man who collects photos of unique mailboxes. As a result, I have tried to pull over to take photos of the more unusual mailboxes that we see. Today, we snapped a porpoise, Uncle Sam, fishing lure, alligator, and seahorse.
We passed by several attractions that we just couldn’t stop to see – too much quirky stuff still on the itinerary.
In Islamorada, we stopped for photos of the world’s largest lobster – a really well done statue. There we saw a Dad with his camera trying to get his reluctant young teenage sons to pose in front of the lobster. I yelled to them that, if they are lucky, when they get much older, they will actually be glad they had their picture taken in front of the world’s largest lobster. They laughed, and Dad got his photo.
In Key Largo, dive capital of the world, we were excited to stop to see the African Queen, the boat from the movie “African Queen.” Sadly, there was a sign that said “I am not available to take any tours at this time.” Another stop in Key Largo was to see the very unique Jules’ Undersea Lodge, a hotel located 22 feet beneath the sea. Neither Boz nor I are certified scuba divers, so we were happy to just take a picture of the sign out front.
As we ended the drive through the Keys, we saw a warning sign “Crocodile Crossing – Next 8 Miles.” Unfortunately, there was no shoulder to pull off onto to enable Bozzie Jane (not me!) to get out to take a photo of the sign. We had the same problem in the Everglades when we saw a “Panther Crossing” warning sign. Barbara didn’t feel there was room for me to pull over. In the Everglades, we also saw signs that looked like warning signs to keep your arms inside your car, so we did.
As we drove through Homestead on the way to the Everglades, I screeched to a stop when I saw several missiles on the side of the road. I’m not sure, but these may be Weapons of Mass Destruction that the Iraqis are hiding out in this remote area of South Florida.
The drive on the Tamiami Trail through the Everglades is not very exciting – no cool mailboxes – just a lot of places that take folks on airboat rides. They could use a Perky Bat Tower up there – wall-to-wall mosquitoes no doubt. When we reached Ochopee, one of the few towns we saw in the Everglades, we pulled over to find the world’s smallest post office – a little 5-foot by 8-foot building that serves as the post office and a Trailways Bus Terminal. There was one postal lady inside at a tiny desk.
After the Everglades, we drove through Marco Island, and then we drove through downtown Naples, one of the most upscale (aka wealthy) areas in Florida. We passed through Bonita Springs and ended the day in Fort Myers. The sun was big and orange on the horizon, but we couldn’t get over to the coast for another coastal sunset photo, but I got a pretty good picture from the side of the road.
We had three excellent waitresses today and some excellent grub. We spotted Harriette’s in Key Largo – a small, roadside restaurant with a parking lot full of cars, so we figured it had to be popular with the locals, and it was. A waitress out back on a smoke break encouraged us to come on in, and she (Lisa) ended up being our waitress. Harriette’s was great – a classic small-town café, decorated accordingly. Not an attempt to make a restaurant look like a small town café, this was the real deal. I’ve never eaten dolphin, but I had a fantastic blackened dolphin sandwich today. I was relieved to learn that my dolphin was a fish while those loveable creatures we see on TV and at marine parks are mammals. A little further down the road, we spotted a really cool alligator mailbox, and when we stopped, we found ourselves at the Crack’d Conch, a restaurant that we heard had excellent Key Lime Pie. Our waitress, Kathy, gave us two pieces of pie for the price of one as she felt the slices were a little small. Then when Boz asked if they had some food she could give to the skinny cats she spotted on the way in, Kathy had the cook fry up some fish for Boz to feed the cats. Two pieces of pie and food for a half dozen cats for $3.19. Nice lady and perhaps the best deal we will find on the trip (other than the sunsets, as we all know sunsets are free)! We reached Bonita Springs about 6 pm, and we saw a shiny stainless steel diner called Mel’s, so we pulled in. Our waitress, Rebecca, was delightful – by far the most enthusiastic waitress/waiter about our trip, so she is the leader in the clubhouse for Best Waitress in our Best & Worst Competition. I happen to love hot dogs, so I had the foot long Cadillac Dog, and it was the best hot dog I have ever eaten.
Small towns are so wonderful. In Key Largo, I skimmed through the local weekly newspaper, and I happened to read a story about the opening of a new location for the local American Legion Hall. The article said “After a nine year odyssey, the American Legion has a new home.” Oh to have such an uncomplicated life that the trials and tribulations of finding a new home for the American Legion Hall is an “odyssey!”
It was a funny day.
We had three minutes of sprinkles today, so with the three seconds of raindrops on Day 6, the weather has been mighty nice.
The lesson we learned today is that if you can have a great time seeing little more than unusual mailboxes, you can have fun anywhere in our 50 states. Barbara noticed an older, retired couple sitting near us at dinner. They never spoke – never even made eye contact with each other. We have no idea what their life was all about, but perhaps they would have been happier if they had learned to enjoy the fun of a mailbox.