On the east coast of Florida is a road known as U.S. 1 which begins in Maine and ends in Key West, Fla. at a spot commonly called Mile Marker Zero or MM 0 on Whitehead Street at the courthouse in downtown Key West.
While there are several roads by which drivers can get to Florida City, Fla., south of Miami, there is only one that leads to Key West — U.S. 1, or as it is commonly referred to by those of us who love the Florida Keys and Key West, The Overseas Highway. Even if people detour onto Card Sound Road (Fla. 904) just south of Florida City, U.S. 1 is rejoined at Key Largo. At the end of this road lies Key West, which has to be the best-kept secret in the world of fun vacations for those who enjoy the outdoors and water-borne recreation activities.
The trip from Florida City to Key West requires a great deal of patience and attention to speed restrictions and traffic conditions. There are many areas of no passing zones and traffic congestion. The speed limits in the National Key Deer Refuge on Big Pine Key are 45 mph daytime and 35 mph nighttime. These limits are strictly enforced — if one is fortunate enough to see one of these tiny Key deer, the reason becomes obvious.
My wife and I grew fond of the Florida Keys and Key West during the 12 years we were stationed there, me with the U.S. Navy and her with the U.S. government as military housing director. After I retired, we continued to live in the Keys for two more years until she obtained a transfer to Mayport, Fla., near Jacksonville so we could be near aging parents.
We try to return to Key West every May for fishing and recreation. Each return trip brings new excitement and enjoyment. This year was no exception and this column is being written while we are in Key West. We will have returned home by the time it is published. Other than spectacular offshore fishing, perhaps the most exhilarating moment of these trips occurs as we cross the high bridge at Snake Creek near Islamorada in the upper Keys, for it is from this vantage that we get our first glimpse of the crystal clear blue waters of the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the Gulf of Mexico on the other. Eager anticipation of what lies in store jump starts the heart, restores vim and vigor and the attitude skyrockets. From this vantage point on toward Key West lie many fantastic sights in an ever-changing landscape with many restaurants, marinas, wildlife attractions and truly unique people.
Both us are big on seafood and although we have tried, we have yet to dine at all of the multitudinous restaurants, some upscale and some laid back, but wonderful establishments with names such as Bos Fish Wagon, Half Shell Raw Bar, 7 Mile Grill, Alonzos, Turtle Kraals. Mangrove Mamas, Cuban Coffee Queen (the best Cuban mix sandwich), Dantes, A B Lobster House, El Siboney and assorted others, all with colorful and very descript names and scrumptious food.
The trip from Houston County to Key West is best handled in two days via Interstate 75 and the Florida Turnpike to Florida City. We usually spend the night in Florida City at the end of the first day (about eight hours) as we enjoy the daylight trip down the Keys, about three hours depending on traffic on U.S. 1. We make the return trip in one day as we usually have fresh fish to get into the freezer. We have found that it is much easier and less costly to charter a boat for fishing instead of towing a boat. There are numerous private charter captains available at reasonable costs and we do have a favorite who always puts us in the fish!
This year has been no exception and as of this writing, we have fished one day and will fish two more days. On the first day we caught mutton snapper, yellowtail snapper, black grouper and cero mackerel — a tasty mixed bag of salt water delicacies and a very worthwhile trip. We look forward to two more days of fishing with eager anticipation!
True, the road (U.S. 1) does end in paradise! But as with any trip, no matter where we roam, the best part is coming home — to Houston County!
Walton Wood lives in Kathleen. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.