Key Largo and the Everglades

Key Largo and the Everglades

April 20th through 26th, 2024

We had a few places planned for 2024 that we knew were going to be epic. Florida was a key destination, and we knew Key Largo would be one of the year's highlights. Get Margot to Key Largo! We left west central Florida and headed south. It was a long drive for us, through the big cities and small towns along the Gulf. When we got to Naples and about as far south as we could get on that side of Florida, we turned west.

We had to stop at the Big Cypress National Preserve just after Naples. We managed to park the coach and trailer in a spot, and Margot had a lot of appreciative comments from the peanut gallery in the parking lot and in the visitor center. It was hot there, and it was a sign of how hot it was going to be in south Florida. We went into the visitor center to learn about the park, but we didn't end up exploring the preserve. We had more miles to cover.

Key Largo is a town taking up a small strip of land on the end the Keys closest to mainland Florida. The campground isn't large, and they didn't have room for our trailer. In fact, we had to store the trailer all the way north in Homestead, a suburb of Miami. We got to the storage area, parked, and pulled the Jeep out. Then we loaded the bike rack onto the back of the Jeep, added the bikes, and loaded the car up with everything we would need. That's why we didn't get into Key Largo until late afternoon, but the timing wasn't bad.

We ended up with a really good site. Margot had to "thread the needle" to get the coach into the site correctly, but then we were perfect. We had a bunch of palm trees and other tall trees to shade us on both sides, and we could see the sound outside our front window. Nice!

The first trip we did was back up north to see the Everglades. We'd driven through it on the way to Key Largo, but we wanted to spend some time there. We would be on the same road, the Tamiami Trail (Highway 41, the Tamiami connects Tampa and Miami, so that explains the name), on the way in and a few more times to do sightseeing. We never saw the parallel stretch of I-75 called "Alligator Alley." From what we read, Alligator Alley is actually fenced off and huge, while the Tamiami Trail is a two-lane highway that goes through trees and swampland. The chances of seeing an alligator are much greater on the Tamiami Trail, but we never saw one from the road.

When we went back to Tamiami Trail we headed to the Everglades to do an airboat tour. We'd done one in New Orleans, but we were looking forward to zooming over the stretches of marsh and "nearly land" we'd seen on TV. The airboat in NOLA was open at the front, and we'd get splashed with water as we went. The airboat in the Everglades had a sheet of plastic in front that was probably five feet tall, all the way across the boat, and not transparent (it looked old and beat up). So, all you could see was to the side. And we didn't go over much land. It was disappointing.

Though we'd been eating vegetarian for the year, so far, Monica had decided to try local seafood when we were in special places. We had amazing Gulf shrimp in Mississippi, and we were looking forward to some southern Florida food. We usually ate outdoors, and Monica tried stone crab (not much different than the stone crab flown into Colorado), rock lobster (a.k.a. Florida lobster, or spiny lobster), conch, and fresh fish. It was all delicious. We also tried key lime pie, and we decided we didn't really like it.

Our campground was on Blackwater Sound, a big, protected area of water on the west side of the Keys. It was beautiful, and we really enjoyed just looking out on the water from the pier we had there and watching the fishing boats go by. Margot was able to get out on the water in her kayak four times, and she saw a different place each time. One of the highlights was going down a canal and into the canals used by homes, just to daydream about what could be.

We went back to the Tamiami Trail again to do the Shark Valley Tram Tour. That was one of the highlights of our stay in Key Largo, and we'd recommend that to anyone in that area. We were in an open car with a roof to shade us from the sun, and we drove into the Everglades as they pointed out alligators, crocodiles (yes, both in one place!), birds, and many different plants. When we got to the far end, we went up on an observation tower where we could see for miles in all directions. It was gorgeous, and the trip was lovely. It was a fantastic day.

Though the seafood in and around Key Largo was really good, we were mostly obsessed with the fruits and vegetables. We fell in love with tropical avocados -- big versions of the Haas avocado we all know, but with fewer calories and cut pieces that don't turn brown nearly as quickly. We ate those a lot, including so many different fruits we bought at an open-air fruit stand. So good!

Monica is also a little obsessed with beans. When we were in Texas, we were lucky to be introduced to frijoles de la olla at a restaurant. We've made it ourselves, and it's so easy. We've made a few other dishes with all different types of beans, and it has been pretty fun.

We were staying across the road and a couple miles from John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, too. The Keys are about three miles from the only living coral reef in the continental United States, and it was right there near us. There was a small aquarium at their visitor center, and it was a lovely park.

Margot was able to walk her kayak from our campsite to the boat ramp within sight of us, and then paddle out into the sound. She could go under a nearby bridge to be over in the channels in the state park. There was a lot to explore, and with the keys, islands and other protective land around us, she was never out in the open ocean. She had a blast and went kayaking multiple times.

Our stay in Key Largo also meant some quality time in Miami as well as a few days vacationing in Key West. Those adventures will be in future posts. Stay tuned!

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