Thursday, April 23, 1992...
Woke up early this morning to drive the length of the Keys and back. I was on the road a few minutes after 7:00, reaching Key West in two and a half hours. I had inadvertently picked a historic date: the 10th anniversary of the founding of the "Conch Republic," declared by angry Keys residents in response to a Border Patrol decision to erect a checkpoint at the tip of the mainland. The blockade snarled traffic for hours (not surprisingly, since there are exactly two roads on and off the Keys), and probably didn't do much to catch illegal aliens, given the easy marine access to several hundred miles of coastline. If I'd stuck around a few more hours, Conch Republic festivities were planned, but since the dominant form of relaxation on Key West seemed to be the conspicuous consumption of prodigious quantities of alcohol, I decided I could live without.
Route 1 runs almost the length of Key West, its official end marked at the intersection of Whitehead and Fleming Streets. Whitehead continues for several more blocks, though, past the development built around Harry Truman's Little White House and the Audubon House. The other end of Whitehead, its intersection with South Street, marks the Southernmost Point in the Continental US, a natural photo opportunity and hangout for vendors. At least two houses are labeled the Southernmost House -- and the larger, gaudier one which isn't in fact the Southernmost is reportedly owned by the former senior partner of an ex-employer, who almost certainly bought it with money stolen from the now-defunct firm.
Just a few blocks up from its end, Route 1 passes the Hemingway House, overrun with six-toed cats descended from those owned by the late Nobelist, and the old Key West lighthouse. Since I'd seen Hemingway's place before, this time I climbed the 98' to the top of the lighthouse, which offered a nice panorama of Key West from above.
Then it was time to begin the long trek northward on Route 1. If everything was as scenic as the first 105 miles, which pass the length of the Keys from Key West to Key Largo, the drive wouldn't be so bad....but since 1 passes through the heart of every city on the East Coast, somehow I doubt this will be the case. Route 1 got an entirely new/refurbished set of bridges in 1981-82; especially in the Lower Keys, the old bridges often sit just north or south of the new ones, serving as fishing piers or just rusting hulks.
Skipped past Key Deer habitat, stopping only in Islamorada for the Theater of the Sea. This is one of the two or three spots in the country where one can arrange to swim with the dolphins; this required advance reservations, so I settled for watching the shows. There are a variety of small sharks and other exotic marine/tropical life on display, but the highlights were the dolphin and sea lion shows. Six performing dolphins did a variety of tricks, my favorite of which involved locating and retrieving a coin thrown into the water 30 yards away using just its innate sonar. The two performing sea lions, Sassy and Classy, performed alone and together; one was even able to catch AND throw a Frisbee with the trainer.
Returned to the mainland sooner than I had planned. It was a mistake to book two nights in Florida City -- I could've gone much further north. Thought I'd use some of the free time to visit the Coral Castle, but when I got there was turned off by the excessive admission price ($7.75) and the emphasis on "mystical" and "supernatural" explanations. Did take the opportunity, though, to drive Route 1 through all of downtown Miami, moving against traffic. As Brickell Avenue, Route 1 sits at the heart of the main business district; from here south, Route 1 is shadowed by an overhead rail transit system in the right of way. I returned south via Florida's Turnpike; it'll save me a lot of time in the morning, but not as much as if I'd been staying somewhere around Palm Beach.
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