The afternoon sun was beginning to wear on us. Fortunately we had placed a gallon of water in the trunk with a few glasses in order to keep hydrated. After our early afternoon ranger program, Lysa and Kristy wanted to climb the hills. I was ready for some rest so we retrieved our camp chairs from the car and watched as both of the children climbed up and down different hills. The air was getting a little stagnant from our seating area. There must be some movement in a different location so off I went in search of a breeze. The beautiful thing about our chairs is they fold up quickly and stow in a bag containing a strap for easy mobility. I began exploring different areas, climbing up and down just like the kids but for a different reason. Finally I found a satisfactory location – on top of a butte. This must have seemed a little weird as other families were stopping and taking pictures of me in my chair resting on that butte. You know you’re doing something right when you’re purposefully added to another family’s photo album. We continue to laugh about this to this day.
Off to our final ranger program of the day as we continued to explore more of this great park. At this point the Lysa and Kristy were beginning to grow tired of walking and the thought of another mile stroll through the prairie was not an exciting idea. Being the troopers that they are, they accepted this final program although there seemed to be more resistance than I was happy with. There celebrating began as this program came to an end and it was time to return to the hotel. Of course, the return trip required us to drive back through much of the Badlands prompting a number of stops that were of interest on the way to the visitor center. The sun was beginning its nightly journey towards the horizon leaving us before we were ready. As a result our stops became fewer and quicker while we traveled back to Wall. A brief stop for another meal and then back to the hotel for some much needed rest before continuing our journey.
Absolutely a great start to our adventure around the monopoly board!
We rose early, quickly took in a continental breakfast courtesy of the hotel we stayed at, and headed south on 240. We traveled through Buffalo Gap National Grassland and came upon our first entrance where we decided to stop and take the requisite photo next to the Badlands National Park sign. Back in the car heading further into the park we stared at the unique landscape unfolding in front of us. Sage Creek Rim Road was the first turn off we encountered requiring a quick decision: do we continue on or take this turn. Sage Creek Rim Road it was hoping to find a spot nearby in order to stop and study the list of events and map that where handed to us at the entrance in order to get a bearing on where we want to go. Our first stop was at the Hay Butte Overlook where the map and events list were quickly forgotten as we got out of the car and focused our attention at the amazing hills sitting before our eyes. This is a moment forever engrained in my memory as I was struck by the beauty of colors, textures, and shapes creating this incredible landscape. I could no longer feel myself standing as this moment became very spiritual for me while I became a part of this place that has existed for thousands of years and will continue to be here long after I am gone. After accepting this, my attention turned to other family members taking in all there was to see. Down in the valley roamed one loan buffalo. Our first wild buffalo experience. The day had just begun and I had experienced all that I expected. What more could there be?
We could have spent the entire day just exploring this one area in the Northern portion of the Badlands but there was much more to see. Grudgingly I returned to the car as we looked over the list of events. Ohh, there’s a ranger program starting in 15 minutes that sounds interesting. Unfortunately we were 30 minutes away from the meeting place so this wouldn’t work. The next ranger program of interest didn’t start for over an hour at the Ben Reifel Visitor Center so maybe that would be a good place to start. Everybody returned to the car allowing us to head back towards 240 which would wind through the Badlands and end at the visitor center. There were many places that begged for us to stop as the scenery continued to be amazing and show us different views. We resisted in order to get to the visitor center to learn more about this park. Once at the visitor center we began looking over the models on display showing the evolution of the Badlands.
During the course of this examination we stumbled upon the junior ranger program. Wow! A program directed completely at children. The kids received a booklet and needed to complete a certain amount during their adventure and then explain what they had learned to a ranger. Once the ranger is satisfied with all the kids learned, the potential junior ranger pledges to help keep the park as it is so other can learn and enjoy this special place. Upon completion of the pledge they receive a junior ranger badge. Both of our children decided to accept the journey to become a junior ranger. Fortunately, the ranger program we had made this trip for was a junior ranger program which would help them earn their badge. As the program wound down it was time for the board signature. I quickly headed towards the car to get our National Parks edition of Monopoly board and rushed back where the rest of the family was sitting. We asked the ranger for an odd favor – to sign our board on the Badlands property. He did so with an excited demeanor. Lysa and Kristy completed their necessary requirements and received their first junior ranger badge. Our first park complete! Time was passing as if with a purpose and we were starting to get hungry. What is available for food nearby? There was only the restaurant in the visitor’s center providing a meal without having to travel some distance. In we went for a bit of food, something to drink, and some refreshing cool air. After some rejuvenation we headed back out to explore a trail or two before the next ranger program of interest. There were two ranger programs on our agenda for the remainder of the afternoon and many stops throughout the Badlands just to enjoy the landscape.
Once we made the decision to travel the National Parks Monopoly Board it was time to look over all of the destinations. After studying the board for a little while we decided to embark on our first journey closer to home so that we could find out what we were in for in a little more familiar territory. Knowing that this was going to be a summer expedition we saw a cluster of parks near Southwestern South Dakota which included Mt. Rushmore. After discussing this trip a little while it was determined that we wanted to be at Mt. Rushmore for the Independence Day celebration which dictated our travel dates. A little further east resides Badlands National Park and would be a good destination to begin our Monopoly Travels. While growing up I had friends who had visited the Badlands tell me about them but I really had no idea what to expect. The thought of going to someplace called “the Badlands” didn’t have a great appeal as it conjured up images of Mel Gibson in Mad Max. Visiting someplace with such an imagined bleak landscape didn’t make a lot of sense to me. Keep in mind that I had not looked at any photos or video of this place and was basing my opinions strictly on the name. Well, it’s on the board so there must be something of interest and in order to be a Monopoly Traveler we at least need to stop and check it out.
I remember planning for this trip and all of the time spent researching directions, places to stay, and what to expect in the Badlands. There was a lot of uncertainty because we have never taken a family vacation like this before. Where do we stay? A Campground or hotel? What are these national parks all about? What are we going to drive there? Use our own car or put the miles on a rental vehicle? The first thing to do was plan our agenda to get an idea of where we want to visit and departure and return dates in order to get this time off from work. We knew we wanted to experience the Independence Day Celebration at Mount Rushmore so the next question was do we want to explore the Badlands before or after Mount Rushmore?
It was decided to make the Badlands our first National Park and stop there before continuing on to Mount Rushmore. Now we had a date and could start planning departure dates and times along with where to stay to make this happen. I researched camping because that would save some money and the kids love to camp. After thinking about this for a little while we realized that we would have to pack our camping gear along with everything else we needed for a 10 day trip and room in the car. In addition, we would have to set up and take down our camping gear almost every day. Understanding these pieces helped us to decide on staying in hotels. Next was to figure out which hotels to stay at and in which cities. In order to know that we needed to know where exactly Badlands National Park is and how to get there. Fortunately the national park service has a nice website the gives this information along with planning information and what we could expect while visiting while in the Badlands. This helped to fuel our excitement to get to the Badlands and experience all that we could. In addition we would get the opportunity to stay in Wall, South Dakota and visit the highly popular Wall Drug. I grew up hearing about and seeing advertisements for Wall Drug. Now I would get to see what this place is all about.
It was the summer of 2009, our day started out by getting into the car at 5am in order to arrive in Wall by late afternoon. A stop in Sioux Falls took a little longer than anticipated as we took time to enjoy the waterfalls where we were interviewed by a local TV news station about our travels and also exploring a local butterfly house gave great enjoyment while delaying our arrival in Wall. Finally heading out of Sioux Falls, we had to take a bathroom break in Mitchell South Dakota for an unauthorized stop at the Corn Palace. If you haven’t been there, it is interesting how art can be made out of corn to decorate a large building. Yet another delay in getting to Wall. All of these unplanned stops can create memories that were never expected a make a family trip such as this more enjoyable with more to reminisce as time goes by. We entered Wall early in the evening with just enough time to find someplace to eat and explore Wall Drug. Wall Drug is basically a little mall with a number of small shops inside set in a frontier motif. Up Next…the Badlands!
What a great experience with so much to learn during such a short period of time. This tour only lasted an hour but provided enough information to last several hours. We saw how their structures were built using surrounding resources including logs, stones, and a special mud to hold it all together. Kivas were built underground and used as ceremonial gathering places. The Puebloans that lived here carved holes into the side of the cliff in order to ascend to the top of the mesa where they farmed and hunted for food. As we continued to explore this community built into a cliff, the advantages of living here became apparent. Protection from many of the elements and even potential enemies was a great benefit. During rain or snow they were able to stay dry and on a hot summers day there was plenty of refreshing shade in cool locations to stay comfortable. The placement of many of these communities allowed for the rising or setting sun to warm the cave and I’m sure provided magnificent sunrises or sunsets. As we continued to explore this community built into a cliff, the darkened ceiling continues to give proof of the fires that were used inside the cave. After wondering in and out of accessible parts of Spruce Tree House and satisfying our curiosities while at the same time creating more, it was time to ascend back to the museum.
The exhibits back at the museum had a much larger impact after seeing the actual living conditions presented in Spruce Tree House. We were eager to continue this adventure in Mesa Verde National Park by exploring more cliff dwellings and even witnessing how the Puebloans existed before building in the caves of these cliffs. Driving the Mesa Top Loop brought us to a number of different stopping points to look at other cliff dwellings and pit houses. These pit houses were built on top of the cliffs before the Puebloan people began building in the caves. Pit houses are partially dug into the ground with timbers and mud used for the roofs. Pit houses eventually evolved into stone and mud buildings bringing the necessary skills to build in the caves. There are several cliff dwellings along this loop with the largest be Cliff Palace. Cliff Palace is a beautiful compilation of buildings all contained in this large cavernous cliff. Why some of the structures are square while others are round still captivates my curiosity. Why are some buildings several stories tall with many others containing only a floor or two?
As we started nearing the end of Mesa Top Loop the temperature was beginning to cool and the daylight weaning signaling the end of our day. We were all tiring from this adventure and had been fighting hunger for a couple of hours eating every snack available in the car. It was time for the 21 mile drive towards the exit and another few miles to our place of rest for the night. As we found our way to the exit the entrance sign appeared which had been missed earlier in the day. The reason for missing the sign became apparent once we saw the mound of snow surrounding it. We stopped and attempted several pictures but there just wasn’t enough light to accomplish the task. Another trip the next day was in order to capture this final photo.
What a great adventure with so many new discoveries!
It was a beautiful mid-March morning in Albuquerque New Mexico as we packed up the car and headed north towards Colorado. A quick stop at Petroglyph National Monument on the way so that we could capture a last picture or two and get our National Parks Monopoly board signed and then we were on our way to Mesa Verde National Park. With Albuquerque in our rear view mirror we turned on to US-550 for our 5 hour drive into the southwest corner of Colorado. Along the way we enjoyed the amazing rock sculptures showing off the many layers and colors. It wasn’t long before we could see snow covered mountains in the distance giving us a pre-view of where we were heading. Time continued to tick by as we were immersed in the ever changing scenery when we arrived at the Colorado border. It was time to stop the car and stretch our legs and take the requisite photo by the Colorado sign and then quick dart across the road to take a picture with the New Mexico sign proving we were in both states. Back in the car, we entered the last portion of our road trip. Now instead of green grass with the promise of spring, there were ski resorts and plenty of melting snow. Finally! Our destination of Mesa Verde National Park was in front of us.
Having completed a little research we were prepared for a scaled back tour of this park due to road closures as a result of unplowed roads during the winter and early spring months. We accepted this in light of the fact that this could be our only visit to the vast park as there were many sights to see on this 10 day adventure into the desert southwest. As has become typical of our visits to national parks, we attempt to take in as much as possible and usually end up racing the setting sun to catch one more glimpse and gain one more new experiences. Mesa Verde proved to be no different. The first objective as we enter a national park is to take our picture next to the entrance sign. Before we knew it we were paying our entrance fee and never saw an entrance sign. After inquiring about this, the gentleman told us we passed it already. That means we’ll have to stop on our way back out. On to the visitor center for more information.
Hiking trails, scenic routes to drive, and ranger programs are all reduced this time of year but so are the number of visitors allowing for easier and quicker drives as well as more personal ranger programs. I was eager to see a cliff dwelling as I had only heard of them before but didn’t have much information about them. To imagine people building their homes in the side of a cliff was intriguing. The only dwelling structure available to experience up close was Spruce Tree House. The first piece of information we looked for in the visitor center was the time and meeting location of the ranger program to this dwelling. Once gaining that information we explored the exhibits in the Chapin Mesa Museum until the time arrived for our ranger program. It’s a short distance from the museum to Spruce Tree House which involves walking down into a valley and back up a short distance to the well preserved cliff dwelling.
The recent natural events in Japan have gained and required the world’s attention and reminded us that there are events that are beyond anything we can control. Forces of nature will eventually test what people have built and the political choices (or lack thereof) that have been made beyond what has been conceived. These earthquakes and tsunamis have physically altered Japan permanently and even altered time even if only a miniscule fraction. In some cases travelers are reminded of a place they have visited which now will never be the same as it was when they were there. People often use the phrase “SOMEDAY”. Well, for those who may have wanted to visit parts of Northern Japan, someday can never come. At least for those that wanted to experience Northern Japan as it use to be.
There are a number of events that can often change a destination that we may want to travel to such as natural disasters and more often political or religious tensions. Such examples include the Soviet Union splitting apart into several different countries or East and West Germany uniting into one country. Volcanoes erupt creating new landscapes, hurricanes destroy places, and rain can wipe away hillsides. It is easy to take for granted that a country will still be there tomorrow or a mountain will stay has it always has appeared. As we continue to gain experience one thing becomes more evident all the time – The world is constantly changing.
One of the lessons from the natural disasters in Japan is to make plans to experience an area of the world of your choosing instead of planning on going someday. This doesn’t mean that you should make plans to travel immediately if that does not fit into your budget or commitments. It does mean to put together a plan to travel including a potential budget needed, paperwork required such as visas and/or passports, and most importantly a date. At the very least putting together this plan increases the likelihood that you will be able to experience a new destination instead of someday which never comes. We can’t control this changing world and yes we can still miss seeing someplace as it is today but at least by putting together a plan, there is a greater chance of getting there.
There is another effect. I believe that those who have ventured into a foreign land and witnessed traditions of a culture other than their own experience the news and videos of Japan differently. Traveling to a foreign land teaches us that while there are many different beliefs we are all similar in many ways. These similarities are often not broadcast on news programs or in newspapers but people who have traveled have found a number of resemblances. We all need to eat and sleep and want to give our children the best that we can. Methods of communication and our personal beliefs based on what we have learned in life are different but the fact that we communicate in one form or another and have beliefs based on personal experiences binds us together.
Travelers have witnessed this first hand and this gives us a different perspective on the tragedies of Japan and how people there are affected and respond to it. We all are reacting to these events differently. One aspect to keep in mind is there is something to learn from every situation. For travelers, if there is a destination of interest make a plan to get there and stop saying someday.
There are a lot of great memories from our recent adventure to Miami and the Caribbean. Here are the top 5:
#5: The Beautiful Florida Keys. Whenever travel to southern Florida is mentioned, the keys are often talked about or written about and have been a destination that has intrigued me for several years. This seemed like a good time to see why they are mentioned. Our first official key was visited in Biscayne National Park however during our driving adventure we arrived in Key Largo first. I never knew how close Miami was to Key Largo. It seemed a lot further on the maps I was looking at. There was a lot of activity and traffic heading back towards Miami. It was Sunday night so we thought it was just people who were returning home after a weekend in the keys. As it turns out, there was a Seafood Festival taking place and we arrived just as it was ending. Continuing south I was amazed at how many islands actually make up the Florida Keys. It was great to experience all of these keys and the number of bridges with people fishing from them. Driving on the seven mile bridge was interesting as this is a well known expanse of road. We finally arrived in Key West just after sunset. While in Key West we drove around the key, watched people get off of a cruise ship (so many people it was difficult to drive), took our pictures at the Southern Most Point Monument, and found lunch on the beach. One other memorable part of Key West was standing on a pier getting our last views of the water on this island when a stingray swam right next to the pier, stopped, and covered itself with sand waiting for its next meal. We all had a great time on our visit to the Florida Keys.
One of the Many American Alligators We Saw
#4: Alligators, Crocodiles, and Manatees Ohh My! While we were in Everglades National Park, our main goal was to see a manatee. Not really knowing much about alligators and crocodiles, I was a little nervous about running into one. In an effort to face this nervousness, we participated in an alligator talk to learn more and possibly see one. Not only did we see one, we saw over 20 of them in one afternoon. During our time in the Everglades we also were able to see crocodiles and witness firsthand the subtle differences between the American alligator and the American crocodile. Our mission to see a manatee began to appear as though we wouldn’t accomplish this goal as time was running short and we needed to leave to get to our next destination. The last opportunity was to join a ranger program on manatees and hope the park ranger had better luck than we did. During the program, the ranger was looking for a manatee in the spot one was last observed but with no success. Finally, a manatee was spotted and gave us several opportunities for pictures although we had to be quick as it only surfaced long enough to exchange oxygen and then quickly re-submerged. Having met our goals of seeing some of the local wildlife, there was a sense of satisfaction as we left the park. I certainly could have spent several more days exploring but the time there was fulfilling.
#3: A stingray massage takes this spot. For the short time we were in Grand Turk we enjoyed a snorkeling excursion. This was Kristy’s first time snorkeling and Lysa’s first time going off of a boat. It was a lot of fun watching them swim around the reef and watch the corals and fish in a natural setting. Once our time at the reef was complete, our excursion took us to an island to play with the local stingrays. After watching them swim in and out of our feet, one of the stingrays was caught to allow us to take pictures with it and then get a stingray massage. It was an interesting adventure.
#2: Our greatest experience was swimming with the dolphins. I absolutely believe this was a once in a lifetime experience. Just remembering the dolphin swim puts a smile on my face. Personally being able to touch dolphins and go dolphin skiing was amazing. The only way an adventure such as this could get better is to be able to watch your spouse and children do it also. Seeing the exhilaration on their faces as the dolphins swam right next to them and popped their heads out of the water to say hello was remarkable. The huge smiles we all had after skiing with the dolphins is a memory all of its’ own. This experience is one that has been talked about over and over again since we did it. The kids love to share videos with friends and watching their expressions helps to realize what a lifetime event it was.
#1: This may seem a little cliché but the number one part of our travels was being able to share this adventure with family. We were fortunate to be able to go on this trip with four other family members in addition to the four of us. There are experiences that we can share and talk about for the rest of our lives. There were certainly some challenges in trying to see and do as much as possible with a larger group as each person has their own interests. I believe all of us got a lot of enjoyment out of our travels together if at the very least we escaped winter for ten days. What great memories for Kristy and Lysa to be able to share as they get older and remember this adventure.
I decided to get a little off topic this week as I just have not been myself lately and thought a good rant may be entertaining. At this time of year I hear almost daily how tired people are of winter and how they just want the snow to be gone. This does not include everyone as there are a number of people who love ice fishing, riding snow mobiles, skiing, and several other cold weather activities. Early springtime weather can provide some of the best days with warmer temperatures and more daylight hours. In addition, as the weather warms up, nature also becomes more active with the animals out enjoying the warmth as they search for tidbits to eat, play, and look for their summers home. Myself… I’m more of a summer type of person and I think all this cold and snow has finally gotten to me.
It all started about two weeks ago. I lost all interest in participating in many of the activities that I usually enjoy, including this website. There are many hours spent each week on the computer writing posts, maintaining and upgrading MonopolyTraveler.com, reading other travel websites, participating in social media, ect… In addition, there are numerous activities during the week when you have younger children as any parent can attest to. Surprisingly there was one item on my daily list that still held some interest and that was feeding the fish in our aquariums and maintaining those aquariums. Knowing this could help determine the cause of my lack of interest in most other activities. What does a person do when they lose all interest in daily and weekly activities?
Well, for me apparently I become obsessed with orchids. It didn’t matter what kind of orchid. All I wanted to do was learn about and acquire orchids. Tropical orchids… hardy orchids… native orchids… (Did you know there are orchids native to the coldest parts of the United States?) It didn’t matter because orchids became my passion and every free minute I wanted to spend researching them or acquiring them and still could not satisfy my desire and alleviate a lack of interest in other things. In all fairness, I am a horticulturalist so working with plants is not that big of a leap. Also, I did go through a little orchid craze a number of years ago in college but it was definitely not as consuming as this one was/is. It certainly did not help to have an orchid specialist about five minutes away that breeds and collects unique orchids and then grows them up for sale.
Oh ya, there was another part to this craziness. All I wanted to eat and drink was candy and colas. Not sure where the sugar frenzy came from. I resisted this as much as I could and tried to consume healthier foods but my success rate was fairly low for a few days.
I like to learn, experience new things, and create new challenges so wanting to learn more about orchids and accept the challenge to grow them and flower them would be normal for me. Becoming absolutely obsessed is a bit extreme. After about 10 days, I tried to understand what the cause could be. I came up with a few possibilities. Winter has grown very long and has been unusually cold with a lot of snow so seeing flowers could be a way to deal with that. Although at work I see flowers every day so not sure this makes sense. A mid-life crisis may be brewing. This obsession has seemed to be tamed with the purchase of a few specific orchids and I wouldn’t expect that to compensate for a mid-life crises. This could however explain the sugar frenzy. Can a mid-life crisis occur and end over a two week span? Maybe I just needed to add to my list of hobbies. NOT LIKELY!
I believe the most likely scenario is the long winter explanation. The fact that I still enjoyed our aquariums which include fish and plants leads me to believe that I’m feeling confined inside and ready to get outside with a nice green landscape. Orchids just happen to have my attention and present a challenge at this time that I believe I can achieve. Still not sure about the sugar frenzy and how that fits in.
What’s your solution to a long, cold, and snowy winter? (By the way, it is snowing again while I write this
What exactly do you mean by a traveling post mortem? This is something that is done by almost everyone with ever realizing it. For most people this is done by simply unpacking from a vacation, putting away any souvenirs, and looking over their photos. It’s a great way to remember all of those memories you created and experiences that you have to share for years to come all the while wishing you could be back on vacation. I take my vacation post mortems a little further.
I like to see how many miles we flew, drove, and walked during our adventure. Trip cost get broken down into categories such as hotels, meals, car rental and gas, airfare and luggage, park entrance fees, souvenirs, and any other miscellaneous expenses related to each trip. If I remember to reset the trip information on my GPS I will also record average speed, max speed, hours moving, and hours stopped. I put all of this information into a document for each adventure we take. What is the purpose of keeping track of all this information?
There are a couple of reasons that this information if kept track of. First of all, it’s interesting to see how many miles we travel and how those miles are traveled. Also, it’s always a good idea to make sure costs add up with receipts and whatever method is used to pay for those items. Portions of vacations are paid for at different times which makes keeping track of all those costs a little more challenging. After a few of these adventures I can average out the costs per trip giving me an idea of how much I need to save in order to cover the costs of any upcoming vacations.
This was an idea giving to me from a family member a number of years ago. I didn’t fully appreciate the benefits of doing this at the time and decided it was more work than I wanted to take on after a trip. Once we started traveling our Monopoly National Parks edition, the decision was made to track costs along with some other travel information. So what where some of the stats from this last adventure:
By air: 2,222 miles
By sea: 1,197 miles
By car: 732 miles
By foot: 11 miles
Total Miles: 4,162
Wow! Now that I look at the numbers to think we did all those miles in only 10 days. Let’s take out the air miles and that leaves us with 1960 miles in 10 days. That is 196 miles per day and I know there were days that we did less than 50 miles such as 2 of those days while we flew to Florida and back from Florida. That leaves us with 232 miles per day taking out 100 miles for the two air travel days and dividing 1860 by 8 days. Either way you look at it, it’s about 200 miles per day either by sea, car, or walking. That leaves a lot of things to see each day.
(Please excuse me for a few moments while I go shovel the driveway as we are getting another blizzard.)
O.K. got the first wave of snow cleared from the driveway. Now, where was I? Ohh ya, our Florida trip post mortem. I was recently going through our pictures. We ended up taking over 700 pictures. It certainly would be nice to be back in those locations on this snowy day. That’s an advantage to the digital age in cameras – if you are unsure about taking a certain photo take it. You can always erase it later but you are not likely to have the opportunity to take the exact picture again. I rarely erase a photo. It really doesn’t cost me anything extra to save the picture on a cd or dvd with all of my other pictures. Who knows, I may want that picture again someday or just enjoy viewing it and remembering the experience associated with it.
A post mortem of an adventure helps to solidify the memories created on that adventure and will become more valuable to you as each year passes and you want to recall a detail or two about the many adventures you’ve been on. This will also help in budgeting for future vacations and give you an idea of where you spend the most or least during a trip. If you really need to reduce costs you can see which categories are the highest and work on ways of reducing that category or categories. A thorough trip analysis can also help determine what you could do differently that would make the next adventure more meaningful, enjoyable, and memorable!
The Last part of our trip had arrived. I have seen US 1 on several movies and have been intrigued by the length of bridges connecting the different keys. Also, I wanted to see Key Largo and Key West. Like much of our vacation, we only had a short time to experience the keys. In order to see where we were going we left Everglades National Park mid-afternoon. Entering Key Largo the Seafood Festival was just wrapping up so there were a lot of people heading back towards their cars to return home giving us the opportunity to look around as we drove slowly through the key. As the drive continued, I was surprised at how much of this highway was built on ground instead of over the water. The other thing that surprised me was how shallow the water was all around us.
As we continued towards Key West there were more bridges with some impressive stretches over water including the famous seven mile bridge. It could not have been a nicer day with warm temperatures and plenty of sunshine. The timing of this drive could also not have been better because as we neared Key West the sun was setting giving us a beautiful view of some of the keys surrounded by the ocean. We arrived at Key West right as the darkness overtook the island so there wasn’t much for to see on this day. Anticipation for exploring the island in the morning was building however it was a long day and rest was much needed. This was our second to last night in the warm Florida weather so I took a few moments to step outside our hotel room and feel the ocean breeze and gaze up at the stars shining brightly. The night sky was the most beautiful star lit sky we witnessed during our entire trip and there were some nice nights to star gaze from our cruise ship.
A Watching Beautiful Starfish While on a Leisurely Stroll
The next morning started with breakfast outside on the hotel patio while taking care of a few things on the computer. A reminder of what summer is like and how much I enjoy it. Following breakfast, we took a stroll by the ocean smelling the ocean air and watching the ebb and flow of the water as it crashed against the shore. Upon returning to the hotel we packed up and got ready to leave when something to one of our cars was noticed as being out of place. Further inspection showed that some trim around a passenger door window was bent out indicating that someone had tried to break into the car overnight. This was disappointing and delayed our leaving the hotel as we examined for anything missing even though there wasn’t much left in the car to take and notified both the hotel and local police. We certainly weren’t going to let this ruin our adventures in the keys.
The Southern Most Point Monument
One highlight of Key West that was on the top of our priority was to see the Southern Most Point of the continental U.S. We had a fun experience to be at this monument and share this moment with the entire group traveling together. Once the pictures were taken (we did have to wait in line a few minutes to get these pictures) it was off to find a souvenir or two. Irony hit us in this quest as we neared a number of stores we couldn’t find a place to park and even had difficulty navigating the streets as there were so many people crowding Key West due to a cruise ship that was docked for the day. A great perspective of how much of an impact a cruise ship can have on a port and what impact we had at each of our destinations on our recent cruise experience. The decision was made to abort the souvenir portion and head to the beach in search of a restaurant. Success was had in this objective as we enjoyed our food in an open air restaurant watching the people stroll on the beach with the ocean in the background.
After lunch we had time for a stroll along the beach and on to one of the piers allowing the opportunity to smell the ocean and hear the waves as they crash into the sandy shore. On our way out to the end of the pier we spotted several fish and a sailboat or two. Now for the toughest part of the day, the return to the car knowing it was time to head back to Miami to get ready to leave the Florida sun in exchange for ice and snow. As we walked back towards shore like condemned souls we noticed a stingray swimming by. The stingray slowed and eventually stopped and began burying itself in the sand waiting for its next prey. As we watched, it was evident that the stingray was also watching us because the longer we observed the more sand it buried itself in. This completed our experience on Key West and gave me a sense of satisfaction and completion of our adventure along the keys. Now back towards Key Largo and on to Miami.