Monday, December 28, 2015

Key West - Day 3

 I woke up nice and early on Tuesday, as it was the last day I would be in the Keys and I still needed to get some sunrise shooting in. So, I was up at 5:45am and out the door by 6:00am. Thankfully, the sun doesn't come up too early, so I was able to make it across Seven Mile Bridge and onto Little Duck Key in time to get my gear set up and catch the sunrise.



Sunrise in the Florida Keys. It doesn't get much better...

Sunrise panorama...


I wasn't the only one on the beach so early in the morning. Some of the local residents were out, as well:

Pretty sure this bird is a Ruddy Turnstone...

Great Egret...

Brown Pelican...

Gull...

White Ibis...


After shooting the local wildlife for a little while, I started to make my way to the very end of civilization (more or less).

Being a neo-tourist (like that? I just made it up), I love visiting historic places. I think it's important to be able to see and appreciate those things which our ancestors lived with and endured. As a photographer, I love what  historic buildings and forts have to offer in terms of their photogenic qualities; textures and the like. Let me loose in an old fort and I can spend hours (and have) shooting what, to anyone else, is just a brick wall. To me, though, there's a history that can be conveyed in just a simple photograph.

Named for our 12th President, Fort Zachary Taylor was built in 1845, to serve as part of the Third Tier System of Defense which called for the establishment of a system of masonry fortresses along America's coastline to prevent attacks upon the United States by sea. This particular fort was especially important given its command of the waters of the Straits of Florida and the Gulf of Mexico.

Fort Zachary Taylor in Key West...

Fort Zachary Taylor in Key West...

When it was completed it was actually three stories tall, house 140 cannon and some 450 soldiers and officers. It remained under federal control during the Civil War. The current form of the fort; one story, is the result of alterations made to the fort in 1898, during which the top two stories were removed.


 

Interior views of Fort Zachary Taylor...
In addition to the Civil War, Fort Zachary Taylor was active during the Spanish-American War, World War I and World War II. The fort's service to the nation ended in 1947. It's now on the National Register of Historic Places and is a National Historic Landmark.

The last American flag to fly over an active Fort Zachary Taylor had 48 stars...

Not far from the fort is Fort Zachary Taylor State Park. It costs only a few dollars to enter the park, and for your money you're rewarded with some rather pristine beaches and aqua blue water.

The Gulf of Mexico. All you need is an umbrella drink...

Refreshments and a gift shop...

A perfect sunny day in Key West...

Which way ya' wanna' go?

I decided to start making my way back to Marathon, but not before seeking out a gem of a restaurant that I'd been told about. Supposedly, nobody knows about this place, but everyone really does; the joint was packed.

It takes a little bit of a commitment to find, but you'll be rewarded when you do:

The No Name Pub on Big Pine Key...

Should you ever be fortunate to find this joint, get the Mahi sandwich...

The walls and ceiling are covered in $1 bills...


After kickin' around Key West for a few days, there was still one thing I wanted to do. it would be a bit of a spendy extravagance but, seeing as I'd never been to the Keys, and didn't know when I'd be back, I said "What the Hell?"

In another life, I spent a bit of time in the Navy and, during that time, had the opportunity to ride in a few helicopters. I love helicopters.

And there were helicopters at the airport near my hotel in Marathon.

After filling out the requisite "You can't sue us if we crash and you end up maimed or dead" (or something like that) release, Captain Mike and I made our way out onto the tarmac.

Captain Mike...


It was going to be a short flight; all of ten minutes, and I wanted to make the most of it, photographically speaking. I took just one lens and a bottle of water, and climbed into the craft.

A bit outside my comfort zone, but I was diggin' it...
 
Unlike the turbine helicopters (ie: SH-60's) I'd flown in while in the service, this was a piston helicopter. Also, in comparison, this thing was really small. So, suffice it to say, this craft made a bit more noise than I was used to and was a bit bumpier of a ride.

But, hot damn, it was cool.




The view from on high is absolutely spectacular and, despite the abbreviated duration of the trip, was absolutely worth the price of admission. We were able to see both manatee and sharks (unfortunately the one lens I chose couldn't shoot them), as well as make out just how shallow the water was, and for how far out.

The shallows of the Gulf of Mexico...

A sunken ship. Not a pirate ship, but, still...

Pigeon Key as seen from 450 feet...






The water is so shallow along here that the lines and scars that you see in this photo are caused by boat propellers...

Flying along Seven Mile Bridge...

Flying over Marathon Airport...

After the helicopter ride (did I happen to mention it was bitchin'?), I decided to check out the little aviation museum they have on site. The exhibits inside the small museum are very cool and very rich in history, and the static airplane displays are pretty cool, as well.

A very small, but very cool, museum...


Ozark Air Lines, at your service...


Beechcraft C-45 Expeditor...

The Ozark Air Lines DC-3...

The interior of the DC-3. The seat with the green photo is believed to be the seat once occupied by Grace Kelly...

The cockpit of the DC-3...


Hours for the museum vary, so it might not be a horrible idea to call before stopping by to make sure they're open. The museum is staffed solely by volunteers who are eager to tell stories about the exhibits. There's no cost to enter, but they do accept donations.

I went back to my hotel and laid down for a while, trying to catch up with the whirlwind three days I'd just subjected myself to. I decided I'd stay relatively local for dinner and, as I'd heard rave reviews about it, I opted for the Sunset Grille & Raw Bar on Knight's Key. A ridiculously good dinner was just what I needed to help me tie up any loose mental ends I may have had on this trip.

Sunset Grille & Raw Bar, as seen from their dock...

After dinner, I took a stroll out onto the dock, beer in hand, enjoying the warm November breeze that seemed to be ever present in the evenings. Difficult to describe, but it's something I'll never forget.

Day #3 was in the books, and it was good. It was real good...


*** An addendum ***

I'd always heard great things about the Florida Keys and, after living in Florida for just over two years, I decided it was time to go. I'm so glad I did. This trip provided a perfect opportunity to not worry about anything but shooting, exploring and relaxing.

Someone recently criticized me for "doing what you want to do", as if that was a bad thing. Well, yeah, I guess I do. Hell, at 53 years old, I think I've earned that, and I'm not going to worry about whether or not someone else likes it or thinks I should do something else. This spur of the moment trip showed me that "waiting to do something" shouldn't be, and won't be, in my plan.

If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times: There's a whole bunch to see out there. Go find it. Go find it, and you just might find yourself, as well...

Monday, December 14, 2015

Key West - Day 2

I didn't wake up quite as early as I wanted to on Monday, but it didn't deter me. I wanted the photo ops and, goddammit, I was gonna' find them.

My first stop, so far as I can tell, was near Smather's Beach. It is quintessential "Key West". I imagine it would be difficult to take a bad picture here:


Smather's Beach...


Key West, which is also known as "The Conch Republic" is home to what is referred to as the southern-most point in the continental United States. A mere 90 miles to the south lies Cuba. This spot is marked with a large painted buoy (well, a buoy-like marker; it was never a buoy). 

The southernmost part of Key West Island accessible to civilians is actually the beach area of Fort Zachary Taylor, which is about 500 feet further south. The actual southern-most spot is on the Truman Annex, a Navy base not accessible to civilians.

Anyway, people line up to have their picture taken standing next to this thing. I wasn't all to interested in doing that, although it was a true exercise in patience to try to photograph it without people standing around.

And, quite frankly, I don't have that kind of patience:


It's not truly the southernmost spot, but it's close enough and there was room for the marker...

From here, I decided to head up to the Ernest Hemingway home on Whitehead Street. Parking can be a bit of a premium in Key West, so I found a spot a little ways from the house and started walking. As I neared the house, I saw the Key West Lighthouse which sits right across the street. I couldn't imagine not going to check it out, so I opted to stop at the lighthouse first.

The original Key West Lighthouse was a 65 foot tower completed in 1825. Because of tree growth and construction, the light was becoming obscured so, in 1873, the entire tower was raised by 20 feet. The Coast Guard decommissioned the Key West Light in 1969, and it was turned over to Monroe County. The County currently leases the lighthouse to Key West Arts and Historical Society. The society operates the lighthouse and its associated buildings as the Key West Light House and Keeper's Quarters Museum.

The entrance sign to the lighthouse...

The recently renovated Key West Lighthouse...

No longer an active lighthouse, it remains a huge tourist attraction in Key West...

The view from the top...

The Gulf of Mexico can be seen in the background...

Looking down on Whitehead Street...
A panoramic view from the top of the lighthouse...


Halfway up the tower...

Safety is paramount...

After leaving the lighthouse, it was just a quick walk over to the Hemingway House. This is, arguably, the most popular attraction in Key West. What cannot really be argued, though is that Hemingway was one of the most, if not the most, colorful residents Key West has ever known.

Hemingway lived in Key West from 1928, but rented an apartment, and then a house, before purchasing this house at auction for the princely sum of the $8,000.00 in back taxes owed to the city of Key West by the owner.

Ernest Hemingway's home from 1931 until 1940...

A scale model of Hemingway's boat, Pilar, is on display at the museum...

One of Hemingway's typewriters, in which is a typed description of how he viewed Pilar...
 
Hemingway's bedroom. The black blob on the bed is one of the 54 cats which live on the property...

One of the many polydactyl (six toed) cats on the property. Many are descendants of Hemingway's beloved Snow White...

Hemingway's studio...

The modest kitchen in the house...

High ceilings are found throughout the house...

The front entrance of the house, which faces Whitehead Street...

After visiting the Hemingway House, I decided it was time to start finding my way back to Marathon. On the way back, though, I knew of yet one more photo op that I wanted to explore.

The Overseas Railroad was the brainchild of Henry Flagler, who wanted to link Key West to the mainland of Florida. Flagler's railway was named the Florida East Coast Railway and, by 1904 had extended as far south as Homestead, Florida. The bridge into the Keys took seven years and $50 million to build.

The Overseas Railroad Bridge...

Looking north towards Bahia Honda...

The railroad operated from the completion of the bridge in 1912 until much of it was destroyed by the Labor Day Hurricane on September 2, 1935. The Florida East Coast Railway was in bankruptcy, so it couldn't afford to repair or replaced the damaged bridges. It was all subsequently sold to the State of Florida.

The bridge can't be accessed at all from the southern end (seen in the top photo above), but a small portion of the long abandoned bridge accessed on the northern end in Bahia Honda State Park. A scenic beach just to the south of the bridge offered up some unexpected photo ops. I think it worked perfectly for some black & white photography:

Attempting to connect with my inner Clyde Butcher...
I made my way back to my hotel to get cleaned up and changed. My buddy Ron and I were going to meet up for dinner, and he recommended a Cuban restaurant that he frequents. El Siboney is an authentic Cuban restaurant just a few blocks off Duval Street, and they offer up some amazing food.

Amazing food and, yeah, beer...


While on this trip I tried to adopt a "when in Rome" philosophy, and have become pretty infatuated with mahi. I'm now a mahi fan; I love mahi. Don't know what to order? Order the mahi. Why? Because it's mahi, and mahi rocks.

Mahi, rice and plantains. The black beans were in a bowl out of the frame...

It was great catching up with Ron over such a great dinner. I probably never would've found El Siboney on my own, so I'm glad I had the help of a "local". It's one of those places that doesn't have to rely on tourists to stay in business. It definitely sits off the "beaten path" as far as restaurants go in Key West. The authentic nature of the place is obviously a great draw for the locals, and they turn out in droves.

I wasn't going to see Ron again on this trip, so we bid each other farewell and I found my way back to Marathon, happy that I got to meet up with an old friend after a full day of photography. For me, any "mental health" trip pretty much has to include a camera, and I was pretty happy with the way this day turned out...

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