When I was a kid, my parents would pile the family into the weary station wagon, and we’d begin our journey from the depths of Miami to the absolute magic of the Florida Keys. I remember vividly the bridges and what an adventure it seemed to be, to travel from world to world over these behemoths. To me, it did not matter which island we landed on, just that we were there.
From the panoramic dramatic initial bridge that carpet-rides you into Key Largo, to the last little blurb of a bridge at Cow-Key channel that slips you into Key West, each one of the Keys bridges have a unique personality. They have become fond sentinels to me, always welcoming me home with a gentle ride like a smooth wave. These concrete pearls that connect us to the individual islands each have their own personality as well as history, and each one introduces us all to unique islands and lifestyles.
Once you’ve crossed the Monroe County line, you traverse the entirety of Key Largo. You may have heard of the movie by the same name. This area offers a grand variety of attractions, boating adventures and resorts as well as landscapes of rustling pine, swaying palms, silver buttonwood and water-rooted mangroves that will accompany you the entirety of the overseas highway. You then travel over the Tavernier Creek bridge at mile marker 90 and are transported into Tavernier and a quieter, calmer atmosphere. On south to the Snake Creek bridge (the one draw bridge in the Keys) which sets you into Islamorada (island of purple) the lovely little island with specialty shops, specialty resorts and specialty foods. You head farther south and go over the mile marker 80 bridge and you are immersed into the quietest and possibly one of the most mysterious parts of the Keys. The road goes through the historical matecumbe keys where you drive along with the Gulf of Mexico on your right and theAtlantic Ocean on your left. Our planet doesn’t offer that kind of view from many other places. My personal favorite of the bridges is the channel 5 bridge at mile marker 70, which shifts you from the upper keys to the middle keys in a grandiose manner, over a spectacularly high bridge with a magnificent view of blues and purples and sparkles with usually a willing participant in the picture in the form of a sailboat, sails up, on a wing and wing tack. One needs to remind oneself to drive and not gawk. This joy ride takes you via several bridges of different lengths into Long Key, Duck Key, Grassy Key, and on into the more populated Marathon area. And then, after you’ve filled up on the many choices of seafood fare there, and perhaps played a game of golf, you enter the experience of the fabled 7 mile bridge. It is indeed 7 miles of different hues of shimmering blue, aquamarine and emerald green water, a variety of boats, and often a glimpse of a ray soaring out of the water, or a porpoise joyfully showing off his romping skills, all under a sky dotted with fleecy clouds. Suddenly you find yourself in the lower keys, over several more bridges, past Sunshine Key and Bahia Honda state park, into the populated island of Big Pine Key, the paradise that I call home. It is the wild west of the Keys, where there are still pirates of a sort and the familiar feel of a small town. This is the area that is adorned with its own genus of unicorn, the little Key Deer. At one point I had an entire herd that congregated in my yard, a delightful, ongoing production. On south over the little Pine Channel bridge that takes you in to the wonderfully named Big Torch, Middle Torch and Little Torch Keys, which always brings to mind a ship out at sea in the night in a storm, burning torches to find the way. And then you’re in Ramrod Key, ramrod being what must have happened numerous times when boats did not have ample warning of the shallows and the reef. Today those local shallow waters and reefs are full of life, beautiful colorful fish, gorgeous conchs and thousands of graceful birds, all cohabitating happily. Next you’re driving up and over the spectacular Summerland bridge, into the lovely little island of Summerland Key. When you’re at the top of this bridge, you get to view the charming island you’re going into, with the sparkling aquamarine water all around it. To enter Summerland Key whether by car or by boat is a beautiful ride. Then there’s Cudjoe Key, which has numerous marvelous little neighborhoods which you would not have a clue existed from the main road. And onto Sugarloaf Key, an island with sparkling deep waters and a little known bike path through the woods – which is the original old highway – that’ll take you almost into Key West. After that are the saddlebunches, Baypoint, Big Coppit Key, bridge after bridge, island after island, completely set apart from one another and totally perfect in their own ways. And then you go over the little Cow Key bridge into the island that is the magic and diversity and history that is Key West. All of the keys are a mix of the civilized and the bohemian, where all is well in the world. There are numerous other bridges I haven’t mentioned, and countless other islands to explore off shore. It is a different adventure each drive down the Keys, and each time I step into my boat.
Yep, you can indeed fly from Miami to Key West in a mere 45 minutes. Or you can create a memorable cruising odyssey by driving the Overseas Highway and its bridges with all of their spirits.
So many years later, I am still that kid in the station wagon, just so happy to be in the Keys, on any island, any Key.