Friday, February 13, 2009

Launching the "SS MINNOW" + Key Deer Hike

Roger here...During the last blog we talked about our day at Key West. There were a lot of other great things to do in the Keys that more than occupied our time while we were there.
One of the most exciting things for me was the launch of the "S.S. Minnow." Our Sea Eagle inflatable kayak was a retirement gift from the Parents in Partnership group in the school corporation where I worked for 36 years. This was our first time to visit a place conducive to a first paddle :-) We had not inflated it yet, and were a little nervous about using the foot pump in the midst of the many, many people at the Sugarloaf Key KOA, but the worry was for naught. The inflation was simple and only took about 30 minutes, including time to read the directions. The next time it should be even faster.

Dianne and I carried the kayak from our campsite to the boat launch about 50 yards away. It was a windy day and the water was a little choppy. We both got in and realized that the center of gravity with the seats fully inflated was a little high. As a former science teacher, I knew this could be a problem. We were OK, but a little wobbly. I could tell that Dianne was a little uncomfortable as evidenced by the statement "I DO NOT WANT TO TIP THIS THING OVER IN THIS COLD WATER!" Honestly, I was a little concerned, as well. After a quick trip around the marina area and a snapshot of a group of pelicans in the mangroves

we headed back to the launch area. Mission accomplished - successful inflation, successful transport, successful launch, successful return, dry wife. Dianne deboarded and I went out again for about a half hour while Dianne watched from a beach chair.

I know that the next launch (in calmer waters) directly from our campsite at Franklin Locks, will be smoother.

Our next adventure, well really just mine, was an all-day trip to the Dry Tortugas National Park, a two-hour one-way trip by high-speed catamaran. We both intended to take the trip, planning to board the dogs for the day, but because our main reason for going was to snorkel and the water temperature was pretty cold, Dianne opted to enjoy a quiet day at the campground with the dogs. As previously mentioned, she does not like cold water.

I boarded the Yankee Freedom II in Key West at 7:15 in the morning, ate breakfast on the boat, and found a seat for the two-hour ride. Early in the trip the crew indicated that, as we neared the Dry Tortugas, the sea would be rough and encouraged people with motion sickness to see them at that time for some Dramamine. Since I have not had motion sickness since I was a kid, I was not too concerned. The first hour and a half was great - lots to see in the turquoise water including the spot where Mel Fisher discovered the Atocha. With about 30 to 40 minutes left in the trip we entered the rough part. I noticed that a lot of the people were laying down on their seats and kind of green. I still was not concerned, but then it hit. I wobbled to the back of the boat to ask for Dramamine, but was told that it would not do any good at that point. I was given a carbonated beverage and a barf bag and directed to the back of the boat to join five other ill passengers, one of whom lost his breakfast, as I did. Very embarrassing.

The Dry Tortugas are exceptionally beautiful for a couple reasons. The surrounding waters are several shades of turquoise, and nearly the entire island is occupied by a huge masonry fort that was constructed during the civil war. The fort had three levels, each exceptionally high and is surrounded by a moat created by a brick wall that separates the fort from the sea. It was the size of nine Yankee Stadiums - lots of fun to walk through, on top of, and around (on the sea wall).

After lunch I went to the beach. The crew told everyone that it was probably too cold to snorkel, 64 degrees! I was so disappointed because snorkeling was the main purpose of going. At the beach I noticed that a couple of people in snorkel gear did get in the water. I sat there for a half hour, angry that I was acting like a wimp, and then went back to the boat to suit up. With fins on feet, goggle on head, and snorkel in mouth I slowly waded into the water - yikes it was cold! Another, much younger guy, was wading in at the same time. When the water reached thigh level, I decided that I had to dive in before the shivering young guy, or be embarrassed for a second time. In I went. Yousa! I quickly adjusted to the water and actually stayed in for about 45 minutes. The snorkeling, though not the best I have done, was fun - especially with the coral formations next to the wall of the moat.

I took Dramamine before the return trip, and although the water was even rougher for the first 45 minutes - very much like a roller coaster at an amusement park - it was actually kind of fun since I was not sick :-) That was not the case for about 20 passengers who were lined up in the back of the boat with their beverages and barf bags as I had been earlier that day.

After reading all this, you are probably wondering about photos to document the experience. Sorry, we decided not to risk losing or destroying the camera, so I left it at the campsite. But I really did snorkel in the cold water - really, I did.

Jasper and Chaplin enjoyed a few tidbits of grilled steak one evening, and here are a couple photos showing them waiting patiently for the handout

they knew they would eventually get!

Dianne and I both enjoy hiking and nature. We discovered that the National Key Deer Wildlife Refuge was only a few miles from our campground. We decided to go exploring there on one of our afternoons. The Key Deer are an endangered species that only live on Big Pine Key. They are dimunitive in size, only a couple of feet tall.

We took a mile-long hike through the mangroves - interesting and fun, but did not see any deer :-( BUT, then as we returned to our car we spotted three of them walking along the road.

Don't they know they are supposed to be in the woods?! We quietly stalked them for a while and got some pictures before they wandered into the vegetation where they belong :-)

Dianne here - I must say that I'm glad I missed out on Roger's Tortuga adventure. The rolling boat ride would have done me in.

What Roger said about both of us enjoying nature and hiking is very true. For that reason, the KOA on Sugarloaf Key was not my kind of campground. The sites have 50 amp electrical and full hookups. There are lots of amenities, even a very nice open-air bar with excellent live music, large pool area, hot tub, marina, and very nice camp store. Check out the frozen delicacy sold in the camp store: Frozen chocolate-covered key lime pie on a stick.

It was DELICIOUS, and really was just frozen key lime pie (including the graham cracker crust) dipped in chocolate on a stick.

We did sit around the pool one afternoon, took advantage of the $1 ice cream sundaes on Sunday, had a beer in the open air bar. We did use the dog park, although it was too small for our dogs to get any real exercise in. BUT, it is the kind of place where your shades must be closed (no view anyway other than other rigs), there was no room or privacy to sit out at our patio, and after a couple of days I'd had enough of it.

I had never been to the Florida Keys before and wanted to see it. Key West reminded me of New Orleans (another place I can take or leave), and now that I've been to the Keys, seen it, I feel no need to go back. But check back soon, because we left the gravel parking lot for a little piece of heaven, which we'll write about next!

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