Category Archives: States

Strange Finds and Imagined Fictions

Sometimes people are weird. Sometimes nature is weird. Sometimes it is a bit of both.

Walking along Factory Road and inside the state park lands we’ve found some weird shit. The weirdest we have no photographic evidence of. One day WPT and I were having an intense conversation, as one does in the woods, when two people on an ATV drove up and began dumping a body. We looked at each other and then back at the brazen body dumpers. 2020 has reached a point where very little surprises us anymore.

Turned out they were setting up a National Guard training exercise with a life-size body to be located and recovered. We lived to tell the tale, but regretfully did not get a photo of the body in situ. We also didn’t get a photo of the pregnancy test discarded on the roadside, but we did speculate. Much of what we find tells a story, even if utter fiction…

Some stories, like some people, lack mystery

An entirely too well-loved travel pillow

We found this step in the middle of the woods. No house, no foundation, nothing nearby. There appeared to be tributes left around the steps and the stone monument in front. We still aren’t sure what world this leads to or from.

Next to the steps was a deer skull. We’ve seen plenty of bones in the woods, but these were gnawed on. A gnawed skull should be 2020’s mascot.

Half-pint Hill. Hundreds of 50-60-year-old alcohol bottles, mixed in with Bayer aspirin bottles.
Toilet lid. No toilet, just a pristine toilet lid, alone in the woods.
I love nature in all forms, but even I found this mass of centipedes face-height in a tree unsettling.
Two skeletons

These structures were super creepy when we first found them. We later learned that kids made them. I liked them better when they were all True Detectivey.

Fully intact pay phone, in the woods. I want to know the story so bad.

Abandoned nitrous oxide canister. How? Who? Why?

License plate from 1955

Digging Glass

It began with a few fifths.

Booze, that is; the outdated measurement itself – embossed on the heels of the innumerable bottles we have plucked from the tree line along Factory Road – when taken into account alongside its more modern metric counterpart (750 mL), hints that this area has been a popular drinking spot since long before Old Grand-Dad was a twinkle in your father’s eye.

Even today, the winding little Baltimore County byway – bordered by private and state-owned forest, as well as the handful of homes clustered near Factory’s southern terminus – is an anomalous throwback to an earlier, pre-code time. It’s a two-way street, though its oddly narrow, unmarked width might lead one to reasonably conclude otherwise. A rural cousin of the now-congested horse-and-buggy routes of old east coast cities like Boston and Philadelphia – now paved, but never built with cars in mind. Much like a pre-pandemic world forced to retrofit to a new reality…

Directly or indirectly, COVID-19 has informed almost every decision we’ve made since mid-March 2020: staying home as much as possible, to minimize our chances of exposure; thoroughly cleaning anything that comes into the house; taking regular walks, to counter the inertia of daily teleworking; ordering a reach extender to more safely bag the litter we find along our favorite route – Factory Road. Sometimes, as we collect the trash, I wonder how often (if ever) it crosses the minds of those who so casually toss their half-smoked butts, Wendy’s wrappers, and empty White Claws out their windows, at speed. Also in the regular mix: dental floss picks; used latex gloves; home pregnancy tests; and spent shotgun shells.

Then there are the anomalies, like the rusting cylinder of nitrous oxide in the drainage ditch beside the road, or the pay phone in the nearby woods. Their origins – a great source of speculation – don’t really matter, as these items are today as much fixtures of the surrounding landscape as the gentle hills, the rocks and trees.

Some three dozen trash bags later, and with the roadside now clean enough to draw the occasional encouraging honk from passing cars, we turned our attention inward, beyond the tree line, into the woods. More fifths, and four-fifths, gallons and full pints – the cast-off bones of clandestine late-night benders. The more interesting ones – embossed or easily identified brands; unique shapes, sizes, and colors; unfamiliar names – come home with us.

The rest get recycled.

Digging glass from the forest floor led us to discover several old trash pits – most likely the detritus from a couple of overgrown foundations in the woods and their one-time occupants. I spent a few college summers working for a South Jersey DPW, where I learned to build amateur forensic profiles of people based on what they threw away, how much of it, and how often. Stacks of well-read Sunday papers. A neatly polished-off handle of Myers’s – just like last week’s, and the one from the week before that. Bag upon bag of meticulously landscaped brush.

The glass bones that litter these lonely woods tell their own story. Heavy, green Coke bottles. Car polish. Zinc-lidded Mason jars. A Depression-era knockoff Vaseline. Amber Clorox bottles. Turpentine. A 1940s hair crème. Mustard. Ketchup. Soft drinks. Booze, of course (and nearly as much aspirin). And hundred-year-old bottles from breweries killed by Prohibition. Together with midcentury license plates, a rust-flaked Radio Flyer, and the odd horseshoe, they comprise the long-forgotten ruins of a routine that one day, not so very long ago, left home and never came back.

We’ve resurrected several items from the forest floor. Much of the glass has cleaned up beautifully. Apothecary bottles of all colors, shapes, and sizes now line our kitchen sills like the usual snake-oil suspects. Beside a blue-tinted Ball Perfect Mason jar, a King Syrup bottle holds freshly cut flowers from the yard. Even an ordinary glass salt shaker that would have been at home on any Cold War kitchen table once again fulfills its intended purpose.

Like a flood of cheap, single-use plastic, COVID-19 has upped the ante for our disposable culture. Bits of the old normal will eventually be recycled, repurposed, to be sure. But I sometimes wonder, as I stand at the kitchen sink, scrubbing off the latest haul, what those who will kick about the woods, the riverbeds, and shorelines a hundred years hence will make of what we threw away…

More photos @digging_glass

The Long Short Journey to Factory Road

People travel to experience different cultures, learn about history, watch wildlife, and meet new people. When COVID-19 hit, I had thousands of miles of work-related travel stretching in front of me. All canceled. Suddenly my days were spent in one room, mostly in one small space, huddled in front of a camera and monitor. Our travel days were over.

The first few weeks were both still and chaotic, everything happen all at once and then waiting for the next scary thing to happen. The March weather and pandemic emotions surged up and down. WPT and I began taking walks in the late afternoon, our commutes now reduced to feet instead of miles. Our usual walk wasn’t enough. We had too much energy to burn, too much to talk about. We tried walking to the post office, but with no shoulder and cars zipping by it wasn’t fun. The walk to the main road was boring. One day we tried Factory Road.

I had avoided Factory Road for five years. Right after our offer on the house was accepted we drove out to see it. To make sure it was all real. We took Factory Road on the drive back and a fuse melodramatically burned out as we traveled down the dark, isolated road, filling the car with an acrid stench. The road isn’t wide enough for a center line to divide it. It looks like it should be one way. Cars have to slow to pass one another. The exit onto the main road seems fraught with danger with a bend obscuring oncoming traffic.

Walking down Factory Road was different. What was dark and foreboding in a car was now lush and peaceful. What was scary at 40 mph was really rather pleasant on foot. The hills provided a physical release from pent up anxiety and energy. WPT and I had found a perfect quarantine walk. We saw deer, a fox, plants, and once we even watched a bald eagle glide overhead. We also saw a lot of garbage. It was evident that people used the road as a dumping ground, throwing food and bottles from their cars.

After the second or third walk, WPT and I discussed the garbage situation. It bothered both of us. I ordered a grabber online and we started picking up garbage on our walks. We did this methodically, starting on one side of the road and meticulously working our way up one side. We’d haul the bags home and put them into our garbage.

We learned that residents and visitors to Factory Road favored Twisted Ice Tea, Fireball, and by god they loved their Jägermeister. We found a pregnancy test and Christmas lists. We found a whole pay phone.

We’ve also met a few locals and said hello. Garnet, who sometimes bikes the road while we walk, talked to a man who explained the history of a farm implement and how he repurposed it to stop mailbox baseball. A woman in an SUV berated him for existing outside and asked if he wanted to be kidnapped. He called her a Karen and biked away.

Mailbox Defense System

One afternoon, Garnet asked to see what was along the ridge inside the section of road that belongs to the state. We plunged into the woods and at the top of the ridge found nothing more interesting than a path for power lines. On our walk back down, we found nests of bottles and other detritus. We had discovered an archeological site worthy of studying semi-rural partying in the 70s and 80s.

Our daily walk led us down more and more paths to research. We looked up pitcher plants, the history of bottle marks, and how to tell the age of Coke and Pepsi cans and bottles. WPT researched the history of Glen Arm, Factory Road, the nearby Copper Works, and the surrounding areas for further clues. Every day brought new spring plants and more old garbage.

We now travel Factory Road much as we have traveled to other states and countries. It had always been here, we just needed the opportunity to slow down enough to see it. We aren’t done exploring Factory Road…and neither are you.

Boyd Hill Nature Preserve


I was in a windowless conference room yesterday when began perusing a map of the St. Petersburg area. I noticed a green spot about 10-15 minutes south of the hotel and decided I would check it out in the brief gap between the end of the conference and the TSA peep show. It turned out to be an excellent way to spend a solid hour and a half. (Note: I had to take a projector and laptop for the conference and couldn’t take my camera, so these are all phone photos.)

Bald Eagle

Turkey Vulture

Red-Shouldered Hawk

There is a small nature center, where you pay a nominal admission. Behind the nature center are aviaries where birds of prey who can’t be released into the wild are housed. There are hawks, owls, an eagle, a kestrel, and vultures. I walked the boardwalks on the swamp woodlands trails, listening to the cries of birds and watching anoles skittering across the planks. On the Lake Maggiore trail I saw herons, nesting fish, an alligator, turtles, ducks, and more. It was perfect. You can rent kayaks from the park as well.

Boardwalk, Swamp Woodlands trails

Green heron and a big fish

Egret and palm fronds

Seriously beautiful day

I wanted to see a gopher tortoise and headed over to the Sand Scrub trail. The diversity of ecosystems in such a small park is impressive (it is 245 acres). I went quickly from wetlands to pine trees in sandy soil. Despite being April 1st, it was hot in the sun and the park is clever with its water coolers in shaded shelters. I did see a tortoise briefly as he headed into his burrow.

Sand Scrub Trail

Shelter and water cooler

Water cooler

From that trail, I went to the Wax Myrtle Pond, which had two completely unexpected pieces of art flanking the top of the pond. There were turtles and birds and very few people, despite it being a gorgeous Saturday afternoon. I imagine the park is teeming with activity at dawn and dusk.

Armadillo ahead!

My new favorite armadillo statue

My new favorite armadillo statue

On my walk back to the nature center, I saw not one, but two gopher tortoises walking along the main trail. Both were gracious enough to let me stop and ogle them.

Gopher tortoise

Gopher tortoise

The park also hosts events, including summer camps for kids, and they have an upcoming Earth Day Zine Workshop. Wildlife and zines – two of my favorite things!

If you go (you should totally go):

Boyd Hill Nature Preserve

Address: 1101 Country Club Way South, St. Petersburg, FL 33705
Phone: (727) 893-7326
Hours:
November 1 – February 29
Tuesday – Friday 9:00 am – 6:00 pm • Saturday 7:00 am – 6:00 pm
Sunday 9:00 am – 6:00 pm • Monday Closed
March 1 – October 31
Tuesday – Friday 9:00 am – 7:00 pm • Saturday 7:00 am – 7:00 pm
Sunday 9:00 am – 7:00 pm • Monday Closed
Admission: $3 Adult, $1.50 Child (Age 3 to 16), Free (Age 2 and under)

Indian Key

july2016-keys-8951
View from the tower on Indian Key

With the prospect of a three- to four-hour drive from Fort Lauderdale to Key West, flying directly to the southernmost point in the US offers a convenient, if costly, option for those travelers on tight schedules. But the balmy, flat, and winding 110 miles of the Overseas Highway that run from the Florida mainland to the bottom of US-1 will yield wild and weird corners for those able (or willing) to take the time.

july2016-keys-1866
Paddling up to Indian Key

From the geological wonders of Devil’s Milhopper to the picturesque sands of Bahia Honda, Florida has a varied and truly amazing state park system. One of its most distinctive parks is also one all too easily overlooked on a drive through the Keys. Located a half-mile, ocean-side, off Islamorada lies the lush but unassuming Indian Key Historic State Park. Accessible only by boat, the uninhabited 11-acre island was, two centuries ago, the original county seat for Dade County.

july2016-keys-1800
The old streets are still evident.

But that simple historical fact doesn’t begin to belie the tranquil key’s colorful and, at times, lurid history. From here, Jacob Housman built a formidable “wrecking” business in the early 19th century, salvaging valuable cargoes from ships that met their ends on the treacherous reefs in the surrounding waters. In 1838, the Philadelphia botanist Dr. Henry Perrine moved to the island, bringing with him a host of non-indigenous flora, including agave (used in the manufacturing of sisal), tamarind, and large yucca plants. By the close of that decade, the island boasted a population of about 60, and even a nationally advertised resort hotel. Later, Henry Flagler would use the key as a base for dredging operations during the construction of his Overseas Railroad.

july2016-keys-1799
Cochineal insects – the red dye carmine is made from them

But Indian Key’s golden heyday drew its last breaths in the wee hours of August 7, 1840, when an invasion force of more than 130 Spanish-speaking Seminoles descended upon the island from nearby Lower Matecumbe Key. Twelve hours later, six people were dead (including Perrine) and much of the looted settlement laid in smoldering ruins. The United States Navy subsequently used Indian Key as a base of operations for the Second Seminole War, but the island’s halcyon days as a thriving, self-sustaining commercial center were effectively done.

july2016-keys-8950
Brad Bertelli and WPT

Today, visitors may rent canoes and kayaks from Robbie’s of Islamorada and paddle out to Indian Key. Make the most of the trip by enlisting the services of historian, author, and tour guide Brad Bertelli of Historic Upper Keys Walking Tours to bring the island’s crumbling foundations and crunching gravel streets back to bustling life. If you appreciate vivid detail, humor, and a healthy overdose of enthusiasm for esoterica in your docent, then the affable Bertelli – who, with co-author David Sloan, recently published Bloodline: A Local’s Guide to 50 Famous Film Locations in the Florida Keys, an indispensable, trivia-packed self-guided tour for fans of the Netflix Original Series Bloodline – is your man.

Small shark resting in the shallows, just offshore
Small shark resting in the shallows, just offshore

Back in Islamorada, at the Florida Keys History & Discovery Center, where Bertelli also serves as the Curator/Historian, a fine scale model of Housman-era Indian Key provides additional perspective.

july2016-keys-4
Model of Indian Key at Florida Keys History & Discovery Center

july2016-keys-2
Model of Indian Key at Florida Keys History & Discovery Center

It is worth noting that there are no restroom facilities, nor fresh water, nor trash cans on Indian Key. But there is some decent snorkeling off its craggy northeastern shore. So any which way, plan accordingly.

july2016-keys
Florida Keys History & Discovery Center

Chicken Run Rescue

We were incredibly lucky to squeeze in a quick visit to Chicken Run Rescue at its new location, just south of Minneapolis. Chicken Run Rescue started with its founders, Mary and Bert, rescuing cats and dogs in urban Minneapolis in the 1980s. As vegans, they saw the need for advocates and direct action for chickens and began working with Minneapolis Animal Care and Control. The birds who made their way to Mary and Bert’s home had been intended for slaughter, used for their eggs, for fighting and ritual sacrifice, and as hatching projects. The number of homeless birds has increased exponentially since they opened the sanctuary.

The recent upsurge in keeping backyard chickens has been detrimental for many birds. The Star Tribune noted an increase in stray birds in a 2013 story, “In 2001, Chicken Run rescued just six birds. Last year, Clouse and her husband, Bert, fielded almost 500 surrender requests for ‘urban farm animals,’ mostly chickens, and rescued more than 30, many with ‘special needs,’ such as chickens that lost feet to frostbite or reproductive cancers linked to constant egg-laying. Some of the rescues have been waiting for new homes for more than a year, she said. …‘I knew this was going to happen,’ Clouse said of the explosion in surrendered and abandoned chickens. ‘All the other sanctuaries and shelters have noticed an increase. It’s like watching a train wreck in slow motion.’”

As Mary told me, “Chicken Run provides the birds with sanctuary and foster/adoption placement when appropriate. Teaching and assisting others to help birds in their communities is accomplished through vibrant volunteer and education opportunities.” Promoting birds as sentient individuals is a core part of their outreach, as is adopting a plant-based diet.

Below are a few of the birds I had the pleasure of meeting. Mary provided me with a few of their stories (also below). Check out the Facebook page too.

mnoct2016-0261

Fremont

mnoct2016-0986-2

Zazu

mnoct2016-0919

Fifi

mnoct2016-0907

Obie

mnoct2016-0884

Cristhina

mnoct2016-0849

Genevieve

mnoct2016-0832

Ms. Machowski

mnoct2016-0809

Akers

mnoct2016-0775

Perry

mnoct2016-0748

Akers

mnoct2016-0743

Sadie

mnoct2016-0722

Shopper

mnoct2016-0715

Xavier

mnoct2016-0710

Mavis Davis

Mavis’s story: “Mavis Davis (aka Mabiff Dabiff) named after our beloved friend Karen Davis of United Poultry Concerns. With a severely crossed beak, she has trouble pronouncing s’s and v’s. Her beak deformity was likely the result of poor nutrition of her mother and in her young life.”

mnoct2016-0688

Derek

Derek’s story: “Derek was our 848th rescue. He and his sister, Rachel, arrived here in September 2012. They were apparently Advanced Placement students — they were found wandering on the U of M campus but couldn’t find their way back to the dorm. Fortunately, another kind student took them under her wing and contacted us. Good thing, they were only a few weeks old. They have grown up here with us. Rachel is still here too. Derek became a member of the Justice League, he and 2 other roosters, Butler and Quincy, went everywhere and did everything together. He has outlived his buddies and after their passing (heart disease very common in roosters), he was very depressed, not knowing where he would fit in without them. He recently got a job looking after hens, sometimes Renee, and Elisa, sometimes Janet and Carrie. He wasn’t sure at first just how to tidbit for them and supervise them, but now has it mastered. Looking after hens is hard wired into roosters, their purpose in life. Derek says its good to have a job.”

mnoct2016-0681

Rajij

Rajij’s story: “Rajij is our 827th rescue. He is a timid juvenile Malay, probably born in December 2011. No spurs, barely a bump on his ankles. He and his brother Satar were discovered by police during a drug bust in North Minneapolis, each locked in a dark basement closet. They were both remarkably calm, quiet and healthy despite having plenty to protest about their life so far. They were constant companions at CRR. Satar passed away in 2013 and Raj grieved for him for a very long time. Raj is now our senior resident rooster and reviews his troops every morning with a powerful sense of duty and eagerness to serve. He loves having his head groomed, we keep a comb handy to preen him and keep those feathers gorgeous.”

Fort De Soto Park and Egmont Key

july2016-0244

Way down at the mouth of Tampa Bay sits Fort De Soto Park. Within that park is access to Egmont Key, a state park. Fort De Soto is a large county park offering beaches, camping, a dog beach, a historic fort, trails, and multiples of habitats for Florida’s flora and fauna. It has been named a #1 beach by places that rank such things. It is also a nesting spot for many kinds of turtles and birds. I’ve now visited twice, once in winter and once in summer, and it is a truly lovely spot. The entrance fee is nominal.

july2016-2196

At the Fort De Soto Bay Pier you’ll find a concession stand, bathrooms with showers, a postcard-worthy beach, and the ferry to Egmont Key. Only accessible by boat, Egmont Key is a wildlife refuge and bird sanctuary. The lighthouse there has stood since 1858 and Fort Dade was founded on the island in 1923. Now mostly ruins, the island is cordoned off for nesting birds and sea turtles, but there are swimming beaches and trails. I visited Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas two weeks prior and Egmont Key reminded me of Fort Jefferson, but the trip cost about 90% less and the ferry ride over to the Egmont Key took 20-30 minutes instead of 2 1/2 hours.

july2016-9338 july2016-9331

After the excitement of the car accident the night before, Garnet and I were looking forward to a peaceful day of swimming and adventuring. We took the first ferry over and while onboard, he met Jackson, a boy his age who was visiting with his grandparents. We exited the ferry and within three about minutes we excitedly found a gopher tortoise near the lighthouse. There is a large population of the tortoises on the island.

 

july2016-9313 july2016-0275 july2016-0255

The ruins of the old gun batteries were fun to explore. We walked out to the beach on the west side of the island. The water was ideal and boaters had anchored near shore. With the boys safely splashing around, I went exploring and blundered into a nesting area for skimmers. The birds told me I was intruding even before I spotted the signs. The chicks were running around being absurdly adorable.

july2016-9314

july2016-0332 july2016-0317 july2016-0313

The ferry offers an optional snorkel tour and Garnet, Jackson, and I went off to do that for a bit. They took us to an area of sea grasses, but the water was a bit murky in the shallows. It was fun watching the boys claiming to see fish and rays that weren’t really there. Once you are on the island, you are free to stay and take whichever afternoon ferry works for you and the boats sell snacks and water. Pay heed to the warnings about dehydration, especially in summer.

july2016-2207 july2016-2216

Overall, Egmont Key and Fort De Soto Park are well worth exploring. Having been twice, I feel like I have another 5-6 visits ahead of me to get a true feel for the place and intend to return.

july2016-0343

Floating Amid Stars: Snorkeling the Florida Keys

july2016-keys-2046

Birdwatching is a globally popular hobby and continues to grow. I’m a huge fan of birds and enjoy watching them, but I love to fishwatch even more. Somehow, that hobby has never taken hold like birdwatching. I don’t get it. I mean, you have to stand there on a ground like a lump watching the aerial dynamics with birds. With fish you can actually join in and swim among them. When was the last time you got to fly with a flock of starlings or glide with an eagle?

july2016-keys-1774

I love the Florida Keys because they meet so many travel wants and needs. My greatest want, the one that I daydream about and that pushes me to return repeatedly, is the water. More specifically, the fish and other wildlife that inhabit the waters off the Florida Keys. I don’t visit captive animal attractions – I prefer to watch animals in their natural environments.

july2016-keys-2063

At some point, I lucked into snorkel gear (mask, fins, snorkel) at a yard sale and later upgraded to a better snorkel with a valve. The fins are small enough that I can pack them in my carry-on luggage. Over the years, my kit has expanded to rubber-soled water shoes, a point-and-shoot underwater camera, DIY defogger spray, and many ziplock bags. If you are going to snorkel more than a handful of times it is worth having your own equipment and it also means you can check out offshore spots spontaneously. Some of the best spots I’ve found have been just offshore and do not require a boat ride. While boat rides are part of the fun, they add up if you are traveling on a budget. Snorkeling is one of those things that can be as cheap or as expensive as you want to make it.

july2016-keys-1947

I like to go to the Keys in summer because it is off-season, the crowds are smaller, and unless there are storms afoot the winds tend to be calmer, which means the waves are smaller and the water is clearer. I learned the hard way that going in the winter can make for terrible snorkeling.

july2016-keys-2018

I feel I should note that I am a snorkeler, not a diver. My ears let me freedive about 8-10 feet and that is it. Diving is also expensive and there are restrictions about diving and flying within 24 hours. I’m quite happy bobbing along the surface, suspended between worlds.

july2016-keys-2074

These are spots I checked out in July. I also read Snorkeling the Florida Keys by Brad Bertelli before we left and found it very helpful.

july2016-keys-1780

Cheeca Rocks

We took the 3:00 p.m. Happy Cat Snorkel Boat out from Robbie’s in Islamorada the day we arrived. The boat took us a few miles offshore to Cheeca Rocks. It was hot and the water was very clear. We saw several sea turtles and huge schools of small silverfish. Unfortunately, this charter attracted the kind of people I want to smack the shit out of. I watched a young woman “petting” the coral. You don’t “pet” coral. When she bobbed up for air I yelled at her to stop and she claimed she didn’t know any better. EVERY SINGLE snorkel charter I have ever gone on tells you this will kill the coral. Look, don’t touch. Then someone else with extra-long dive fins started treading water near the coral heads. They did decades’ worth of damage in seconds. I get that you have fancy-ass dive gear and are proud of it, but you don’t need long fins in calm, shallow waters.

july2016-keys-1855

Indian Key State Park

The next day we went back to Robbie’s and rented kayaks to go out to Indian Key. We were given a tour of the island by Historic Upper Keys Walking Tours, run by the aforementioned Brad Bertelli (that will be a post of its own shortly). Afterward, we entered the water on the northeast side of the island. The waters around the island are very shallow and we saw conch, starfish, baby sharks, parrotfish, and watched nesting ospreys from the water. It was a nice little spot.

july2016-keys-2145

Fort Zachary Taylor State Park

Fort Zachary Taylor is one of my all-time favorite snorkel spots. There are rock formations just off the beach and while the action is often there, I’ve seen a school of cuttlefish in the shallows. It was crowded the afternoon we went and the winds and tide had the water rather turbid. Overall, it was lackluster this trip. You can snorkel the same place 10 times and never experience the same conditions.

july2016-keys-2155

Key West Marine Park

Another offshore snorkel spot in Key West is the Key West Marine Park, located on the east side of the island. The pilings and debris make for great fishwatching, as they are ideal for juvenile fish and invertebrates, but the morning we went the tide was moving and the winds had kicked up. The water was so turbid that it was almost disorienting. I will definitely go back next time and hopefully the conditions will be better.

july2016-keys-2071

Sand Key

We sailed with Captain Dennis on his boat Breezin out to Sand Key. Again, there was some wind up, so we moored on the rubble side of the key. Snorkeling can be very different depending on where you moor and the wind/water conditions, even within 100 yards. In this case, we were in an area that would be easier to swim in, but the rubble zone belied the health of the reef on the opposite side. The water was bath temperature. I watched and listened as a school of parrotfish munched loudly.

 

july2016-keys-1935

Dry Tortugas National Park

By far, the best snorkeling this trip was out at Fort Jefferson. It is in my top five snorkeling spots, period. Fort Jefferson has been on our list for years, but the tickets aren’t cheap. This was finally the year. Located about 70 miles west of Key West, the Dry Tortugas are in the middle of nowhere, but the fort is rich in history. There are two decaying docks, which offer ideal food and shelter for the tropical fish that surround the island. You can put your head down and watch 10-15 species of fish swirling below and then look up to see nesting brown noddies at the tops of the dock pilings. The clarity of the water was amazing and it was a pleasant swim around the exterior of the fort. The height of day was blistering, but the ferry we took out to the island put out a delicious spread and made sure everyone had enough water.

july2016-keys-1993

july2016-keys-1955

Turtles, rays, and larger fish are great, but I am just as happy seeing common nursery fish and invertebrates. If you are willing to take your time and look into crevices and among the sea grasses you’ll be rewarded. I still haven’t seen an octopus in the wild, but I’ll keep trying until I do. Swimming with huge schools of small silverfish is like floating amid the stars.

july2016-keys-1921 july2016-keys-1943

Breezin Charters

13669847_10157106853055702_1711600339449912319_nShortly after clearing Key West Harbor, bound for the reef at Sand Key Lighthouse some six or seven miles offshore, came that most cherished moment when, with sails full and neatly trimmed, you kill the diesel grumbling beneath your feet and, like 300 generations of your forebears, give yourself over to the power of the wind.

sand-key

Unlike today’s hard-chine powerboats, the sailboat’s traditionally curved hull rides the waves like a duck, and one momentarily reverts to that evolutionary stage when mankind pursued its own ends by harnessing the forces of nature rather than trying to dominate them.

13754342_10157106852945702_8921155845293474025_nOf course, modern sailboats offer amenities your ancestors never could have foreseen – global positioning systems (GPS), refrigeration, roller furling, autopilot, self-tailing winches, and satellite radio, to name a few – but the tried-and-true fundamentals of sailing remain the same. And sea-legged visitors to Key West can enjoy the best of both worlds aboard Breezin, a 42-foot Catalina sloop that offers full- (seven hours) and half-day (four hours) charters on the balmy surrounding waters.

13754315_10157106852975702_6447348835843015028_n

But what really sets Breezin apart from the competition is her skipper, Dennis Krinitt. We first met “Captain Dees” about a decade ago, when he worked for a nearby sailing charter company. While that all-day snorkel excursion was everything we’d hoped for, it was the smart, good-natured, soft-spoken Krinitt – whose conversation shifted from jazz standards to Tom Robbins to basic seamanship as naturally as the changing tide – that really shone. And despite his credentialed profession, the native Californian may well be the most productive-yet-chill human being I’ve ever met: calm, collected, unflappable.

13669582_10157106852715702_6081864903626404459_n

So impressed were we by Captain Dees that we went out with him again before that trip was up. And thereafter, on each return to Key West, we made a point of booking only those trips he was scheduled to helm, including one sunset cruise on which Captain Dees – also a licensed notary – officiated our renewed wedding vows.

13770506_10157106852855702_3524670513713263382_n

Eventually, Captain Dees landed Breezin a slip in the Key West Bight Marina, at the foot of William Street, where he now offers sailing charters, lessons, sunset cruises, and more. (And those modern amenities also include the ability to book your reservation online.) On your way there, stop by the nearby Cuban Coffee Queen for a café con leche and pan cubano, or anything from their extensive menu. But get there early, as the line quickly builds – and you don’t want to miss the boat!

Breezin Charters

Historic Seaport Walk

Key West Bight Marina, Slip E-7

201 William Street

Key West, FL 33040

P: (305) 797-1561

13567499_10157060997420702_297360344945816414_n

Cuban Coffee Queen

284 Margaret Street

Key West, FL 33040

P: (305) 292-4747

Downtown Location

5 Key Lime Square

Key West, FL 33040

P: (305) 294-7787