The String of Pearls

The Florida Keys

January 2018

Here we are on Cayo Hueso.  Key West.  Lisa made me come here for my birthday.  Life is tough.

We choose to drive here and the way to do that is to find US Route 1 and go south.  When you can’t go any farther, you are in the heart of Key West.  (See my column named

We leave the ragged southern butt end of Florida where the road takes us over some skinny pieces of land until we cross Lake Surprise on the Overseas Highway.  “Welcome to your first Key in Paradise,” they greet us.

Key Largo

Hang out here and you get three thousand hours of sunlight every year.  In my home town of Pittsburgh, we somehow survive with only 2000 hours.  But we are proud anyway.  Have you ever heard of the Key Largo Steelers?  I thought not.

What makes Key Largo famous in the rest of the country is a movie called…  Key Largo.  I’m not convinced the movie had to be located in Key Largo, but for tropical storms, it was a solid candidate, and the storm plays a (pardon me) key role in the story.

Almost the entire 1948 movie was shot on a Warner Brothers sound stage in Hollywood, California.  You never heard of the Hollywood Steelers either, have you.

But wait.  Key Largo is also known for the world’s largest artificial reef and some of the best diving, snorkeling and glass-bottom boating in the world.  Also fishing, kayaking and swimming with the dolphins make this an underwater paradise for those so inclined.

Of course, we climbers, Lisa and I, do not partake in most of what lay below.  We do, however, drive across a bridge spanning Epinephelus itajara Creek, better known as Jewfish Creek.  Turns out there are nine geographical features in the United States named Jewfish.  There is an occasional group of folks who find the name offensive and want it to change, but as there is a profound apathy toward renaming, that seems unlikely.  On the other hand, a joint committee of the American Fisheries Society and the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists agreed to change the name of the fish.  It is now officially the goliath grouper.  You could argue that Lisa and I drive over the Goliath Grouper Creek, but we don’t.


Beautiful name, yes?  Made up of six of the Keys, the name means Purple Isle.  Pronounce it “eye-la mor-aada.”

Lots to do here on the Purple Isle, much involving water.  Not for us mountain climbers.  Rather, we’ve come to see Betsey.

Along Route US-1 — isn’t everything around here along US-1! — is an artist community called “The Rain Barrel.”  It is easy to find as you are driving by.  Thousands of pieces of art — also schlock, crafts, handiwork, things, objet d’art, masterpieces and relics — lie on shelves, hang on walls and fences, stand freely and are piled upon each other.  None of this is why we are here.  We came to see Betsey.

And here she is.

“Is Betsey real?” you ask.  Of course she’s real.  This column does not deal with fantasy.

Actually, this a fantastic lie.  Nonetheless…

Betsey is the largest lobster in the world and Betsey is real.  You’re looking at her.  We touch her.  She’s real, just not a living thing, nor was she ever.  Betsey is not organic, she is metal.  It took sculptor Richard Blaze five years to build and paint this crustacean babe in an astonishingly realistic way so that, if you are totally gullible, you could believe that she is real, a real living being.  She isn’t.  Although she is spooky real looking.

Hurricane Irma

Lots of impressive statistics about how ghastly this September, 2017 storm was…

.  most intense hurricane to strike the continental USA since Katrina in 2005

.  sustained wind speed of 112 miles per hour with gusts of 160 miles per hour

.  the Florida Keys suffered the worst of the damage in the United States

.  mandatory evacuation requiring a record number of Floridians to leave

We are five months arriving after the storm.  There are new board residences built on stilts.  Trailers along the road are flattened.  Large mounds of debris are bulldozed into piles alongside the road.  Trees are broken, piles of trash wait to be cleared.  Trailer parks stand half empty.

The locals all say, “We go on.”

The land area of the Keys, maybe 1700 separate islands, is just under 140 square miles, or the size of Chattanooga, Tennessee.  Only a few of these islands are populated — just 43 of them are connected by bridges.

These are the names of some of the Florida Keys…

Gopher Key

Melody Key

Crab Key

Cow Key

Duck Key and…

Duck Key

Shark Key

Venture Out Keys including…

  Venture Key

  Out Key

Fat Deer Key

Knockemdown Key

No Name Key

Lignumvitae Key — lignumvitae might mean “really excellent illegal sex act.”  It doesn’t.  It is Latin for “Wood of Life,” indicating an extraordinary combination of strength, toughness and durability.  It is also the national tree of the Bahamas and the Jamaican national flower.  “Wood of life” could be a sex act… 

Porjoe Kry

Cudjoe Key

Ragged Keys

Rubicon Keys

Totten Key

Conch Key


Fat Deer

Pigeon Key

Little Torch Key

Big Torch Key

Ramrod Key

On US-1, two speed limits are imposed, 45 miles per hour in the daytime and 35 mph at night.

US-1 is in itself a wonder.  If you drive from the southern end to the terminus in the north, you begin at mile 0 on Key West and end 2369 miles away at Fort Kent, Maine, half a block away from Canada.

The Key West high point is right by the cemetery, on Angela & Elizabeth Streets.  Its altitude is 18 feet.  We climbed it.

Last day of Keys vacation, ready to drive back to the mainland.  During our stay here, we walk to every point of interest, from one end of the island to the other.  Yes, we see all the forms of transportation;  gasoline cars, electric cars, bicycles, mopeds and scooters, pedi-cabs, buses and trolley.

As we walk out the door of our lodging, a friendly tourist asks us if we know about the shuttle.  “Yeah, it’s a bus called The Duval Loop,” he says.  “Takes you everywhere.  It’s free!”

And here’s the kicker that we two hikers particularly enjoy.  He says, “It’ll save you a lot of walking.”

After visiting all these entertainments in the Florida Keys, we complete our visit of the String of Pearls with a visit to my mother, whose name is Pearl.  It is, after all, her 101st birthday.

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *