San Rafael Valley, AZ ~~ Photo by Bill Haas

Sunday, May 31, 2009


Up at 6:00 A.M.; the ferry started boarding at 7:15.  I found a parking spot five blocks away.  Puff, huff, puff... made it, settled in, opened the bag I had packed the night before. No camera. OMG! How could this be? What was I NOT thinking?!! I had that little earstwhile underwater "camera" with me, but not my "real" camera.  Disaster! Cold sweat! Kodak disposable cameras with a "process by" 6/08 date were sold on the ferry. Whew!  This will just have to do -- better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick!  So, with a Brownie-style camera in hand, we're now going to visit Dry Tortugas!
The two-hour, open-ocean voyage from Key West to this remote park was uneventful. The tour of Fort Jefferson, the park's most prominent feature, and history of the islands was fascinating.  The snorkeling was lackluster compared to other locales. The crystal clear water, however, was its usual soothing and salubrious 80 degrees.
Iron, coral-encrusted coaling dock ruins poked out of the water as we arrived at the South end of the island -- OK snorkeling in and around them.
Dry Tortugas is comprised of  seven low islands in about 100 square miles; all but one are uninhabited.  Spanish explorers named the islands Las Tortugas because of the sizeable turtle population that once grazed in the area's vast undersea seagrass meadows.  As time went by, the name of the island group eventually appeared on nautical charts as "Dry" Tortugas because of the complete absence of fresh water on any of them. 

Construction of Fort Jefferson by the Army Corps of Engineers was begun in the mid-1800's; 20% of the workforce was comprised of African American slaves who labored under countless hardships.  By 1865 African Americans returned to the fort, not as enslaved laborers but as free soldiers.  
The moat served two purposes:  it acted as an open sewer that had a sluice gate to flush and clear it with the tides, and it was the first line of defense in protecting the fortress from the the ravages of storms.  Now it's home to water plants and tropical fish.
The fort was strategically located in one of the world's then-busiest shipping lanes between the Gulf Coast and the Eastern seaboard. Although it was never completed, never armed and never attacked, it did serve as a Union military prison for deserters and did imprison the men complicit in Lincoln's assassination.  During its peak, it had a military population of over 1700 officers and enlisted personnel; add to that families, lighthouse keepers, cooks, etc. its population eventually reached 2,000.

More Fort Jefferson trivia:  It's the largest masonry project in the Western Hemisphere; the 16 million bricks used to build it are hand-made but the thick walls between the brick exterior contain cement made of coral debris.
The original, light-colored bricks were manufactured in Pensacola; it took four days to deliver them to the fort by sailing schooner.  When Florida seceded the Union to join the Confederacy during the Civil War, and in order to finish the top of the fort, bricks had to be purchased and shipped from Maine. The darker red bricks are the "Northern bricks."
The bricks were whitewashed to reflect light and increase visibility in the dark corridors.

Because of the absense of fresh water, there are no latrines on the island; campers get to use fragile composting toilets only between certain hours.  I never did discover the reason for the time limitations.  Other visitors must use the facilities on the boats they arrived in.  There are eight primitive camping sites; permits limit the number of days you can stay, and bring your own everything, especially water!
If you see those white spots in this photo, you may have spotted some Masked Boobies.  "Bobo" is Spanish slang for "stupid."  Colloquially they were referred to as "boobies" because when hunted by the Spaniards, they "stupidly" (What a booby!!) didn't try to fly away and were easily caught.  That's the story I heard anyway!
Oh wait!  NOW you can see them better!!!!
A Magificent Frigate riding the thermals.  What a view it has!
After the Army abandoned Fort Jefferson 16 million bricks and thirty years later, it was used as a quarantine station by the Marine Hospital Service. Remaining in federal hands, it was designated a wildlife refuge to protect Sooty Tern and Masked Booby rookeries on outlying islands; then, over a hundred years later, the islands gained National Park status in the early 1990's. In 2007 it was set aside as a "no-take" ecological preserve -- now a living laboratory.
P.S.  Turtle status...the green sea turtle is endangered; the loggerhead turtle is threatened.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


How best to describe Key West?  Well, for starters: forty, party-animal years ago, it would have been my kind of place!  Yes indeed.  As I approach my seventies though, it was not super high on my list of places to visit, but curiosity got the best of me, and I found it to be a lighthearted, energetic, amusing diversion.  And decadent!  Key West's Duvall Street may outshine the infamous hedonism found on Bourbon Street! 

Playful sculptures at the entrance to the town's playhouse/theater.

In Hemingway's day, most Key West homes were small, quaint cottages, surrounded by tropical trees and plants.  It definitely has a Cuban-Bahamanian feel. Well, DUH!  Key West is as far South as you can go in the Continental US, and it's actually closer to Cuba than it is to Miami.  Because so many of its locals hail from Cuba and the Bahamas, it exudes a distinctive "island" pizzazz and is lovingly referred to as "The Conch Republic."

Hemingway slept here.  Missed the tour; this was the best I could do!
Although I didn't count, I can assure you Key West has waaaaay more bars than churches.  In one block alone on Duval Street, I counted four on each side of the street; and I'm sure I missed a few as I drove by!  Let's take a 360-degree stroll around this establishment called Bo's, that is enjoying a revision of its former life as a cigar factory. 

Many bars are open to the street, perfect for people watching, and some like this one are intimately squeezed between two other establishments. 

There didn't seem to be an ordinance limiting "open" containers on the street, or else gendarmes simply looked the other way, but I didn't see any of them either.  At all.  Ever!  These "kids" kept urging me to cross the street for a "happy hour" special (it was two in the afternoon!):  Three kinds of rum, a splash of pineapple juice, $6.00, and you can keep the "glass."  Lordy, Lordy, those were the days!
Adjacent to Mallory Square, this meeting place had absolutely no sitting or standing room left as time for the sunset festivities approached.  It never ceases to amaze me how waitresses can glide through crowds and deliver the right drinks to the right table without spilling a drop.  I would be a flaming disaster no matter how much I practiced.  They deserve BIG tips.
If there are any Lazy Daze Ladeze who attended our September, 2008 outing reading this, you may recall a different kind of Flying Monkey.  Do I see smiles?
These competing "message cars" were parked across the aisle in the same parking lot. One of them is more message-ier than the other!

There was so much other distracting stuff to amuse me I guess, that I didn't notice the plant on the hitch until I uploaded this photo to my computer!

The streets in old town Key West are little more than glorified alleyways.  Parking lots are scarce (the going rate is $4.00/hr.); metered street parking is prevalent, sometimes on both sides of the street, leaving barely enough room for a car and bicycle to pass one another.  And, for some reason, only a few streets are one-way.  
So how do Key Westers get around town?  Let me show you the ways.

In the Everglades, alligators refer to these as "meals on wheels"!

Ubiquitous "free range" chickens consider Key West a prime roost.  Little chicken families are everywhere.  The town takes pride in their chickens; don't mess with the chickens!  They actually range and roam and strut all over the place, and somehow instinctively know how to steer clear of traffic and stay safely out of harm's way.

The sunset celebration in Mallory Square was touted "not-to-be-missed" in every tourist brochure I picked up.  So Mallory Square, here I come!

A Cuban enclave, selling Cuban cigars and trinkets made in China, included a Mallory Square restaurant, Salsa band and Cuban food.  The menu included this little fine-print caveat, squirreled away below the Dessert listing:  "for your convenience, an 18% gratuity will be added to your bill."  This better be good by gawd!!  (The food was mediocre, but the music and dancing entertainment made it worthwhile.)

Aaahhh ... at last.  Key West's "Sunset Celebration."  A homegrown carnival, major pick up venue and excuse to be wicked!!  Happens every single night, sunset or not!!!!!!!!

I was a little slow on the trigger here, but that tumbling guy in red had made a running start to summersault through the hoop, delighting a huge audience and fleecing us of appreciative dinero!

This local troupe just dresses up in Halloween costumes and charges you for the privilege of taking their picture.
This act featured Millie the Wonder Dog.  First she would make the rounds around the circle to collect bills (as in folding money) from outstretched hands, then she would deposit them in the little red bucket. Hey!  She got lots of  treats and pets in return and then plenty of breathless oooh's and aaah's and applause as she maneuvered the ladder and tightrope.  She deserved every single handout.  (I'm guessing she had to share some with her human though.)

Lots of ticky tacky stuff to buy, but there were plenty of buyers....the cruise ship was in port!!

TA-DAAAAAAAA.  Here it is!
Lorna's twisted sense of humor.  Note to self:  "Better be careful, you too could end up frumpy some day"!