My heritage is southern in nature, with most of my family still residing in South Carolina and northern Florida. This past week or so, Sharon and I have enjoyed a jaunt through northern Florida and are now taking up RV residence in Grassy Key RV Park, on Grassy Key, very near Marathon Fl. In many ways, the Keys remind me of a boyhood in the lowlands of South Carolina, where heat and humidity this time of the year are to be expected. In this writing, I am offering a glimpse into our first impressions as we begin week two on Grassy Key.
The ocean, whether it be the Gulf of Mexico or the Atlantic, each within a few feet of each other in this part of the world, is compelling. The color and clarity of the water is beautiful and, well, immense. I have exactly one fishing trip under my belt, having travelled some 15-20 miles offshore to an area of huge, floating grass beds where our efforts were rewarded with a single barracuda with a terrible attitude. My sister, her husband and a carefree nephew well versed in the art of fishing this water were the guides and despite the dearth of fish, we had a great time. The ocean currents around the Keys are something to behold and until this trip, I was oblivious to them. When it takes a half pound of lead to hold a bait on the bottom in 100′ of water, you are fighting major current. (We did a little bottom fishing on the way back in.). The gear is big compared to the stuff I am used to when jerking crappie or teasing trout back in Missouri. I sat out yesterdays trip, and the gang tied into several nice Mahi, which were expertly blackened and served under a nice Mango salsa that brother-in-law whipped up last night. Predictably, fishing is a huge part of the Keys experience.
You need to be careful or enjoy the guidance of experienced Key travelers when dining out in the keys. A lot of the seafood in the trendy places is thawed just before preparation, that is, it is not freshly caught. Thankfully the family knows where the “locals” dine and we have been treated to some wonderful table fare. Sharon and I often rely on Trip Advisor for tips on diners and dives and found a little hole in the wall named the Twisted Shrimp where we enjoyed a very honest lunch of fried shrimp and dirty rice served on paper. It was wonderful and reasonable, attributes that do not abound here. Tourists are easily amused by the many flashier eateries that exist here that know how to exact a heavy toll on your wallet. This is to be expected.
The Keys are old. There are long expanses of mangrove undergrowth and barren sand between the better known and very commercial settlements like Key Largo and Islamorada. There are fabulous beach homes scattered about and any number of mostly dated motels and “resorts”. Advertising and clever photography can turn pretty average into glamorous, similar to the magic that real estate sales people rely on to turn pretty average into fantastic. We have not made it to Key West just yet, but have received much unsolicited advice about the merits of visiting this universally known area. The absence of a Wal-Mart is both refreshing and disconcerting! The Walton clan has not, as of yet, penetrated this market. We located a dated K-Mart and a really nice Bass-Pro, that surprised us with a great inventory, very nice clothing and reasonable pricing. Naturally, it is salt water oriented, but an exceptionally nice store, worth your time as you pass through.
The RV parks can be dated and a bit seedy. Not so, Grassy Key RV Park. This is a crisp, immaculate, small and convenient park, located adjacent to Highway 1, the traffic artery of the keys. The landscaping is beautiful, the small salt-water pool just right, and it has it’s own little harbor for those needing to tie up for a few days. A word of advice is in order here. “Jack” the proprietor is a rules guy, good for the type of patron he attracts. He is security oriented, with numerous cameras, some infra-red, throughout the park, and believes strongly in the adage there is a place for everything and everything in it’s place. I like the guy, in spite of his stiff demeanor and, thus far, we love this location. RV’ers know that parks come in all shapes and sizes, and we would strongly recommend this location to our RV friends.
There are only a couple of troopers assigned to the Keys. Most of the law enforcement work is done by the sheriffs in this part of the country, and their presence is felt. The sheriff leaves patrol cars, sans officers, at various locations along Highway 1 to deter speeding, usually parked in the shade of a roadside tree. I am sure this is effective as a very large percentage of drivers are from out of state and are not alert to this effective ruse. One of my nephews is a Florida Wildlife officer, assigned to the Keys, and has been instrumental in helping me to understand the law enforcement scheme here. His agency is not restricted to just wildlife enforcement but is involved in virtually every aspect of law enforcement activity. He leads an exciting life!
I should mention the rain and thunderstorms down here. It is amazing to watch a thunderstorm build, blow up and die without moving more than a mile. I am told the evening rain and storms are normal and they can be impressive. We are used to fronts and squall lines in the midwest, not the case over the keys. The lightening is spectacular, the storms hard hitting and the necessity to keep a close watch on the weather around you is paramount, especially if offshore or sloppy with your RV awnings! We were able to roll our Airstream awning in just ahead of a storm a night or two ago. As I write, I am watching one of these “shake and bake” storms form up not far from here. They are beautiful as you watch them develop just off shore.
There is a magic attraction to the Florida Keys, fed by the likes of Bogie and Bacall that need to be experienced by everyone at least once. If you like boats this is a must stop for you, as the Keys are to boats what salsa is to chips. The locals are very laid back, the pace is slow and, if you are careful, the seafood good and beer cold. Bring plenty of SPF 500 and absorb the local flavor. This is a great venue for the wedding of a niece next week, our draw to the Keys in the summer heat. Timing is everything and if you are diligent, you can catch this experience somewhere between the heat of summer and the crush of tourists during the winter.