Saturday, March 3, 2012

Key West drive

Today we drive to Key West.  We arrive in Key West later today for a week's vacation.  But right now it's 6.06am and we've just getting up and we're in Fort Lauderdale, 10 miles north of Miami and a few hundred miles from Key West.
Up with the Fort Lauderdale Sunset today to get an early start on the drive to Key West.
I'll be 'live blogging' our drive this morning.  We're up very early to miss the Saturday traffic and get to Key West as soon as possible. (I say live blogging but I won't have access to the internet on route so I will be updating the post with 'as it happened' information when I get to Key West!).

But right now, I'll post this and go grab a shower!  Luckily, we packed last night so I really really want to leave at 7am.  51 minutes before leaving!

Much Later...from Key West

We made it.  Here's the story of our drive....

7.14am - Hilton Fort Lauderdale beach
We didn't start on time at 7 in the end.  It always takes longer than you think, doesn't it!

7.34am - Hit the I-95
We had to stop for gas but now we've got our of Lauderdale and we've hit the interstate to navigate around the mass that is Miami.  I'm setting the milometer at zero now.

8.03am - Palmetto Expressway
The traffic is much busier than we expected.  We're passing MIA airport now and we're near the Dolphin Mall - but we suppress the desire to shop.  The mall's not open anyway.

8.15am - Joined Turnpike
Exit 18 of the turnpike.  65 mph now.  We come off the turnpike for a quick comfort break

8.50am -  Florida City
The turnpike ends and we're in very unglamorous Florida City, the gateway to the Florida Keys.

8.53am - Card Sound Road
Traffic is busy but always moving so far as we reach the Card Sound Road turn off.  We continue straight along Highway 1.

8.54am - Highway 1 and the MM start - MM126
The mile markers have started.  It's 126 miles to Key West and we can count them off one by one (if you could be bothered!).  At this point we've been going 60 miles from Fort Lauderdale.

This stretch of the road borders the Everglades on your right (heading south).  You catch the occasional view of them through the vegetation.  This section is a good quality road but single lane and only 55mph.  There are a few passing points every 5 miles or so.  90% of this trip is single lane, so get used to it!

9.11am - Jewfish Creek - MM109
The first big bridge - the first of 42 bridges.
If you thought the last section was slow and you've got caught behind a slow car, the next 22 miles is only 45mph.  What's more this is the most boring section of the drive.  Basically the drive gets better the further south you go.  But these first 30 miles until MM79 are bad, boring, and lots of tatty, cheap, commercial establishments line the drive.  The Keys are quite wide at here up the top and so you get only very very occasional flashes of the ocean.  Don't worry it gets better later!

Up until MM79 you either get commercial tat shops lining highway 1 or view like this.  Lots of trees but no views and no ocean!
9.36am - Starbucks - MM99
This is the only Starbucks on the drive, the next one is on Duval Street in Key West.  It's a good place to stop and grab a coffee.  There's also a Walgreens, CVS and Burger King.  200 yards further up on the right is a massive Wyland mural on the side of a building.

10.09am - Whale Harbor Crossing - MM83
The worst of the commercial tat is now over.  The dreadful shops lessen and are replaced by signs of real, genuine nautical life - boat builders, repairers, marinas and chandlers.  Also the Keys are narrowing and we start to see some glimpses of the ocean on either side of the road.  Here begin the 'real' Keys!

10.14am - Midway Cafe - MM80
We're 80 miles to KW; 80 miles to Miami

10.15am - Bud & Mary's and Tea Table Relief bridge - MM79
Finally and suddenly the vegetation and trees part, the ocean rears up below us, just by us on either side.  Great views now on both sides of the sea.  You can also really smell the sea for the first time on the drive, you're that close.

10.37am - Tom's Harbor Bridge - MM59
Stunning views to left and right.  Keeps getting better!  You can see the small island a few miles out to sea.
But the comes the town of Marathon, to spoil it all.  No views for a bit.  Marathon is the last town in the middle Keys.

Rainbow Bend Resort - MM57.5
There are some amazing names and signs in the Keys but this is the best.  See it on the left.

Almost all of the names of places on the roadside here evoke the sea, and with varying levels of kitch!  Here are some examples of those that you'll see on this drive:
  • Conch On In Motel
  • Summer Sea
  • Pelican Cove
  • Smugglers Marina
  • Drop Anchor Motel
  • Ocean View
  • Sea Dell Motel
  • Bonefish Storage
  • Sea Dog Charters
  • The Wreck & Galley Grill
  • Hook, Line and Drinker
  • Driftwood
  • Yellow Tail Inn
  • Able's Tackle Box
  • Mangrove Mike's
  • ...and at least a dozen Tiki bars.
Not forgetting the concrete 'postbox manitees' many adorned with bangles and beads.

There are some fantastic signs on the drive down the Florida Keys on Highway 1.
10.43am - Curry Hammock State Park - MM56
A great place to stop off, if you're not in a rush.

10.56am - Pigeon Key and the start of the 7 Mile Bridge - MM47
The Keys head a little west here and we're now in the lower Keys.  Boring Marathon is finished and we get sea views again.

11.08am - Bahia Honda state park - MM37
This is a fantastic park with a the best beach in the entire Keys.

11.12am - Big Pine Key - MM33
Suspend sea views again for a while.  This is Key Deer habitat (yes you can see them, we've seen them twice, early in the morning is best).

11.21am - Torch Ramrod Channel and Ramrod Key
Brilliant name for this Key (Ramrod = named after a ship wrecked off here years ago) and the drive reaches its peak here as we get lots of mangrove and mangrove islands dotted out as far as the eye can see.
The traffic is ok, we're doing the speed limit but there is still quite a lot of traffic around.

11.33am - Park Channel - MM18
Fantastic views, the water is shallow and so it appears blue.  Mangroves everywhere.
Saddle Bunch Keys are lovely too.

11.43am - Big Coppett Key - MM10
The climax of the drive is over.  From here and for the remaining 10 miles it's ok to average views, some navy bases and a bit of industrial buildings.  Show's over until you get to Key West!

11.51am - Off Stock Island and hit Key West
Right at the top of the island and you need to turn left or right.

12.01pm - Hit Old Town, our destination and the drive is over

It took 15 minutes short of 5 hours door to door from the beach in Lauderdale, including short breaks.  We only stopped for 30 minutes (you need to remove this if you want the direct non-stop time).

If you count only from Miami then it's easily 4 hours.  The traffic was moderate heavy pretty much all the way.  We've had it much worse, and we never stopped in a traffic jam, but it was stop/start in the towns along the Keys.

We traveled 185 miles from Lauderdale beach front.

But we're in Key West.  So, we parked the car for good, headed straight into town for a bite and a coctkail!

And just look at the weather....
Perfect March afternoon in Key West.  What a welcome from the weather!