Flying into Ft. Myers was strategic to be close to where Roberts would have to report for work the following week, but it also gave us the opportunity to sample a larger portion of this southern state that we might not otherwise see. There are two routes from coast to coast; Tamiami Trail and Alligator Alley, and we chose the first, the more slow and scenic of the two. This let us drive through Big Cypress National Preserve and the northernmost part of the Everglades, enabling a stop at the smallest Post Office in the United States... and the excitement had just begun! (The post office was in fact an irrigational pipe shed until commandeered after a fire burned Ochopee’s General Store/Post in 1953.)
A late arrival in the greater Miami area necessitated an overnight stop and I had scouted out the Floridian. I thought we might be in for a surprise after spotting these guys (see picture below) next to the door, but we had a satisfactory stay: clean, competitive price, free Wi-Fi and breakfast bar, and pool. As it was an outdoor swim no one stayed in the water very long, but the boys were satisfied and come morning we were ready to start the next leg of our journey. (And I have to mention the Cuban restaurant nearby, Mario's Family Restaurant: family atmosphere, large portions, great Cuban fare!)
After marveling at the Coral Castle in Homestead, we continued south to Florida City and the Everglades National Park Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center. Our goal was to learn a little about the Glades ecosystem, identify a few of the hundred bird species we had already seen, stamp our National Park passports and possibly catch glimpse of an alligator. Since we had several hundred more miles to cover during daylight, a longer hike wouldn't be possible on this visit. Several stamps and one alligator later we were on the road again, crossing the Sound over to the Florida Keys.
Just north of the beginning of Overseas Highway is Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge, and we stopped in to stretch our legs in the butterfly garden, the only area of the Refuge open to the public. Established in 1980 to protect critical breeding and nesting habitat for the endangered American crocodile and five other federally-listed species, it covers 6,700 acres including tropical hardwood hammock, mangrove forest, salt marsh and open water. You will find crocodiles only in southern Florida and the Keys in the US.
We took advantage of Mikus napping to eat up the miles west, traversing key after key with crystalline blue water often surrounding us. I had never realized how long the Keys are; the 126-mile Overseas Highway crosses 42 bridges, linking more than 40 inhabited islands that split the Gulf of Mexico from the Atlantic. Just after crossing the Seven Mile Bridge connecting Vaca Key to Bahia Honda Key Mikus awoke, which meant we were glad to pull off into the Bahia Honda State Park. The 524 acre park boast the longest naturally sandy beach in the Keys, but after taking a look at the waves crashing in at high tide we decided to limit our swimming to the beach on the Gulf side of the island, where the currents weren’t as dangerous.
All that surf and sun and we had worked up an appetite, and so we crossed over onto Big Pine Key and into Key Deer habitat. Home to National Key Deer Refuge, about 800 of these tiny deer and sprawling development, this island has very strict speed limits, attempting to prevent over 100 of these endangered species being struck by vehicles a year. We spotted two on the side of the road during our detour to No Name Pub, and considering people feed the deer from their cars in order to get photo ops, I was surprised not to see more (the death toll this year was already over 120). An uneventful 20 minutes later we passed right by the No Name Pub, named after neighboring No Name Key and rightly advertised as “a nice place if you can find it.” Driving back slowly looking at address numbers we found it, and enjoyed one of their famous pizzas while checking out the quirky atmosphere. Now more a tourist spot than a local secret, the pub still has something that brings people back for more. We sated our appetites and hit the road (at a sedate 25-35 miles per hour on the lookout for deer), not stopping again until we had run out of road in Key West.