Welcome to my backyard--the Florida Keys! I'm a travel writer, blogger and photographer with a passion for all things Florida, especially the Florida Keys. These islands are so much more than Duval Street and Jimmy Buffet. They are rich in history, culture, cuisine, nature and events--all surrounded by pristine waters teeming with wildlife. Whether you're a local or a visitor, the Conch Republic has many surprises in store. Let me be your guide.
Hopping on a boat from Robbie’s Marina in Islamorada, I traveled back to the early 1900s at Lignumvitae Key Botanical State Park for the annual old-fashioned Christmas celebration. On the island's sloping green lawn, children played on bow-wrapped cannons that were recovered from the British warship HMS Winchester. The ship ran aground on Carysfort Reef off Key Largo in 1665. A dulcimer group in period clothing played the folk instrument and sang Christmas carols as I walked up to the 1919 Matheson house, built from mortared limestone rocks and native Dade county pine.
The home was decorated with handmade ornaments and holiday displays that provided a glimpse into the early settlers’ creativity. For tree ornaments, holes were punched in colorfully painted seashells and sea beans and then hung alongside bows and candles. In place of holly, native grape vines, palm fronds, Spanish moss and flowers were formed into wreaths and garlands. While adults wandered through the house sipping homemade Key limeade, children crowded around a table to make their own ornaments with oyster shells, sea beans and dried sea grape leaves. Even the park rangers seemed to be caught up in the holiday spirit and pleased to see large groups of people lining up for their tours of the grounds and tropical hardwood hammock, which is home to roughly 50 plants and trees, many endangered.
While the holiday celebration is only once a year, ranger-guided tours of the park are given twice daily, Friday through Sunday. The park is accessible only by tour boat or private boat. Tour boat services, as well as boat and kayak rentals, are available from Robbie's Marina.