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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Everglades Adventure in Key Largo

Photo by Claudia Miller
Capt. Joyce Little expertly guided the hard-bottom Zodiac across the shallow waters of the Florida Bay. We passed into Everglades National Park just minutes after leaving Key Largo. As our guide on the Caribbean Watersports Enviro-Tour, she encouraged our group of five to fine tune our vision to the subtleties and nuances of nature. It wasn't long before we spotted a brown-and-white osprey chasing a dark Turkey Vulture in the morning sun. We followed it back to its nest above the mangroves. Binoculars were passed, and the heads of two fluffy babies came into focus. Across the channel, I felt the fierce gold eyes of its other half watching from a high perch. Living up to its nickname, Fish Hawk, something silver twitched in the black talons. I had a feeling this bird wouldn’t hesitate to chase us away either. 

Drifting into a shaded mangrove tunnel, Little used her underwater flashlight to spotlight the vibrant sponges, worms and algae living among the mangrove roots. Juvenile snapper and barracuda darted in and out of the shadows. On the other side of the tunnel, she dipped a blue net into the seagrass bed and gently pulled out two Cassiopea jellyfish that live upside down on the ocean floor. Perfectly camouflaged to match the silt-covered bottom, they pulsed gently, looking like a sea anemone with dark yellow plumes waving. I wondered what else was lurking below. As if reading my thoughts, Little pointed down and said, “That’s not just muck; it’s home.”

Originally published on

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Key Largo Pops on 4th of July

Key Largo denizens take Independence Day celebrations seriously, starting bright and early at 10:00 a.m. with an old-fashioned parade. Now in its 39th year, the event draws thousands of locals and visitors. When I went to my first 4th of July Parade in Key Largo, I was impressed with the fervor of the locals, who stake out a shady spot along the northbound lane of U.S. Highway 1 at least an hour before the parade starts. Tents and umbrellas were pitched, lawn chairs unfolded. Barbecues were lit and bloody marys passed. Adults, kids and even dogs were decked out in red-white-and-blue attire, including pompoms, leis, necklaces, hats, and of course, American flags.

A procession of fire engines, wrapped in bunting and balloons, kicked off the parade with sirens and lights from mile marker 98 to mile marker 100. Floats and trailered boats were decorated to the theme, “Flagler’s Railroad to the Sea,” and included a train engine, caboose and costumed characters from 1912. This year’s theme, "Salute to Patriots of Liberty," should prove equally entertaining. 

In the evening, an old-fashioned Community Picnic, with activities for kids and adults, is set for 6:30-10:30 p.m. at the Rowell's Marina (mile marker 104.5 Bayside). The Fireworks start at 10:00 p.m. over Blackwater Sound. Boat owners can watch the pyrotechnic display just feet from the floating fireworks barge. On land, the best seating can be found at Sundowners and Senior Frijoles restaurants, Caribbean Club and Marriott Key Largo Bay Resort.
Travel tip: If you drive through Key Largo on July 4, keep in mind that the northbound lane of U.S. Highway 1, from mile marker 98.2 to mile marker 100, is closed from 10:00 to 11:30 a.m. Traffic will be rerouted onto the southbound lane. If you get stuck, just pull over and enjoy the parade. You won’t regret it.

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Travel Tips: What to do in Key West with Kids