On days where we are dying to get down to Key West, but just don’t have the time, we head down to keys that are much closer to the Florida coast.
We’ve been multiple times just for the day down to Key Largo, the very first key off the tip of Florida. That’s where John Pennekamp State Park is- i.e. the world famous coral reef and kayaking through the Everglades. But as we often do, we like to adventure off from what we already know and decided to go past Key Largo to the next little island, called Islamorada, which means “village of islands.” This is because while the heart of the island is the drag you drive on, there are tons of smaller islands surrounding it on both sides, only accessibly by boat.
Starting at the visitor center, as we often do to really get a grasp of the best places to set up camp, see wildlife, etc, we learned about a place called Robbie’s Marina. It’s a little port off the Islamorada main highway where you can walk onto a dock and hand feed tarpon fish. We were told it’s a hot spot for tourists and something everyone has to do once. So we thought what the heck, lets do it! Mind you, before we actually got onto the dock, I had NO idea what a tarpon looked like. They are ABSOLUTELY HUGE fish! They’re nearly 7 feet long! And still considered fish?!? It blew my mind.
So you pay $3 for a bucket of dead, chopped up fish (yea, gross) and walk onto the dock to feed these things. The goal is to get really close to the water so that the tarpon have to actually jump out of the water to grab the food. Some people are so brave and did just that! And we watched these fish jump 3 feet in the air. I however, chose to just toss the dead fish in and watch the tarpon dive for it. Joey got pretty close and I was able to get some decent shots but to tell you the truth, I was more worried about him/myself falling in to really focus on my photography, haha.
Not too far off Islamorada is the next key we visited. Big Pine Key is known for being a National Refuge for the endangered Key Deer. Some fact on Key Deer:
- They are the smallest subspecies of the North American white-tailed deer.
- A full grown male only weighs between 55-75 lbs while females weigh 44-64 lbs.
- They love water and swim between the islands of Big Pine Key and No Name Key.
- Key Deer evolved from white-tailed deer that migrated to the keys from the mainland during the Wisconsin glaciation.
- The Wisconsin glaciation refers to a time 6,000-12,000 years ago when a glacier formerly connecting what are now the “Keys” to the Florida coast melted, separating the lands.
The area where they roam is near a residential area and it is known that they like to eat certain things that humans particularly grow in gardens. We ended up seeing a few different deer in the front yards throughout the nearby neighborhood. Across the street from said neighborhood is actually where the “refuge” is considered to be. It is open land off limits to human activity. The Key Deer are so small and truly blend in with the tall grass and vegetation so you really have to drive slow and search. We were lucky to catch one crossing the street and it actually ended up coming right up to our car. Great for a photo, but kinda sad knowing it’s most likely learned this behavior by being fed by others who have passed by in a car.
As an environmentalist, I hate the idea of anyone feeding any wild animal, you might be thinking you’re helping it, but the more accustomed the animal gets to receiving handouts, the more dangerous it is to their well being.
Enough of my little rant, hope you enjoyed reading of our adventure!