The Florida Keys

This entry will be about my favorite section of our trip so far…..The Florida Keys.

As we drove down through Florida we met up with my mom and dad just south of Orlando. How exciting to see them again and know that they would be camping with us for more than two weeks!!  We started crossing bridge after bridge, passing island after island and the water just seemed to get more clear and aqua blue the farther we drove.  Our home for the next four weeks (February 15-March 16) was on Knight’s Key in Marathon which is right in the middle of all of the keys.  Our campsite had mangroves right behind it and the ocean beyond that.  It was warm and sunny and humid and we were ready to just enjoy being in one place for the next month.

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Sam really wanted to do a project so the guys went to the hardware store to get supplies and before we knew it we had a cute little picnic table….just right for Ben and Rose. 

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Ben loved that little table.  When we left we gave it to the church and he cried as we left the parking lot, sobbing for his table.

The first two weeks we were there we enjoyed hanging out with my parents and also exploring the keys with them. The kids loved riding their bikes over to Grandpa and Grandma’s or taking Rosie (their dog) for walks.  There was a large iguana that lived in the tree in my parent’s site so it was fun to try to spot him and also the smaller and faster lizards that quickly scurried around.  The campground had a harbor on one side of it and it was a great place to watch the pelicans and to see what the fishermen had caught (which is also why the pelicans were hanging out there).

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We saw quite a few of these guys on the islands

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Our campground had a nice clubhouse and the kids loved to go there to hang out….they would do puzzles, work on their school work and play lots of pool and ping pong.

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Ben and Rose watching the pelicans that came to watch the fishermen clean their fish

One day we went to check out Key West. We bought a Key Lime pie and all sat at some outdoor tables to share it.  We also walked through the town to the southernmost point in the USA.  After that we found a beach nearby and cooled off in the water.

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Enjoying our Key Lime Pie in Key West

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Ben outside “Kermit’s” where you can find the best key lime pie in the keys

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Everyone at the southernmost point in the USA, 90 miles from Cuba

Another day we chartered a catamaran boat for a few hours and got to sail to a lone island. We waded through the crystal clear water to explore the island, it was kind of neat to be the only ones there.   The kids also did a little snorkeling near the boat and saw a huge orange starfish.

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All aboard and ready for our “three hour tour”

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Grandma and Rosemary

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We had fun watching the water zip by while looking through the net

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This is the closest the boat could get to the island so we waded in, the water was pretty shallow

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Elise did a little snorkeling near the boat and found this awesome starfish…..don’t worry, she was very careful to put it right back where she found it.

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Grandpa and Ben

We loved having our bikes to ride around the campground and the island. We took a ride one day to get sno-cones.  It was a first for our kids and they loved them.  We also took a couple rides out on the 7 mile bridge which was right by our campground.  If it was a calm day then the water was extra clear and one day we were out on the bridge and saw a huge sting ray, a sea turtle and even a shark.

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Enjoying some sno-cones after a bike ride on a hot day

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Elise and Grandpa riding bikes on the seven mile bridge

While camping near us, my parents did us a HUGE favor and took care of the kids while Lance and I had a night away. We left our kids (who became more angelic with each mile we drove) in good hands and took off for a night at a resort in Key West.  We REALLY enjoyed our time away.  We sat on the beach and read books, went out for a delicious (and quiet) dinner and slept in without being woken up by babies crawling on us.  It was a fabulous getaway and just what we needed.  Thank you Mom and Dad!!

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Enjoying a nice dinner on our night away….he still makes my heart skip a beat!

While in Marathon we were blessed to find a great church to attend. Calvary Baptist Church is a small church with a huge heart!  They warmly welcomed us and allowed us to be a part of their church family for our time in the keys.  We really loved being able to attend the same church, even for a little while, it was so nice to have some predictability. It was also really great to get more involved, even though it was for such a short time.  If we ever move to Marathon (which I would be in favor of!!) then we know they are a church we would love to be a part of.

What’s a trip to the keys without enjoying the beach???? We went to a few, but my favorite by far was at Bahia Honda State Park.  It was about 15 minutes away from the campground.  We spent quite a few (but not near enough!!) days camped out on the sand and splashing in the clear blue water.  The water stayed shallow for quite a while so it was perfect for Ben’s little legs and Rose could crawl all around in the water without it getting in her face.  A couple different days we rented kayaks and had fun paddling around.  We all loved it there!

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Ben and Rose doing some digging

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We had fun celebrating my mom’s birthday with a nice dinner out and a day at the beach

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Ready to set sail……doesn’t it look like Ben is gazing off into the distance and daydreaming of great adventures to be had out on his boat?

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Joe, the super cool big brother, and Rose, his little sidekick

Before my mom and dad left we fit in a snorkeling trip which was so cool. It was a beautiful sunny and hot day….perfect for a boat ride to the reef.  We saw lots of pretty different fish and even a couple sea turtles.  We also saw quite a few Barracuda which freaked us out a little bit, but the captain reassured everyone that we were fine.  The kids shared an underwater camera and had fun taking pictures, most turned out a little blurry, but a few are definitely keepers.  It was a really nice day.

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Ready for some snorkeling

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Sam and Elise swimming with some yellow tail snapper

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Here’s a cool shot of a sea turtle swimming around by the reef

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Sam underwater

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Here you can see some fish, including a barracuda

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Sam really liked Marvin, the parrot who hung out by the boats

On Thursday, February 18th, it was time for my parents to leave.  We decided to have one more adventure with them and drove to the mainland where we all went on an airboat ride in the Everglades.  We saw a few alligators, some of them babies, while out on the boat.  We also watched a show with alligators and other animals that was pretty interesting.  The kids, once again, had the chance to hold a small alligator.  Rose was so excited to watch them move around, but when we held up the baby alligator for her to tough she shrunk back as far as she could.  We had a good time, but soon it was time to say good bye to my mom and dad.  After a couple rounds of hugs (and a few tears, since we would not be seeing them again until July) they drove away and we left to head back to Marathon.

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Lance and Rose ready for the airboat ride to start

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The boat ride was LOUD….so earplugs and ear phones were a must

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Joe checking out the baby alligator in the water

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We all enjoyed the little gator show after the boat ride

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Sam enjoyed every minute!

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Ben was a little more hesitant this time around

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And Rose was definitely NOT going to touch this baby alligator!

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Elise and the peacock that wandered around the park

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Ben on an airboat

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One last group pic by a giant Banyan tree

It’s a good thing we had such an amazing place to go back to, it helped take my mind off of my mom and dad’s departure! For the next two weeks we went to the state park beach often.  Sam and Elise would often meet other kids their age and go looking for hermit crabs together.  Then they would all put their catches in little habitats they made.  Sometimes they would catch 7 or 8 before the end of the day when they would let them go.  Lance and Joe played a lot of catch with the football out in the shallow water.  Abby enjoyed reading her book while sitting on a chair in the water.  Ben and Rose had fun playing with sand toys on the beach and in the water and also watching whatever creatures Sam and Elise had caught.  I just loved being in the warm sun, reading and watching the kids play in such a beautiful place.

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Elise loved building castles

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Ben watching the hermit crabs in one of the many “habitats” that Sam, Elise and their friends made to keep the crabs in

Lance took Abby, Sam and Elise snorkeling again one day.  They had a great time and saw quite a few fish, including more barracuda.  They also got to see dolphins while on the boat ride which was pretty neat.

While we stayed in Marathon it was Abby’s turn to have her Christmas present activity.  Since we only have one car on this trip we rented a car….and since we were in a tropical paradise the car we rented was a Mustang convertible.  We had a blast driving next to the water and over the bridges with the top down on our way to Miami for a girl’s night away.  We stayed in a hotel, had mani/pedis and did some shopping.  It was a great time away with her and we had lots of fun together.

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Me and my girl enjoying our ride with the top down.  Unfortunately, I didn’t think to take any other pics on our time away….but our nails sure were pretty!

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I’m not sure which one of these two was more sad to see the convertible be returned at the end of our rental

At the campground we happened to be there at the same time that the Horseshoe Crabs came onto the beach to mate and lay their eggs…how lucky right??  Ben loved to go and watch them burrow into the sand and do their thing.  He would often pet the back of the male crab that was sticking out of the sand.  Sometimes we could count 25 or so crabs at once.  It was interesting….but when Ben asked us what they were doing we did not take the opportunity to turn it into a homeschool health science lesson!

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Ben checking on the Horseshoe crabs

On Saturday, March 5th, Joe ran the Sombrero Beach 5K in Marathon.  He did great and placed first for his age group.   It was fun to see him get a medal for a job well done!  Abby and I did the 5K walk so we got our exercise in for the day too!

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All ready for the 5K to begin

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Joe and his 1st place medal

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As we were waiting for Joe’s age group to be announced I was trying to find Elise and we all of a sudden realized that she was up in the front with the organizers.  The announcer introduced her and where she was from and we were just watching, thinking….what??  How did she get so involved so quickly?  I guess we’re locals now, she had fun handing out medals for more than half an hour!

On Sunday, March 13th, we packed in a lot of fun things after church.  We drove to Big Pine Key which was about 30 minutes away and went to a flea market there.  A couple at the campground had recommended it to us and we thought it sounded fun to check out.  It was almost closing time when we got there, but quite a few vendors were still open.  There were a few cool things to look at and also a lot of junk.  I did find a treasure though….a booth that had all little air plants hanging in cute little containers.  I bought a couple to be a souvenir of our time in the keys.  So far they are still alive!  After the flea market we went to see the Key Deer.  They look like regular white tail deer, but much smaller.  We drove up and down some streets that surrounded a preserve for them and we did see a few of them.  They were pretty cute, and pretty tame as well.  We stayed in the car, but they would just stand there in the road while you drove around them.  While driving back towards Marathon we were going right past Bahia Honda so we decided to stop for a bit and cool off in the water.  When you’re in the keys you should always keep a swimsuit and towel in the car….it quite often came in very handy!!

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Elise checking out the flea market

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One of the Key Deer right near our car

On one of the last days that we were in Marathon Lance, Abby, Sam and Elise all went shark fishing. They had an amazing time!  Captain Scott took them out on a smaller boat and actually put down the anchor right near the 7 mile bridge and not very far from our campground.  They went at night since that’s when sharks like to eat.  Using fish heads from what had been caught earlier in the day they caught 7 sharks.  Four were Lemon sharks and three were Nurse sharks.  The Nurse sharks got to be pretty big….one was 7 feet long and one was about 8-9 feet long.  Those big ones made them work for it….lots of muscle and about half an hour to reel in.  Once they were up on the boat they would take out the hook, snap a few pictures and throw them back in.  They had so much fun….Lance says that it was his favorite adventure yet on this trip.

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Some of my favorite people

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Sam with Captain Scott and one of the lemon sharks

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Reeling in a big one…this was one of the nurse sharks

On Wednesday, March 16th, we packed up and said good bye to the keys.  It was hard to leave, it had been such a wonderful month!  I hope that we get back there many times in the years to come, I just loved it!

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A beautiful sunset over the seven mile bridge

Time to head north…..

 

 

 

 

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