Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Road Trip; Long Key State Park, Florida Keys

Views on the small beach in Long Key State Park
While Colorado reached nearly record low temperatures and a -45 wind chill; I had the pleasure of being in the Florida Keys.  The freezing weather just happened to come when we were enjoying our planned trip in the 80 degree sunshine, and it made the warmth that much better. 
The Florida Keys offer numerous state parks with hiking paths, camping, beaches, snorkeling, kayaking, paved biking trails, picnic areas and much more.  Long Key SP just happened to be 3/4 of a mile from our hotel, so we decided to check it out and we were so glad we did!  The SP has only a couple of miles of hiking trails, but they continue through three different plant communities that are very unique and so different from Colorado that we spent lots of time enjoying the animals, foliage, and water. 
Getting there:  Long Key State Park is located in the town of Layton, in the Florida Keys, here is their website.  The address is: 67400 Overseas Highway Long Key, Florida 33001.  This is at Mile Marker 67; just over an hour south of Key Largo. 
Specs: The state park has restrooms, showers, camping, trails, small beachfront, snorkeling, and canoeing to list a few of the activities.  Check their site for more info.  Fees: a day pass is $6 for 2 people.  The Golden Orb trail is just over a mile and is a loop that can be walked in under an hour.  
Start of trail, main walkway; Golden Orb trail

The Hike:  The main trail in the park is called the Golden Orb trail, named after the Golden Orb spider that you will see in the webs all along the trail; some of the webs are crossing the trail so watch where you walk!  There is also a warning about poisonous snakes in the park, and I spent the entire hike looking out for webs and snakes; and finally just made Josh walk first so I could enjoy the trail without as much worry!   
The path starts along a walkway in the mangroves and there is a lookout tower for bird watching near the start of the trail providing views at eye level with the top of the mangroves; I thought the platform should have been 5 feet taller to see out to the ocean just a few hundred yards away, but its directly at eye level to the tops of the trees.  
We continued to walk down the boardwalk and I snapped photos of several birds in the water below.  The trail turns off the boardwalk into the mangrove and jungle terrain, there are such different and unique trees in Florida and I spent a lot of time taking photos of them and reading the information.  One thing that I really enjoyed during the walk through the dense forests were the little hermit crabs which dig large holes in the jungle, sort of like Florida's version of prairie dogs.  Some of the hermit crabs were very large and made a lot of noise walking through the underbrush; I kept worrying about poisonous snakes and jumping at noise, but neither of us saw any snakes; just lots of noisy hermit crabs, birds and spiders.  Josh, at one point said; "if you just stand still, the jungle comes alive around you."
Morning Glory, so many are in bloom all over the trails

The trail continues around to the water, and we noticed the little crabs on the beach running around; then into holes when we came near.  We stood still and watched them peek out and venture away from their holes only to move slightly and scare them back.  I imagine the dogs would have loved to chase them. 
After dodging more spider webs, the trail curves away from the water and into a desert-like landscape with no animals, flowers and little plant life.  It was a quick transition from lush to desert; and it reminded me of Colorado a little bit.  We picked up the pace to get back under the cover of the cooler trees; and passed the 1/2 mile mark at the end of the hot desert like trail.  We had hiked for nearly 40 minutes and only went a 1/2 mile; but we definitely stopped numerous times to check out the campsites, watch the crabs, and take photos. 
The next part of the trail brought back the cooler temps under the canopy of trees, but the trees were much different than those by the water.  One of my favorite trees was the Poisonwood tree (photo below); it's trunk has several different colors in it; its similar to poison ivy and contact with the tree will irritate skin. 
The trail comes to an end shortly after this section, and comes out at the parking lot near the boardwalk where the trail started.  Long Key State Park also offers canoe trails and rental, but the prices were a bit steep ($40 for an hour for 2 people) and we decided to pass; but we drove to Bahia Honda State Park for the 4th ranked best beach in the USA and some snorkeling. 

Lots of dead trees are covered with vines and morning glories

Jellyfish on the beach

Poisonwood Tree - will make your skin itch

Driftwood along the beach

Birds feeding along the water

Blue Waters - Long Key State Park does not have the best beaches for relaxing, but they are beautiful to look at.  (think thick muddy sand)

Reminded me of avocados or kiwi, though they aren't either; I am not sure what this is!?

Little crab coming out of his hole on the beach. 

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