Heading south on the highway there are several things that I realized. First, as far as the land goes you are really driving at just one to five feet above sea level and everything is very flat. There is high vegetation on either side so you really can't see anything of any real interest until you get to the bridges that go out over the channels connecting the keys (islands). Second, it is very obvious that tourism is by far the primary industry of the keys. There are gobs of hotels, restaurants, gift shops and all kinds of attractions all designed to get some of your money. So be it. That's how they roll down here and that's ok with me.
Driving down the keys is actually quite beautiful. Whenever you get to one of the channel cuts that connect the keys you are able to look out over the seas without much obstruction. There are always fishermen out on the piers and the abandoned older bridges that line the newer bridges that carry US1 traffic. The waters are pretty shallow all around the keys and there is surprisingly little boat traffic as the chance of shoaling is pretty high, except for runabouts and fishing boats with very shallow drafts. There are marinas all along the way at the cuts but the channels to reach them are very narrow and still not too deep.
Our first stop was at the Keys Fisheries and Restaurant in the town of Marathon which is at about the 65 mile marker. Charlie Pendergrass, our boat broker, told us that we had to stop there to eat. Their claim to fame is a fresh lobster reuben sandwich. It was to die for. Really tasty. Very fresh. Terrific.
After we ate we continued down the keys. One of the interesting sights is that about half way between Marathon and Key West there is a wildlife preserve with the sole purpose of protecting a species of indigenous deer called the Key Deer (We later found out it is related to the White Tail deer common to the midwest.) The speed limits all went from 55 mph down to 45 in the daylight and 35 at night. On this first trip to Key West we did not see any of the deer.
We arrived at Key West around dusk. What a town. Crazy. Very crowded and noisy, US1 cuts along the north side of the island as Roosevelt Road, cruising right along the shore. Very nice. Key West Island is a fairly large island and is the most highly populated. Lots of traffic, stores, restaurants...all of the kind that you would see anywhere else. There were Pizza Huts, Kmarts, Home Depots (no Walmarts though), anything and everything. And there are scooters: Lots and lots of scooters. You can rent a scooter from a stand on just about every block, and frankly it is a sensible way to get around. They do have to follow traffic laws but do so just barely. Roosevelt Road becomes Truman Avenue. You stay on Truman a short distance (still US1 at this point) make a right on Whitehead and after a couple of blocks you see a very ordinary highway marker sign that says "END US 1"...literally. That is the end of the highway.
Staying on Whitehead (or you could turn on any other parallel street such as Simonton) and you would end up in downtown Key West, and if you could give a name to this area it would be "Partytown, Florida". The center of it all, I guess, is the old Customs House which is now a museum. But from there, on Whitehead, Simonton, Front, Caroline and especially Duval, there are dozens and dozens of bars, restaurants, shops, small hotels of just about every kind. It is the prototypical American tourist trap party zone with accommodations for every taste: gay, straight, leisurely, hopped up, sidewalk cafes, mega restaurants, small tiki bars, big music clubs, G-rated, R-rated, X-rated...you name it, it's there.
As we were kind of getting pooped at this point so we just meandered around in the traffic and took it all in. It was Saturday night and everyone was downtown writing their own stories to tell to their friends back home in Toledo.
Next, the Purple Porpoise Pub.