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Ninety Miles to Cuba?

Destination Key West and how fast can we get out of Florida? Our plan was having no plan. For us it works well, no pressure, no rush to destination X and no worries. We tend to gravitate to mild or cooler weather spots. We do not like high heat and humidity. So, we chose the Southernmost tip of the US as a late Fall adventure in order to avoid that. We were actually pretty lucky too. We did get in some 90+ degree days and a few 80+ degree nights but all in all we scored.

Key West is very old and the streets are very small. The buildings are tightly nestled and people are roaming everywhere. This town is alive, I can only imagine how thick it must be in the summer. A couple of 'key' points of interest were the Hemingway House with the Polydactyl cats and Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park. Aside from the obvious of course.

We left Key West for the night to drive to Little Duck Key, parking was not immediately satisfactory on Key West. The pull out we found on Little Duck key provided plenty of room and the best chance at an ocean breeze - it was hot by our standards. Here is the sunrise Darin and Shadow caught the next morning. Thank goodness for our window screens, the cross breeze was a life saver.

We visited Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park, no dogs allowed... so I went inside and left Darin and Shadow at the gate. Apparently the Park Ranger is a dog person, he offered to take Shadow so Darin could join me in the park.

Six-toed cats are synonymous with Ernest Hemingway. His cats' descendants live on at the Hemingway house. They have a full-time staff to care for them. There is a cat cemetery and the cats freely roam the grounds.

Time to go, in search of cooler weather... Everglades? We drove west straight through the midst of the Everglades and learned that there isn't another ecosystem like it in the world. Once on the other side, somehow we found Chokoloskee in the Ten Thousand Islands of Collier County. Basically a smugglers paradise. Just down the road is the Smallwood Store. Our camp spot for the night was Chokoloskee Island Park and Marina.

The Smallwood Store is basically a time-capsule, prohibition hot spot with a little murder and mayhem on the side. At the Historic Smallwood Store you will learn the story of the pioneers who tamed this vast wilderness. Human habitation of Chokoloskee Island began approximately 2,000 years ago when a mound dwelling people began altering the landscape with mounds and canals. The canals were about 15 feet wide, 3 feet to 6 feet deep, and were used by the Calusa for traveling in dugout canoes until the mid-1700s, when the tribe disappeared from Florida.

From there we ventured on up the west coast of Florida to Plant City. We enjoyed a wonderful visit with my sister. Throughout our travels and visits to friends and family, we've yet to stay in anyone's house, only in their driveway or on the street outside their home. This tends to surprise folks that we choose to sleep in a van instead of in the house. We proceed to describe our van as our Airbnb on wheels and our mattress is likely better than any guest bedroom mattress. Some people understand - some don't. My sister got a good laugh out of that reasoning, said she understood and that her guest bedroom wasn't that great anyway.

Continuing on our journey we entered the panhandle and found Sopchoppy! What a great name and a quaint little town. Check out this campground...

This is the Apalachicola National Forest, Wood Lake area. When we arrived there was a pile of belongings near the entrance. There was a hand-written sign suggesting free items for the taking and soda for sale. No one was present. Once we were all set up for camp, Shadow started investigating the area. Since we were the only folks around, we didn't put him on the leash. Darin attempted to get Shadow's attention after he had wondered over to that campsite with all the stuff. Shadow wouldn't budge. Darin and I both were more than a little curious of what held his attention so strongly. Remember, anything can happen, thankfully nothing was found of real interest or concern. What a quiet and peaceful sleep we had deep in the Apalachicola Forest.

Many years ago, I used to vacation on the coast of the panhandle. I was so hopeful the pure white sands were still there. They were...

So beautiful, the Destin and Fort Walton beach area is an old favorite. We really enjoyed our day in the sun and Shadow got some exercise. This is a National Seashore, thankfully protected and hopefully will stay just this pristine for years to come. As we made our way here and beyond, we did see quite a bit of hurricane damage from the recent storms that pounded the Gulf coast.

After these beautiful beaches we escaped Florida into Alabama. That section of Alabama is only an hour's drive to enter Mississippi. We decided to set our sights for another National Forest Area. Wish us luck and please join us for our next segment. We will explore the Army Corps of Engineers' campgrounds and hunt for diamonds!


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