Category Archives: United States

Dry Tortugas Photos



As you approach the Fort from the sea, it looks like it floats on the ocean.


Around the back are all the docks.


The light house is about 3 miles from Fort Jefferson. That’s how far the guns at the fort could shoot with enough force to sink a ship.


The sand is white and fine, the water a beautiful blue.


Here’s the beach at the fort. The corner of the fort has bastions where guns could shoot along the walls and repel anyone trying to scale them.


Yes, it has a moat. Here’s what it looks like on the land side, later you’ll see the ocean side and how the moat walls act like sea walls.


Inside the entrance to the fort.


A look down the inside of one of the walls.


Here’s the lighthouse that still works to mark the safe harbor for any boat that needs it.


A view across the inside of the fort from ground level. It’s pretty big!



Another look across the parade ground.


The round structure was the magazine, but it was never used. The long ruin that runs in front of the magazine was the soldiers’ barracks. It was a 3 story structure and miserably hot. The men bunked in the second floor rooms in the walls where it was much cooler.


Another view down the inside of the fort’s walls. This was taken on the second floor.




Another view, this one taken from the second story of the fort. Here you can see the ruins of the soldiers’ barracks. It was a huge, long structrue.



More views of the magazine.


Here’s the moat on the ocean side. The wall acts as a sea wall to protect the fort from large waves, etc.


This was taken when we were on top of the walls. The tops were purposely covered with dirt and grass to absorb the shock of cannon fire. It is also part of the system designed to recover and store fresh water for the island.


Another view from the top of the wall. You can see just how long the soldiers’ barracks were.


In our litigious society, the fort really amazed me. There are no guard rails anywhere. You can walk right to the edge of any of those big windows in the wall and fall right off. In fact, you can walk along the top of the wall which is very uneven, and easily slip. Our tour guide said in the 10 years he’s been working at the Park, only 2 people have fallen off the wall and both landed unharmed in the moat.


See what I mean about uneven footing on top of the walls?



The green spot at the end of that narrow strip of sand is Long Key and the spot of green further out is Bird Key. Normally, they are separate islands. In the last 10 years, the sand bars that currently connect them have washed away and built back up twice.


Here’s Bob!


Here’s the story of how the fort was built.


Here’s some info on how they intended to collect and store fresh water. The water was supposed to filter through the dirt on top of the walls and funnel down through pipes inside the walls to underground storage tanks. However, the dirt they used on top of the wall was dredged from the channel, so when the water filtered through, it leached out all the salt in the soil and the water was undrinkable. Also, with settling, 106 of the 109 storage tanks sprung leaks and the water in them rose and fell with the tides. It was an engineering failure, but it was a nice try!


More passport stamps. 🙂


Here’s Bob in a gun port. Can you see the arc on the floor? That was a rail where the cannon’s back wheels sat. It allowed the men to swivel the cannon to aim it properly. You can see by the arcs that gun after gun after gun sat along these walls. There were supposed to be over 400 when the fort was finished—which it never was. It was abandoned in 1874.


Remember the dredged fill on the roof? The salt has leached down is forming stalagmites and stalactites on the roof and floor of the second story. It is very hard, as hard as the cement.



Another view from the top of the wall. Here you can see the two different colors of the brick used to build the fort. At first, the brick came from a brickyard in Pensacola. But when the South seceded from the Union, the brick had to come from Maine. Can you imagine shipping it that far?


Here’s one of the six guns that’s been restored at the fort. It sits on top of the wall.


This is the boat we arrived on.


Another view from the top of the wall. That entrance was the only way in or out of the fort. Originally, it had a drawbridge over the moat.


Here’s what the stairways look like.


The intrepid tourists! Risking life and limb to get some good photos for this blog!  (Not really, we would have climbed all over this place just for the fun if it.)


Bob on the sea wall.


The Moat is only a few feet deep. There was a joke among the prisoners that the moat had sharks in it, but it didn’t. However, as a joke, one of the soldiers did put a shark in the moat and it lived there about two weeks.


Those little windows on the bottom were where the guns were. Here, they are covered by black shutters. Those are heavy iron and they are weighted to hang perfectly. When a cannon was fired, the air pressure in front of the cannonball pushed the shutters open and allowed the cannonball to pass. Then, they immediately swung closed. That meant the men inside were only exposed to enemy fire for the brief second it took for the cannonball to pass through. Very clever design. Oh, the indents above the big windows were made to look like gun ports, but they were decoys. To a ship at sea, it would look like there were three layers of cannon, but there were really only two.

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Time has taken a toll on the fort. Here the restoration is still in progress.


Another view of the moat and the beach. The fort was supposed to be 3 stories tall, but because it was so heavy and it was settling so badly, the Army Corp of Engineers decided to stop at two.


Did I mention there were pelicans everywhere? They were fun to watch. They looked like a cat pouncing playfully on a mouse. They’d just suddenly hop and dive at a fish in the water. It looked kamikaze.


The Other Keys


Here’s the little key deer. That palm was only about 3 feet tall, so the deer is tiny. When full grown, they only weigh between 50 and 70 pounds and are about 2 feet tall at the shoulder.



A close up of the picture below.


Another view of that missing span in the abandoned bridge. You can see the road in use on the right.


Bahia State Park was really pretty.



There’s the Overseas Highway (i.e. U.S. 1) in the background.



Here’s an example of a missing span on the abandoned bridge. You can see the pedestrians on the part that hooks to the island.





The beach was beautiful, but TONS of seaweed. You can kind of see the green water here.



Here’s me in my sun sleeves walking in the shallow water. It got to just over my knee before I got to the sand bar. You can see the sandbar behind me.


Bob zoomed in. I’m standing on the sand bar.


Me on the sand bar waaaaay out there. You can see the guy closer in is in water to his waist.


The water was a pretty green color. I wish my camera caught it better.


I took this from the pedestrian bridge. You can see the roadway on the far left, where it hits the island in the distance, and how it veers right over the next bridge and on to the next island.


Another view of the Overseas Highway. I took this from the pedestrian bridge.


This is the end of the pedestrian bridge. In the distance you can see the hump in the bridge which is where we were when I took the earlier picture. This is also where the powerlines cross the road and the poles move from the gulf side to the ocean side of the road.


Can a contrail cast a shadow? We weren’t sure what we were seeing. Any ideas?



Here’s Bob with part of the Overseas Highway behind him.


This guy was huge—easily 3 feet long.


See what I mean about shallow water? I took this from the pedestrian bridge. We could easily see the plants waiving with the current.


Here I’m standing on the pedestrian bridge. This is a picture of the actual roadway. I think that pipe is the source of fresh water for Key West. It takes 6 days for the water to make it from the mainland to Key West.



I snapped this pic as we drove by. Its an example of how the abandoned bridge that runs parallel to the Overseas Highway is falling apart. Here, a tree is actually growing out of the concrete.


Another exampel of the abandoned bridge. Here, birds have made themselves at home. This section of the bridge is inaccessible because sections on either side are missing.


See? The power lines are really annoying. Also, the water is a bright green color. Here it looks more blue, but it is not even remotely blue. Its pure green.


The water between the Keys is pretty shallow. Where we walked the bridges we could almost always see the bottom. The brown spots in the distance are even more shallow spots. Dang power lines!


I took this from the crest of the hill on the Seven Mile Bridge. You can see the abandoned bridge on the right.

The Other Keys

3225 miles traveled.

Today we explored the other keys.  We started by driving to mile marker 78 (78 miles from Key West) to Robbie’s Marina where we hoped to get a tour of Indian Key.  No such luck, the winds were too strong and the tours were canceled (It was mid 70s but with sustained 20 mph winds).  I wanted to see Indian Key because it has the ruins of a 19th century town.  It was a thriving place in 1840 when Seminole Indians attacked and killed everyone who didn’t flee.  It’s been deserted ever since.

Instead, we drove to the Seven Mile Bridge and walked along the pedestrian bridge as far as we could go.  I have to say, almost the entire length of the Overseas Highway that is over water, there are abandoned bridges running along right next to it.  Some of the abandoned bridges look fine, in other places they look like they are about to collapse.  I have lots of pictures of this here.
In many places the abandoned bridges are open to foot traffic and people stroll along them or fish.  However, they aren’t open all the way.  Before too long, there will be barricades and the next section of the bridge will be missing.  It’s kind of creepy to see a huge bridge with a section missing right out of the middle.  I have pictures of that, too.

The Oversea Highway also has power lines running along it. I have to say, the power lines are annoying because they get in the way of pictures.  I don’t know how they filmed the movie True Lies without interference from the power lines.
After the bridge, we spent some time on the beach at Bahia State Park.  The beach was long, white, and soft, but it was also full of dried seaweed.  The water was warm and it was shallow (knee deep or less) for 20 or 30 yards from the shore.  It was wonderful for walking and playing.  I really loved it.

Finally, we stopped on Big Pine Key to find the Key Deer that live there.  They are very small—about the size of a 50 pound dog—and they are a subspecies of white tail deer.  We saw two of them and they were little.  The first ran across the road in front of us and its shoulders weren’t even as high as the front of the car.  The second one was maybe 1½ feet at the shoulder.  It was standing under a palm that was only 2 feet high.  I have picture here.

I’m excited about tomorrow.  We’re going to the most inaccessible national park in the United States:  The Dry Tortugas.  Stay tuned!

Key West Photos


We tried them. They were a lot like hush puppies, only with mildly rubbery little bits in them. Okay, but I won’t rush back for seconds. Also of concern: the unrefrigerated mayo-based tartar sauce. Ewww.



Bob and one of the marginal conch fritters.


There are lots of these little tourist stands all over the city.


These poor people from Ohio—the trolley driver refused to let them on and explained that on the trolley “we bleed blue.” It was all in good humor (since there were no seats available anyway) and the tourist gave as good as he got. It was pretty funny.


Not sure what the story is here, but it’s covered with bird poop and they’re nesting in the stuff in the back.


View from the road that circles the island.


This is the most stolen sign in Florida. They finallly just started selling them, and that helped, but it still goes missing regularly. By the way, the other end of US Highway 1 is in Maine, about 2000 miles north.


This statute must be 25 feet tall. It was done by one of the heirs of the Johnson & Johnson fortune and it’s modled off a painting by Renoire.


It’s like a little cartoon pirana : )


This is only about ⅓ of this banyan tree. The rest goes over the top of the house and is in the backyard. It’s all one tree. You might think the house is a tree house, but it’s not.


Here are the pics of Truman’s Little White House. It has an interesting history.


Truman’s Little White House. No pics allowed on the inside, but here’s the side of the house.


Its easy to forget all the things one man can do when he’s president. Truman was a busy man.



Poinciana in bloom


The brick wall in this pick was built by Hemingway himself. He used the bricks from a street that was torn up for repair. No one missed the bricks until they tried to recover the street and found they didn’t have enough. The city sued and Hemingway agreed to pay a penny a brick.


The front of the house. It was built in the mid-1800s, so Hemingway wasn’t its original owner.


Hemingway had about 50 cats. Currently his house has 45 of them, all descendants of his original cats. They were everywhere!


They were laying around like dogs!

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Nothing seemed to bother them very much. There was a sign at the ticket booth forbidding anyone from picking up the cats.



View from the deck that circled the second story of the house.


View of the pool from the balcony on the main house.


Another view of the pool. Hemingway’s wife had it built while he was away working as a war correspondent (and spending time with his mistress). They bought the house or $8000, but he pool cost over $20,000. It’s 65 feet long!


This is a fountain to provide drinking water for all the cats. Yes, its made out of a urinal. Mrs. H tried to disguise it by putting the Spanish tile on it and installing the larger pitcher, but it’s still a urinal. Some of the cats refuse to drink out of it.


Here’s one of his famous 6-toed cats. Sorry its hard to see. He’s sitting on a chunck of rock that was used to build the house walls. its 18 inches thick so the house has weathered several hurricanes with no problems.



The cats were everywhere! This one was sunning himself in the gutter. This is right at the entrance to Hemingway’s office over the pool house.


Here’s where Hemingway wrote. He got up at 6 am and worked until about 1 pm most days. He considered it a good day if her wrote between 300 and 700 words a day. He often complained that his brand of typewriter was notorious for misspelled words.


Cat condos. They aren’t locked up here, the cats are free to roam where they want. This is just shelter for those that want it.


Only the special cats get remembered here. There are so many, it wouldn’t be possible to put a marker for all of them here.


Hemingway named his cats for their personalities: “Friendless” and “Frisky.” Today, they are named after people.


It’s a little kitty mausoleum.


View from the garden.


A poinciana tree


Cute gadgets for sale in the gift shop.



Here we are!




There are wild chickens and roosters everywhere. People brought them from Cuba for cock fighting at the turn of the 20th century. The authorities were looking for new revenue sources and decided to tax all the betting on the fights by taxing chicken ownership. Rather than pay the taxes, the inhabitants released the chickens and they still grow wild. People love them because the chickens eat mosquitos.


Here we are, on the southernmost tip of the island (at least the southernmost part that’s accessible to the public.) The real southernmost part is on the naval base and it’s where they have all the equipment necessary to listen to Cuba and the Caribbean.


I have no idea what this thing is supposed to be, but it’s south of everything else 🙂

Those who owned the southernmost house were proud of that fact . . . until the next door neighbors built their house several feet more southerly. That house has this plaque by its gate.


Yep, we tried it. I even had a cheeseburger in paradise and it was really good.


We even tried a margarita. Bob said it tasted like medicine, I thought it was okay. I usually love margaritas, but this one wasn’t quite right. I think we drank about ⅓ of it between the two of us.


Key lime pie is big down here. A popular way to eat it is frozen on stick, dipped in chocolate. I haven’t tried it, but I’m not a key lime pie fan.


Manatees are like the Florida state animal. They’re everywhere. : )


There were many really cool looking houses and buildings on the island.


Here’s another. I like the garden on the roof.


Hemingway’s favortie bar. It’s also where the urinal for the kitty drinking fountain came from.



Key West, Day 2

Today we spent the day wandering around Key West.  My favorite was the Hemingway House.  Hemingway wrote several books while living in the house and I got to see his office.  My very favorite part was learning that Hemingway considered it a good day if he wrote between 300 and 700 words a day.  That’s about one to three pages of a printed book. Most writers I know tend to shoot for 1000 words a day, or more.

The house is beautiful.  It was built in the mid 1800s and has survived a couple of hurricanes.  When he Hemingway family moved on from Key West, they sold the house and didn’t look back.  The lady they sold it to was pretty savvy and she planned all along to make it into a museum.  She preserved everything the way it was when the Hemingways were there, including the cats.

Apparently, Hemingway had dozens of cats.  He often talked to them and they all had names.  Today, the museum has 45 cats and they’re all descended from Hemingway’s original cats.  It was strange to walk around and see cats everywhere.  They like to sleep on the furniture, often right beside a sign stating there is no sitting on the furniture.

The house and museum is still owned by the family of the lady who bought it from the Hemingways.  Hemingway paid $8,000 for the house and sold it for $80,000. Now, it’s worth millions.

For lunch we decided to go totally tourist and headed for Margaritaville.  My  hamburger was really good and Bob liked his coconut shrimp but, ironically, the margarita was uninspiring.  We didn’t even drink half of it.

I put all the picutes I’ve taken of Key West here.  I hope you enjoy them!

Key West, Florida

Happy birthday, Dad!  I had the dates screwed up (you may have noticed I had them wrong on this blog) so I called to wish Dad a happy belated birthday two days ago.  Oops!

Today we took a trolley bus on a guided tour around the island.  It’s got quite a history.  It was named by Ponce de Leon back in the 1500s.  Since then, its been a military base, most notably, a Union base during the Civil War.  Even though Key West is the southernmost city in the United States, it refused to secede from the union.

From 1918 to the 1970s it was the main submarine base for the US.  In the early 1900s one of the partners of Standard Oil sold out and sunk $50 million into building a railroad to Key West, which was only accessible by boat at that point. This project included about 40 bridges.  He wanted to take advantage of the opening of the Panama Canal and he hoped Key West would be the place where all those ships docked and unloaded their cargo.  That railroad later became the basis for the road, now known as Highway 1.

President Truman spent 11 vacations in Key West during his presidency.  In fact, we toured the “Little White House” today.  I thought it was interesting that Truman had a shot of bourbon every morning with his orange juice—it was on his doctor’s orders.  Also interesting is the fact that most of those vacations (all but four) were without his wife.  She stayed in Washington because she thought her husband should have a “guys” vacation where he could drink and play poker without her comments.  Truman insisted that everyone who traveled with him get rid of their suits as soon as they arrived on the island.  They adopted Hawaiian shirts and khakis as their uniform and I think it was the origin for “loud shirts” contests.

Another favorite story involves the U.S. Border Patrol.  Apparently, they set up a checkpoint at the entrance to the Keys on Highway 1 (I think this was in the 1980s) and they searched every car—coming and going—for illegal aliens.  It meant anyone trying to enter or leave the Keys had to wait in a four hour line and everyone had to carry proof of citizenship with them.  This policy killed tourism in the Keys so they asked the Border Patrol to stop.  The Border Patrol refused.  So, over some cold beverages, the citizens of Key West considered their options.  They decided the US government was treating the Keys like a foreign country.  After all, the government had established a border, complete with document checks. So, Key West seceded from the union and named themselves the Conch Republic.  Then they declared war on the United States.  After a minute, they surrendered and applied for a $billion in foreign aid and $100,000 in war reparations.  Of course, this was all done in front of the national press and it embarrassed the Border Patrol into changing its policies (especially since they didn’t find one illegal alien the entire time the policy was in place.)

Tomorrow we plan to visit Hemingway’s House.  I’ll get some pictures posted tomorrow, too.  I’ve been distracted and my heart hasn’t been in touring or taking pictures.  I’ll remedy that tomorrow.

Driving through Florida

3,070 miles, so far.

The last couple of days have been all about the driving.  I thought Texas took forever to drive through—the length of Florida felt just as long.  I wish there was more to see from the interstate, but they kind of all look the same.  Trees, some crops, grass, maybe some wild flowers.  To see any of America, you have to get off the interstate.  Since we were more interested in getting from point A to point B, we didn’t.

We stopped Sunday night in Naples, Florida, and did the laundry.  We didn’t get around to dinner until nearly 9 pm.  Luckily, the Bob Evans was still open.  Don’t laugh—Bob Evans is our favorite place to stop on the road.  It has really good beef vegetable soup and we love the bread—whether they have cherry, banana, or blueberry.

On Monday, we were back on the road and headed for Key West.  It was a beautiful drive, but nothing like the road portrayed in the movie True Lies.  The road and bridges are narrow with only one lane going each way.  That means the driving is a little stressful.  This is especially true since the traffic is nearly bumper to bumper and the speed varies often from 35 to 45 to 55 and back again.  Despite that, it is really beautiful.  The water is a unique, deep aqua color.  I’ll get pictures for you soon.

We finally arrived at the hotel late Monday afternoon.  We spent a couple hours by the pool just relaxing and we had dinner at the hotel.  We’re looking forward to exploring Key West over the next several days.

Garden Photos


So, all those flowers I loved in New Orleans, but didn’t know the name of, were azaleas! They come in many different colors from white, to light pink, to this pink, to red.


Doesn’t this look like it should be a puzzle?


Azaleas and holly.



This was an old logging pond the Bellingrath’s cleaned out and fixed up. It seemed familiar to me—I swear I’ve seen it before on a puzzle, or something.



The house sits in the middle of all the gardens.


A courtyard that’s surrounded by the house on three sides. No pics were allowed in the house which is too bad, becasue it was beautiful. This was a close as I could get you. : )


This tree was just starting to bloom and it was stunning.


Another glimpse of the house.


This staircase leads down to the river and the boat dock. Apparently that was a favorite place for the Bellingrath’s nephews and nieces to hang out when they’d spend the summers with them.


This is the boat dock. It wasn’t so appealing on such an overcast day.


Another view of the beautiful gardens.




Here’s part of the home the Bellingraths built. They didn’t have any children and she died about 12 years before he did. He left his millions to turn his home and garden into a public museum in honor of his wife. Today, the entrance fees not only maintain the grounds, they also fund many scholarships and provide income to three colleges the Bellingraths supported.


More of the gardens. The landscaping is really beautiful.


I love this color.




Not only was it overcast, it was cold. We had to change into pants so we woldn’t freeze. (it was in the mid 60s)


The azalea bushes were huge.


Easter liliies, a little early.


Gorgeous orchids.


This hibiscus was the size of a dinner plate. The colors were spectacular.


Not sure what these are, but I loved them.


I liked this one because of the pineapples in the background. They were about 6 inches long. That gives you an idea of just how big the hydrangeas are.



The blue hydrangeas were almost the size of volleyballs.


This is part of the rose garden, which wasn’t blooming yet. In the background is a greenhouse.



This boardwalk goes over, along, and back over the estuary. It’s full of wildlife, including alligators. We didn’t see any, though.


There were even bamboo forests!


The weather worked perfectly for us. As we were getting ready to leave Bellingrath, the rain began to pour. I like this picture becasue of the lilac bush that climbed the evergreen and produced a couple stories of lilac flowers.

Bellingrath Estate

2,250 total miles, so far.

When we left New Orleans this morning it was gray and overcast.  The weatherman said there would be rain.  We hoped to do some exploring despite the forecast.

We found our adventure in Mobile, Alabama.  It was all by accident, really.  As we were leaving the B&B this morning, I consulted the notes I made when my friend Barbara—who was raised in the South—told me all the places we should see.  She recommended the azalea trails in Mobile.  A quick internet search later and we discovered we were right in the middle of the predicted height of the azalea blooming season.  So, off we went.

We found Bellingrath Gardens in Mobile and it was incredible. The pictures are here.  I loved the story behind the place as much as the gardens themselves.  It all started in 1917 when Mr. Bellingrath, the local Coca Cola bottler/distributor, was feeling under the weather and went to see his doctor. The doc diagnosed a classic case of over-working and advised his patient to buy a run-down fishing camp and “learn to play.”  Mr. Bellingrath took his doctor’s advice and over the next 30 years he and his wife built the Bellingrath Estate.

It grew from an initial 3 acres to more than 900, but only about 65 acres are cultivated into formal gardens.  The Bellingraths were inspired during a trip to Europe where they saw the grand estates and formal gardens there.  They came home, hired a landscape architect, and the rest is history.

Mrs. B was also quite an antique collector.  Her collections filled and overflowed her house in town so she built a 10,000 square foot house at their retreat.  It is an incredibly beautiful house, full of elegant rooms and priceless antiques.  It was the height of Mobile society to be invited for dinner at the Bellingrath’s home.  When they built the house, electricity didn’t extend that far out of town but they wired the house for it anyway.  In the years before the electric lines reached them, they ran the lights with generators.
We also learned something about the history of Coca Cola.  It was originally invented by a doctor as a tonic to help those addicted to morphine break the habit.  That lead me and Bob to wonder how much cocaine Coke used to have in it.  The answer: no one knows exactly, but it was only trace amounts.  In any case, after 1929, the recipe was changed and it had none.

I also thought it was interesting that the Coca Cola distributor could make millions of dollars selling soda between 1906 and his death in 1945.

Finally, I like puzzles of beautiful landscapes. I sometimes wonder where such gorgeous pictures were taken. I swear I’ve seen puzzles of these gardens.