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Road Trip – Key West

This was the 37th Anniversary of my first trip to Key West, Michael had accompanied friends on their honeymoon and I flew down, it was our 3rd or 4th date! While here we decided to get married, and that happened in August of that same year. I’ve been here about a dozen times since. Why do I keep coming back?

  1. Nostalgia – where we started.
  2. The architecture
  3. The light
  4. The shadows
  5. The colors
  6. The flora and fauna
  7. The art
  8. The only place in the continental US you can be assured of being warm in the winter
  9. The water
  10. The live and let live attitude

I should really start out by saying I write this blog for myself, like a diary, but hear from others that they like reading it, so I share it.

Back to Key West — I visited my favorite spots but found some new ones too!


This was a road trip with stops in Savannah, St Augustine, Vero Beach, and Palm Beach on the way.

I got into Savannah late so the light was nice.

A quick stop in St Augustine.



Then Palm Beach was next. Whether or not I buy anything I love walking down Worth Avenue. Great galleries and it’s beautiful!

I stop at the Laughing Dog Gallery in Vero Beach whenever I’m close. When I owned Carolina Creations we shared some of the same artists.

I’ve been fascinated by railroads, the architecture and the trains themselves, since I was very young. I ride a train whenever I get a chance. Of course Flagler was single handedly responsible for the development of the tourism industry in Florida. By the time I started coming to the keys in 1983 the new seven mile bridge had only been open a year. Before that you drove on the old railroad bridge that had been recycled. Michael had the privilege of driving on the old bridge that goes between Bahia Honda and Spanish Harbor Key. You drove over the top! Yikes! I could have never done that. The new bridge was completed over that stretch in 1980 I think. Michael was also at Sunshine Key when the old seven mile bridge blew up in 1981 extending his stay in the Keys for a while.

No way could I have driven over this bridge! Bahia Honda

I arrived in Key West just in time for the Polar Bear Plunge – which I did NOT participate in!

I love the raku murals at Salute at Higgs Beach.

My favorite thing to do in Key West is to just walk and look at the flowers, the buildings, and the art.

Ate some interesting looking fruit.

There is poetry on some of the side walks, “The Sidewalk Poetry” project was initiated by the Key West Art in Public Places Board in 2012. The goal of the project is to spread appreciation for the Arts through the installation of winning poems on sidewalks throughout the City of Key West. Click here for a map so you can find all 17.

I love people that can “turn a phrase”. Loosely owned is so much more poetic than feral!

Key West isn’t quite as funky as it used to be but there are still some vestiges of it.

Of course the chickens still roam.

And you can’t forget to close the door because you never know who will wander in like this guy.

If you’ve never been here in my opinion the only place to stay is in the historic district since everything you want to see is there. While it is compact you can still wear yourself out walking. There are no parking structures so parking is at a premium. A few years ago, maybe 2017, they started a free bus service called the Duval Loop, you can hop on and hop off, it’s a lifesaver. Michael and I stayed in the Shipyard condos probably 8 or 9 years ago which is part of the Truman Annex, that’s where I stayed again this year. It’s a great location 2 blocks off Duval near the Green Parrot. It’s quiet, there is parking, and it’s gated so the only weirdos that might wander in is someone like the guy pictured above. Of course the weirdos are part of what I like about Key West, both human and animal!


As I said I did several firsts this trip, I’d never been to Fort East Martello Museum. I’d been to the West Martello Fort many times at Higgs Beach, they have a small botanical garden. But the Fort East Martello is larger and very interesting. Robert resides there for one thing. I’d never heard of Robert the Doll. He’s kind of creepy but has an interesting story. Gene and Robert were ‘best friends’ growing up. Legend speculates voodoo played a part in Robert’s formative years, while interviews with those close to the Otto family indicate a great deal of emotional energy was placed upon the doll during Eugene’s lifetime. It is said that young Gene would shift blame when he misbehaved as a child, pointing to the doll and saying, “I didn’t do it. Robert did it”. The story goes that weird things happen when Robert is around. He even has his own website ROBERT THE DOLL.

I had never heard about Carl Tanzler either, a love story that took place in Key West. Reading THAT story is not for the faint of heart.

The museum has displays that talk about Key West’s early years, the cigar industry, the Indians that first inhabited the Keys, and so on. They also have an extensive collection of work by the folk artist Stanley Joseph Papio. He was a welder and created art from the junk he accumulated. Some say it was a way to justify his junk yard on Key Largo. Today he would be called an outsider artist.

Another first was a visit to the Key West Museum of Art & History at the Custom House. Highlights of this museum for me were the artworks by Mario Sanchez. He is considered one of the most significant Cuban American folk artists of the 20th Century. A Key West native, Sanchez worked with wood and paint, mostly creating bas relief carvings that reflect images of earlier times on the island that were never captured in photos.

Right now there is an exhibition that closes soon called Literary History of Key West which tells about 20+ writers who worked here. I learned that Tennessee Williams was a painter as well as a writer. He took up painting as his literary career began to wane. The display of 15 of his paintings are on permanent loan to the museum.


This was my favorite.

And there is an extensive permanent display about Henry Flagler and his building of the Overseas Highway.

I noticed that my favorite directional sign of all time has changed a little since last year. I have photos of directional signs like this from all over the world. One of these days I’ll get one erected at the corner of my house. Two pieces of the sign disappeared since last year, one said “my uncle once killed a squirrel with a gravy boat” and the other “the key west chicken ate my cat”, and his choice for president changed too!

LOVE LOVE LOVE roaming the streets.

My favorite art galleries are Gingerbread Square, Key West Pottery, Art at 830, Cocco and Salem, and Guild. Galleries with New Bern connections include Gallery on Greene, Guild and Inspirations.

Some of my favorite public art around town:

Murals above by Key West Artist Rick Worth
Sculpture by John Martini Key West Artist
Totems by Key West’s Adam Russell of Key West Pottery, my favorite gallery in Key West. Love his work.

Other shots from around town.

It is a small world as they say. I went to visit potter friends at mm17 who were there visiting with other crafts people. We were all telling travel stories, one of the other couples spoke about a recent trip to Mexico.  I said the last time I was in Mexico I stayed in the tiny remote town of La Manzanilla and rode the chicken bus to get around.   

The guy we rented from dropped us off at the house and said I can get you anything you want ________ (fill in the blank). They said Detroit Dave?   I said yes!   They had been there 9 years ago. None of us could get over the chances of that happening. We met the same guy, in this tiny remote town.

I’d never been here before…. yummy!
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Last day lunch at Louie’s Backyard.

I have a rule that I follow, never go and come back the same way if you can help it, this applies to anywhere, even the grocery store. So I left the Keys via the Card Sound Bridge and had to stop at Alabama Jacks, the last time I was there was with Michael. The place was packed. Here’s a little bit of history LINK.

Alabama Jacks Card Sound

The end of a beautiful day and a great two weeks! Where to next? Home to get some artwork done then off to Fort Myers.

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Road Trip Key West, flowers, and points north

Key West post Irma ….

There are a few empty shops on Duval, which you usually don’t see…there are some signs “closed for repairs from hurricane damage”….and a lot of the shade is gone… but Key West is every bit as beautiful as ever.

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My friend Deb met me there and we stayed at the Almond Tree Inn. Our room and the grounds were beautiful, and the location perfect. It’s a half block off of Duval on the quiet end of the street.

This year they started a free Duval Loop bus that circles every 15 minutes and we rode it twice a day. When ever I go to Key West I always want to walk all the streets in Old Town so being able to catch a ride back was great.

My favorite thing is to take photos of the architecture and flowers. One of these days I’ll do some paintings of some of my favorite spots.

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Chickens and roosters still abound.

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We even went to Sunset at Mallory Square, the first time in 33 years I’ve done that.

kwwThe cat man is still there  (thank you youtube for the video) – don’t know if he is the same one from years ago but he if he is he’s crazier than ever!

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Ate lunch at Blue Heaven after Deb left. NO I did not eat this Key Lime Pie with the giant meringue – the folks sitting next to me at the bar did! You can eat with the chickens running around your feet outside or inside without at Blue Heaven.

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We found some fabulous artwork in the galleries and visited with some friends.

We ran into NC artist, musician, and friend Mike Rooney at Bo’s. He was teaching a painting workshop at Dog Tired Gallery the next day and getting ready for a show at Gallery on Greene later in the month, he’s also teaching at The Studios of Key West.

kw rooneyWe stopped to see boat builder, painter, wood worker, and all around artist and friend Tommy Avery (originally from Bridgeton) in his studio on Stock Island. This is one of his paintings of the Green Parrot.

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We had lunch with another friend who lives here, which made us feel like we really belonged in this slice of heaven.

After seeing paintings by David Scott Meier, the creator of the famous painting “Nice Hat”….

Nice Hat…we tracked him down in his studio on Simonton.

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Turns out it was a fluke he was there since he is moving his studio up state to Deland, after being in KW for many years. We had a great conversation about his work, what he’s up to, where he’s been, and who he is currently studying with.

I didn’t meet her but was greatly inspired by paintings by Joan Becker. I had never seen her work before. LOVE it!!
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Other work I liked were the totems by Key West Pottery potter and sculptor Adam Russell.

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Just for fun we went to see Randy Roberts at La Te Da. He put on a great show, (no lip syncing)  and at the end he sings in his own male voice. He was great.

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No we did not go to the Garden of Eden but like a town where you can pretty much do whatever you want as long as you are not hurting anyone else.

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As epitomized in the official philosophy of Key West.
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I don’t know why but I love directional signs (other signs too) and always have to take photos of them.

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The thing I noticed most that was different was the lack of shade, Irma took out a lot of the canopy, but the flowers are still beautiful!

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They now have two flamingos (I don’t know how to tell whether this is Rhett or Scarlett) at the Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory along with an amazing number of butterflies!

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This guy was scooping up minnows to go fishing with.

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And as always the sunsets are Spectacular.

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I would have never thought to go to the  St. Augustine Alligator Farm but heard from my friend Judy that there is an amazing bird rookery there so had to stop to see it. I’ve gotten so many great bird photos this trip I may have to paint some, if I do I will post them in this blog. And by the way they have hundreds of alligators!!

 

 

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Stopped to see my friend and artist Justine in Brunswick, GA. She’s an amazing sculptor, one of the most creative people I know. She is currently doing a lot of pieces inspired by Klimt.

This sculpture is Golden Girl.

Home again home again to get some new work done before the Studio tour May 5 & 6 I have so many ideas now I don’t know where to start!

Next trip Amsterdam, Brussels, Luxomberg, Bruge…. but should have some posts about my art before then!

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Road Trip Apalach to Key West Orchids Birds and other stuff

Just before I left Apalachicola I found this mermaid carved out of a cypress trunk, I love it! It’s in the Botanical Garden adjacent to the Orman House.

kw mermaidOn my way south I made a few stops….

First was the bottle house in Carabelle.

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Then I visited with friends in North Ft. Myers. We visited Babcock Ranch Preserve, a 67,000 acre parcel of undeveloped land where you can see birds, bears, alligators, fox, and all kinds of animals.

Selby Gardens had a show called Warhol, Flowers in the Factory. The gardens and orchids were beautiful and the art interesting.

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Just south of Sarasota at Venice is a bird rookery. We were thrilled to see parents feeding babies!

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While I am not an avid birdwatcher I do love them and used to paint them a lot. This may inspire me to paint some more.

I took these photos at Six Mile Cypress Slough.

We watched this mother Limpkin feeding her young, and heard her smashing the snail on something to get the meat out.

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limp9limp3limp4limp5limp6limp7limp8One interesting thing about this preserve is the driving force to save it was students.

In 1976 a group of Lee County students known as “the Monday Group” studied the role of forested wetland in Florida’s ecology and became alarmed at how fast these environmental treasures were disappearing to private interests. Knowing that Six-Mile Cypress Slough was under imminent threat from logging in the channeling away of its water, the Monday Group launched a daring campaign to save it for future generations.

Lee County voters responded overwhelmingly by increasing their own taxes to purchase and convert the Slough into a preserve. Much effort was needed throughout the 1980s to protect the Six-Mile Cypress watershed from the results of outside development. These efforts culminated in 1991 with Lee County Parks & Recreation opening the Preserve’s boardwalk and facilities to visitors.

Today, Parks & Recreation remain challenged with balancing the needs of water conservation and wildlife management with the recreational needs of the public. As part of that, a growing cadre of volunteer naturalists educates the Preserve’s many visitors as to the interrelationships of water, wildlife, plants, and man-fanning the flames of that torch set by Lee County students some two decades earlier. The Interpretive Center at the Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve had its grand opening April 18, 2008. The 11,000 square foot building is the first public, certified Green Building in Lee County. It has been built under the nationally recognized “Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design” or LEED certification system.

I drove across the Tamiami Trail and saw hundreds of egrets – got no photos of them but did get this bird, an immature white ibis.

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I also counted over 50 alligators along the road, I finally stopped and got a couple photos of them, yikes!

o18o19I grow orchids and wanted to add to my collection so visited RF Orchids in Homestead. At 11 and 3 on Saturday and Sunday they give free tours of the botanical garden they have adjacent to the grounds, it’s actually the yard of the owners home. It was a highlight. of that part of my trip.

One of my favorite things in the world to do is drive down the Keys.

Michael and I lived in the Keys for a while between moving from Aspen to New Bern. I always said the Keys and Aspen were a lot alike in the respect that there is one way in and one way out. They were both isolated and you could get cabin fever.

And they are both incredibly beautiful.

Michael went to the Keys every winter (before me) for a month or two when he was farming and it was there that he proposed to me in 1983, so the Keys hold a special place in my heart.  Consequently I was hesitant about seeing the damage done by Irma. I had heard from friends that Big Pine (where we lived in 1988) and adjacent Keys were devastated, and I had seen a video of Key West where the water was a foot deep at Sloppy Joes.

kw big pine 1The middle Keys were pretty depressing. I’ve heard there were a lot of little tornadoes around the eye, there would be a lot of damage in one place, and right next to it things were ok. All the trees on Big Pine are beat up, there are boats and all kinds stuff in the canals and mangrove and it seems every house on the island sustained some damage and many were destroyed. I didn’t take any photos there because it was so sad. I started see damage in about Tavernier and it went all the way to Big Coppitt, about 70 miles.

I was in Key West for a day in January while on my Havana cruise, I had a long conversation with the bar tender in Sloppy Joes and he said they were so thankful for the cruise ships since the hurricane because for a long time tourists couldn’t get there and their businesses really suffered. He spoke about the problem of workers, that drove in to work from the middle keys,  had no place to live, so many left leaving a shortage of workers.

Because of that visit I knew things were pretty much back to normal in Key West but I didn’t know how the beautiful 120 mile drive from Card Sound to Key West would be. The drive crosses 42 bridges, the shortest being about 38 feet and the longest almost 7 miles. In 1981 when Michael was down there a truck struck the propane tank on the swing span of the 7 mile bridge causing an explosion which closed the bridge for a while to auto traffic and closed it for a year to marine traffic, so he was “stuck” staying a while longer, poor boy!

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This is a section of the old Flagler railroad bridge that is still standing. When Michael started going to the Keys in the 1970s he drove on the road that was on the top of the railroad bridge. I would not have liked to do that at all.

Since the campground on the the small key where we decided to get married was totally destroyed (it covered the entire key) by Irma and they have it all blocked off so you can’t enter I decided this would be a nice place to put some of Michaels ashes, he loved it in the Keys.

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