With their first major park under their belt, my PFP team of Stephanie, Justin, Ivy, and Ranger Celia Jane headed out for the Keys as they eventually make their way to Key West in pursuit of a trip to Dry Tortuga National Park! With boat in tow, their first stop was Key Largo. With no rest for this traveling band, they headed straight for a lesser known but fascinatingly unique spot, Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park! Located in the former Flagler Quarry that was used in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s to create the famous Oversea Railroad and later unique specialty stone keystones, this self guided park is a science buffs playground of coral and sea fossils dating over 125 thousand years in age, logic-defying trees of all varieties growing into and out of massive stone, and relics from the quarry and railroad building, which was completed in 1912 but no longer in use today (in fact, there is a hole cut through the railroad to allow sailboats to pass through).
I know what you are thinking… A rock quarry in the Keys? Considering that the average elevation in the Keys is about 2 – 3 feet above sea level, it seems unlikely, but Windley Key is the mountain of the Florida Keys with a peak elevation of 18 feet, so the Florida East Coast Railroad was able to mine here…at shallow depths. The stone was used as railroad bed and bridge approach fill.
Armed with their guide book, tree identification guide, cameras, and Celia’s trusty magnifying glass, they made this state park their laboratory looking closely at fossil formations, unbelievable tree formations, and incredible bark samples of numerous rare trees. Justin is always able to conjure up some interesting creatures for Celia and crew to identify and investigate, but none really want to get quite as intimate with them as Justin does! Here he finds a red rat snake with beautiful red markings - Ranger Jane is checking it out, but from a very wide distance!!!
After the science and history lessons of the morning, Stephanie and Justin opted to head off shore in the boat to explore the Great Florida Reef just a couple kilometers off of Key Largo for some snorkeling to search for some marine wildlife and appreciate this beautiful and endangered ecosystem below the surf. They did not come away empty handed with sightings of huge empire angel fish and parrot fish along with lots of coral formations. Most rewarding was the chance to swim with a Giant Sea Turtle that occurred! They then headed to Pickle Key where Justin jumped in to swim with the sharks (Stephanie decided she was sitting that one out!)
Back at base camp (after a not so productive napping attempt) Celia and Ivy were inspired by all they have seen so far and following in their aunt’s footsteps and set up to paint the sites, sounds, and smells of the Everglades! It literally makes my heart burst just thinking about it - I AM SO PROUD! At not even three years old, Celia is an incredible artist and takes her art making very seriously!!! Her first piece in shades of purple and yellow may be inspired by the incredible mangrove trees in the Everglades and the tree formations of the Quarry, OR maybe Celia has other ideas…. :)
But she was not done there! The painting continued on and off through out the evening and eventually 3 paintings were made, two by Celia and one as a group effort with the entire crew contributing - PRICELESS! This is what art activism is all about people!
They wrapped up the day with the sun lowering behind the Lighthouse at Key Largo, feeling accomplished, wine glasses and sippy cups in hand - soaking in the view, reliving the moments, and plotting their course for tomorrow - No four people have ever deserved this more after the year they have had….So proud of them in so many ways. THANK YOU for bringing the Everglades and Keys to us here at Postcards from the Parks and inspiring me (paintings already in the works) and the rest of us who are following along on your journey! More tomorrow as they make their way to Key West and beyond…