On a map, the main swath of the Florida Keys resembles a long, narrow paint-splatter, as if the big brush used to daub Florida was jerked suddenly by an unsteady hand, flinging a thin strand of color from an errant wad of bristles onto the blue canvas. Tiny paint drops, viewable only by squinting, are stippled all around this strand, far into the surrounding blueness. Upon even closer inspection, a tiny thread that spans the principal Keys comes into view; this is U.S. Route 1, also known as the Overseas Highway, and it follows the gradual curve from Key Largo way down to Key West, roughly 110 miles west-southwest. In late December and early January, while I was trying to decide where Teri and I would travel next, preferably somewhere warm, this highway was the biggest selling point for me.
At the risk of exposing my underlying simplicity, I’ll admit that I fell in love the idea of a linear travel experience. We’d missed so much in Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons as a natural consequence of having relatively little time to explore such an enormous area. Although the vast majority of the lesser-known Keys can be explored only via boat (or helicopter), most of the Keys’ main attractions are nearly impossible to miss from Highway 1. John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is just a jerk of the wheel from the road at mile marker 102, as is Sombrero Beach (mile marker 54), Bahia Honda State Park (mile marker 36), and all the fascinating freaks of Key West (mile marker 1). And who can beat the weather? Sunny and 77 every day.
This all sounded like a dream respite from the long midwestern winter, so we booked our trip in early January, hopped on a plane one unseasonably warm morning in early February, and were cruising south from Miami in a rental before sunset on an otherwise typical Thursday in winter, with the windows rolled down.
So I’m going to organize things a little differently for my photo retrospective of the Florida Keys trip. Instead of chronologically, I’m going to group my posts by theme. I have a rough idea how these themes will cleave during the upcoming weeks. Broadly, I spent a lot of time shooting birds (mostly pelicans), bridges, the arches of Fort Jefferson, and sunsets/sunrises. I even tried some candid portraiture, since Key West is teeming with intriguing, photogenic weirdos—locals and tourists alike.
I’d also been dying to spend some more quality time with my 110 (10-stop) neutral-density (ND) filter (aka, The Big Stopper [not to be confused with The Hotstepper (wink at Mr. Forman)]) at the ocean. The Big Stopper has the ability to tame the most violent seas, transforming crushing waves into a ghostly sheet of vaporous mist. But alas, it didn’t take long to notice that there is no violence in the surf around the Keys, nary a wave in fact. It was fun nonetheless.
Our first theme will be bridges.
Almost nineteen miles of the Overseas Highway consist of bridges, spanning 42 small and large gaps of open water along the island chain. For someone like me who loves photographing bridges, the Florida Keys is like a mecca. The longest of these bridges is Seven-Mile Bridge, which is among the longest bridges in the world.
Many of these bridges, including the Seven-Mile Bridge, are replacement versions of older driving bridges that were damaged by hurricanes or have otherwise deteriorated in years of sun, salt, and storms. Their charming old predecessors, many of which have been converted to pedestrian bridges, run alongside the newer counterparts.
Bahia Honda Rail Bridge, which was damaged in the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 and later repurposed as a driving bridge in 1938, is now inaccessible by car or foot, since two of its truss spans have been removed. It’s now a hulking sculpture of rusting steel and crumbling concrete. Teri and I hiked around both Spanish Harbor Key and Bahia Honda Key to get various views of it.
Without further ado, behold (my view of) the bridges of the Florida Keys.