These islands are called the Florida Keys. In Key West, a sign on a monument says “America Begins Here.”The first European to see the Florida Keys was Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon in the year 1513. He was searching for special water that would keep people young forever. But he did not find that special water, or any other water that people could drink. Later, other Spanish explorers mapped the area as an aid to help their treasure ships return to Spain.
Many of the Keys still have Spanish names, like Islamorada, Bahia Honda and Key Vaca. The word “Keys” comes from the Spanish word “cayos” meaning “little island.” And many of the Florida Keys are little. Hundreds of the islands are only pieces of sand that extend a few feet out of the water. Many are only visited by sea birds.
Yet some of the Keys are big enough to support large numbers of people. One of the most popular is Key West. It is the farthest south of the Keys that
can be reached by car.
A road extends southwest into the Florida Keys. It is called Highway One. It starts into the Keys from the state of Florida at a bridge that crosses the water to the island of Key Largo.
The road is narrow and the traffic is often slow as it travels through each of the small towns of the Keys. Highway One is about 157 kilometers from Key Largo to its end in Key West. It extends across many bridges between the islands. The longest of these bridges is 11 kilometers long. It is called Seven Mile Bridge and was completed in 1911. At the time, it was considered one of the wonders of the world. No bridge crossed as much open water.
It was a strong bridge, too. Seven Mile Bridge survived many storms, including one huge ocean storm that damaged the Keys in 1935. The first Seven Mile Bridge was replaced in 1982, but you can still see the old bridge, close to the new one. Today, the Florida Keys are a popular holiday area. Many of the islands have beautiful white sand beaches. Swimming and boating are major sports. Visitors can pay to go on a boat for a fishing trip. They can catch many different kinds of fish including huge fish called sailfish or marlin. People come from all over the world to fish in the Florida Keys. In fact, the people who live on Islamorada Key claim their island is the “Sports Fishing Capital of the World.”
However, the people of other Keys say the fishing is just as good off their islands.
Visitors can ride on other kinds of boats in the Florida Keys. Some are special party boats. These go out for the day or during the night. There are food and drinks on these boats. They might also have bands or recorded music for dancing.
The music heard in the Florida Keys is unusual. You can hear Cuban music. You can hear music of the Caribbean islands, old calypso music from deep in the Caribbean and reggae from Jamaica. You can also hear a lot of music by American songwriter and singer Jimmy Buffet. His music is a mix of American country and western, rock and the sounds of the Caribbean islands. People who really like his music call themselves “Parrot Heads.”
It is now time to take a little trip. Let us pretend we are traveling across the last bridge on Highway One to the island of Key West. Our car radio is playing one of Jimmy Buffet’s most famous songs, “Margaritaville.”As we cross the bridge to Key West, we can see many boats. Some are fishing boats you can use for the day. Others belong to people who have sailed their boats here from many different places.
In the city, the houses are almost all painted white.