Key Largo – Boca Chita Key

This past weekend went a little differently than I had planned for. Originally, I was going to spend all Saturday up north in Cocoa Beach and Merritt Island and then all day Sunday down in Key Largo. But when I checked the weather report on Saturday morning and saw that it was 40 degrees in Cocoa, I decided to switch days and go south on Saturday and north on Sunday, as Sunday was going to be warmer up north. I was also going to check out a couple more lighthouses within these areas, including the one at Cape Canaveral.

I headed the hour-and-a-half drive down to the Florida Keys, where I was first going to check out the northern part of the Upper Keys. I took Card Sound Road, an alternate route to the Keys that I’ve never taken before, and made a quick stop at Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge. Unfortunately, I didn’t see any crocs or gators, but I did enjoy the beautiful scenery. I then turned north towards the top part of the Keys, but had to turn around after a mile or so when I hit the private Ocean Reef Club community. As I made my way south towards Key Largo, I stopped at the Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park. I was hoping there would be more to this park, as I was a bit disappointed by the trails. I then continued south til I hit Key Largo. I heard there was a lighthouse here, so I wanted to check it out. Not quite sure where it was, though, I decided to park my car at the Key Largo Community Park and bike up and down the waterfront streets. As I reached the street where the lighthouse was, I found the house and property it is located on but a slew of ‘No Trespassing’ signs covered the gate and I wasn’t able to see the lighthouse. I was a bit let down by this, but I made up for it by going to John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park next, where I enjoyed some fun hiking and a nice canoe ride.

With a couple hours of daylight left, I started to head back north, venturing over to Biscayne National Park in Homestead. I usually stop by here on my way back from my several Everglades trips but hadn’t been back in a few years. There’s a nice boardwalk that runs along Biscayne Bay, and they also have glass bottom boat rides and snorkeling trips. As I was looking through the gift shop, I saw a number of paintings of a lighthouse called Boca Chita. Curious, I asked the park ranger where Boca Chita was, and he told me there is a boat cruise twice a day to this key that features a lighthouse. As day turned to night, I drove back home, and decided to go back down to Biscayne Park Sunday morning and do the Boca Chita boat ride instead of heading up north to Melbourne and Cocoa.

Knowing there was a minimum number of people needed for the boat to set sail, I took my chances and left early in the morning for the hour drive south back down to Biscayne Park. As I had feared, not enough people signed up for the morning outing but there was to be plenty for the afternoon trip. So instead of hanging out at the park for the next 4 hours, I headed back a bit up north to south Miami to the Charles Deering Estate at Cutler. This was my third time here, and each time has been a new experience, as I went on a moonlight hike to an ancient Indian burial ground my first time a few years back. And then, a year ago, I got to see a manatee hanging out in the bay. This time, I took a tour of the two historic houses, dating back to the early 1900’s. I also learned that his brother, James, built Vizcaya, a famous Miami landmark that I’ve been to several times.

I then went back down to Biscayne Park, where I was able to board the afternoon cruise to Boca Chita Key. Owned by Mark Honeywell (yes, that’s his name on thermostats) in the late 30’s and early 40’s, he built a 65-foot lighthouse made of coral, and although not recognized as a real lighthouse because it does not have a light and it is on the wrong side of the island to be used as a navigational light, it’s still very impressive to look at. Since a park ranger came along on the cruise, she opened the lighthouse for a bit, where I not only got some great overlook views of the key and the beautiful bay, I also happened to see a black-tip shark swimming in the water below, which I’ve never seen in the wild before.

I can truly say, this weekend went better than I had planned, and I got to see a new lighthouse too, just not the one I was expecting. I’ll just have to save the Cocoa/Merritt Island trip for a warmer day.

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