Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Biking Miami's South Dade Trail

South Dade Trail runs along the South Miami-Dade Busway from Florida City to the Dadeland North Metrorail station, connecting communities from South Miami to Homestead. At the northern end point, however, the trail doesn't end. You can pick up the M-Path here and continue north to downtown Miami. The corridor is 31 miles long.

A component of the commuter corridor between Miami and South Dade County, this trail is nothing short of an urban adventure. Paralleling US Highway 1 for most of its length, the route was adapted for and is largely used by urban commuters seeking refuge from Miami's heavy traffic congestion. The trail connects such points of interest as the Dadeland and Cutler Ridge shopping areas and commercial office spaces. It also links up with the Metrobus and Metrorail lines and passes by the Miami-Dade College/Homestead Campus and through Homestead's downtown area.

Only buses and emergency vehicles can drive on the busway, so bikers have little vehicular traffic near them as they pedal.


The best aspect of this trail is that all Miami-Dade Metro buses provide bicycle racks and no special permits are required, so if you get tired on your ride, or the weather changes on you, or you encounter mechanical problems, or you simply want to see more of the trail and not have to bike back to your vehicle, you have a good option here...

The busway ends at 344th Street but the bike rail continues another half-mile or so as seen below.  The trail then turns and follows along Krone Avenue.

Cyclists can stretch their legs on this fairly open trail, but you must wait your turn and use caution when crossing its many major intersections. Metrobus stations along the route provide plenty of parking, so you can pick up the trail just about anywhere. Dadeland Mall anchors the north end and Cutler Mall is about 8.5 miles south

Everglades National Park Critters

Today I hiked the Anhinga Trail and took the following photos:









Biking the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail

The 106 mile Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail (FKOHT) travels the length of the Florida Keys, from Key Largo to Key West, the southernmost point of the continental United States, running parallel to US Highway 1. It follows the right of way of Henry Flagler's railroad line, the first land transportation to Key West. 

As of September 2010, about 70 miles of the multi-use, paved trail had been completed. Riders have to share the road with vehicles for the unfinished sections which can involve narrow shoulders and fast moving vehicles.  The trail is expected to be complete in 2013 and will then offer educational kiosks, roadside picnic areas, scenic overlooks, fishing piers and catwalks, boat ramps, water access points, and businesses and services to support trail users.

So now there are three different configurations depending where you are on the route: you may be biking the completed trail sections that parallel the highway, or you may be biking on a bike lane on the highway, or you may be biking on a shoulder of varying width depending where you are.  In towns, you see people also riding on the sidewalk, and in several areas, the separate bike trail is dirt surface. Of course, most riders only do portions of the trail, not the entirety of it, so you can choose which sections to bike depending on your preferences.

I biked two segments that had actual trail, both of which offer fairly lengthy stretches of non-road travel. The first was through Key Largo to Tavernier, and the trail had separate trail on one side or the other...

...and another segment where the separate bike trail crossed the northbound lanes and ran in the median...

When in Key Largo, follow the signs to take the brief detour to see the famous African Queen boat used in the movie of the same name by Bogart and Hepburn.  It is docked and available for photos.

This interesting bridge appears near Bahia Honda Key and seems to have been old railroad tracks on the lower level and car traffic on the top.  It is currently not in operation, but it looks like it would be fun to bike it if it is ever rehabbed and open to bikes.

The second section I biked was in Marathon and then out to Pigeon Key, a tiny island two miles from Marathon. This is the historic 7 Mile Bridge that you ride for the two miles out to the tiny Pigeon Key (which charges $11 if you want to actually walk the ramp down to the landmass and have a tour) but there is no charge to use the bridge out to it...

This lengthy 7 Mile Bridge bridge was built from 1908 to 1912 as a railway bridge and then converted to automobile use in 1935.  In 1982 it was replaced by a modern highway and bridge to the left, and like many of the other replacement bridges, it arches up above the main channel to allow tall-masted vessels to pass beneath.

Many of the old, original bridges remain alongside the replacements and are used by fishermen.  The bridges that still span the entire waterway are also used by by the bike trail, so to adapt them to provide safety for all, the have been repaved, have added guard rails, and also have built fishing platforms to move the fishermen off the actual trail as seen here...

But many of the old bridges are one way out and back again because spans have been removed to allow boat traffic to pass through.

Florida's official page for this trail 

Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail site

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Dry Tortugas National Park

Dry Tortugas National Park is one of 59 national parks in the USA and the 46th I've visited so far.  Located on Garden Key 68 miles west of Key West  Florida, it is closer to Cuba than to the US mainland. The island is ten acres in size, and nine of those acres are inside the fort's walls. This aerial photo shows the six-sided fort which was designed to have 420 cannons, with 125 of them able to zero in on any target at the same time.

Called Fort Jefferson, it was part of an ambitious effort of nearly 30 coastal defenses built by the US between 1817 and 1867 to protect the Gulf and Atlantic coastlines from enemy attack.  This massive building program was occasioned by the burning of Washington D.C. by the British during the War of 1812.  Fort Jefferson commanded the entranceway to the Gulf of Mexico and was to be an important part of the defense system. This fort  is the largest masonry structure in the Western Hemisphere, containing over 16 million bricks, and it was never fully completed! Its nickname is the "Gibraltar of the Gulf of Mexico."  In 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt made the area Tortugas Keys Reservation, setting it aside as a bird refuge. In 1935, President Franklin Roosevelt visited and declared it Fort Jefferson National Monument, and in 1992 it achieved national park status.

This series of small islands was called "Tortugas" by Ponce de Leon when he discovered it in 1513 because it had an abundance of turtles.  It then became "Dry" Tortugas because the only potable water is that captured from rain. The fort was designed with 109 cisterns buried beneath the structure which would hold an astonishing 1,500,000 gallons of drinking and cooking water. A series of pipes brought the water from the roof, down through the walls, and into the cisterns. This wonderful system was clever except that the immense weight of the structure cause cracks to develop in 100 of the tanks and seawater contamination made the system  useless.

Here you see the "parade" area of the fort, the central court where training and recreation activities took place.  Remains of barracks buildings and other structures are evident as you walk the grounds.  They also had a small garden for vegetables and fruits, but not nearly enough for two thousand prisoners and soldiers.

The fort was never attacked but was garrisoned by hundreds of troops. Its 450 planned cannon would have been handled by 1500 men, all protected by three foot thick walls and a moat with a drawbridge. By 1888, weaponry (powerful rifled cannon) existed which could have blasted through the structure's thick walls, so construction was terminated. In short, Fort Jefferson was designed to be a massive gun platform, impervious to assault, and able to destroy any enemy ships foolhardy enough to come within range of its powerful guns.

During the Civil War, the North housed its own military prisoners here -- deserters, insubordination offenders, criminals, etc., including most famously, the four "Lincoln Assassination conspirators."  Eight  had been convicted but only four were executed. The most famous of the prisoners was Dr. Samuel Mudd who had been convicted for doctoring the leg of John Wilkes Booth.  After serving four years here, Dr. Mudd was pardoned by President Andrew Jackson for his heroic service treating prisoners afflicted with Yellow Fever  in the prison.

In this photo you see the series of "casemates" or gunrooms with thick outer walls and arching vaulted ceilings, both designed to protect the guns and personnel from enemy artillery.  Each casemate contained a cannon and firing team, and there are a total of 303 of these rooms in the fort's six sides and two floors.

This moat further protected the structure from being breached by enemy attack. The wall had been dug from 1849 to 1851, but the full depth wasn't dug until 1873.

Several beaches are now open to visitors for swimming and snorkeling, and the area behind this photo is the campground where overnight guests can set up camp.

Access to the park is by private boat, seaplane, or the Yankee Freedom II ferry from Key West ($165 in 2012.)

The Carnegie Institute's Laboratory for Marine Biology was established among the Dry Tortugas in 1905. Based on Loggerhead Key, this research facility laid the foundation for 20th century tropical marine science, with an emphasis on coral reef systems. 299 species of birds make use of these keys as they migrate or mate.

A Research Natural Area (RNA) was established in the Dry Tortugas January 19, 2007. The RNA adds a new layer of protection for the marine resources of Dry Tortugas National Park. The RNA is a 46 square mile no-take no-anchor ecological preserve that provides a sanctuary for species affected by fishing and loss of habitat.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Biking Key West

Key West is the final of a series of keys (islands) that extend in a comma shape from the Florida peninsula south of Miami and Homestead, a drive of 150 miles in order to reach Key West.  Key West is at the left of this map (click to enlarge)...

A bike ride around the perimeter of the island is 11 miles or so, part of which is along the seawall that follows Route A1A or S. Roosevelt Blvd. seen below...

A bit farther and you'll find lovely beaches occupying the land between the road and ocean...

When you reach the downtown area, find South Street and Whitehead and you'll find this buoy denoting the "Southernmost Point in the Continental USA."  You may have to wait in line to take photos of your party in front of the buoy, since this is a popular tourist sight.

If you then can find the Truman Pier, you'll find the historic Coast Guard cutter Ingham, the most decorated cutter in Coast Guard history, serving both in WWII and the Vietnam War, in addition to years of  service in the US. It has been open to visitors as a Maritime Memorial Museum in Key West since 2009.

Biking is the best way to get around this tourist mecca, often beleaguered by excessive automobile traffic.  And parking a car is another often Herculean feat, as well as an expensive one.  But a bike gets you everywhere in town and reduces the hassles of driving, and is especially effective in the congested downtown area.

Here's a final shot as I completed the loop of the town following US 1 here...

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Kayaking the Edge of the Everglades: A Sierra Club Outing

Deep in the southeastern part of Florida, nearly 2.5 million acres of land are dedicated to conservation in the form of these entities:  the 10,000 Islands National Wildlife Refuge, Big Cypress National Preserve, Everglades National Park,  Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park, Picayune Strand State Forest, Collier-Seminole State Park, and the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge.  These preserves all converge, offering visitors an immense and aquatic and land preserve that is home to a variety of wildlife, including dolphins, manatees, sea turtles, alligators, panthers, and countless wading birds to name a few. They include a chain of mangrove islands off the coast of southwest Florida and a refuge that is of one of the largest expanses of mangrove estuary in North America.

Our accommodations for the week were at the comfortable Ivey House in Everglades City, Florida, conveniently located amidst all of these priceless outdoor national treasures.  Our first of four paddles was from the Gulf Coast Visitor Center of Everglades National Park, crossing the bay and exploring around and on Sandfly Island...

Another paddle was down the twisting mangrove-lined Blackwater River seen below, beginning at Collier-Seminole State Park. This park also displays one of the three ingenious machines specially designed and constructed to build the Tamiami Trail (now US Highway 41) back in the 1920s.

The final paddle was down East River where our paddling skills were challenged by the narrow, twisting tunnels of mangrove, often barely wider than the kayaks, but a truly beautiful place to boat. Herons, egrets, jumping mullet fish, and even a swimming alligator all enthralled us as we plied the waters.

Another highlight of the program was an off-trail slog through the swamp of Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park, which entailed 90 minutes of hiking in water up to waist deep, in search of elusive orchids and other plants and whatever else caught our attention in this unique eco-system.

 Smallwood's Store and museum in nearby Chockoloskee made for an interesting side trip one morning.  This was the site of the 1920s vigilante justice by local residents, turned into an historical novel, Killing of Mister Watson, in 1991 by Peter Matthiessen.  Visits to two other nearby wildlife viewing areas provided additional opportunities to view birds.

Here are our intrepid explorers in front of our trailer full of kayaks...

(L to R) Front row:  Marlyn, Leon, Dave B., Jan, Joe (assistant leader), Gail, and Deborah
Back row:  Jack, Dave W., Karen, Patrick (leader), Cathy, and Nancy

Here's a brief video summarizing our week's adventures...

Biking Miami's Key Biscayne/Rickenbacker Trail

The highway from Miami to Key Biscayne is called Rickenbacker Causeway (toll was $1.50 in 2012) and the bike trail is mostly a bike lane on the roadway.

When you first cross the bridge, you'll find the beautiful beach of Virginia Key on your right with a bike/pedestrian path separate from the bike lane along the highway.  But on the Saturday I rode it, the separate path was congested with walkers and runners, and the bike lane on the road was crowded with road bikers out for speed runs, often two and three abreast. Below you see Miami in the distance with the Causeway bridge evident.  The brick road is the beach driveway, to its right is the ped/bike path, and the highway is farther to the right with the bike lane.

As you bike father east and reach Key Biscayne, you pass the marina and the separate bike path ends, as seen here...

...but if you'd prefer to not bike on the road, you can cross the road at the marked crosswalk you'll see just after you pass the sign for Crandon Park, and you'll find a path on the north side that wends its way through park property, first passing along the Bear Paw Preserve and then Crandon Park beaches and park areas seen here...

The trail ends at the Bill Baggs Cape State Park which charges an entrance fee even for bikes, so turn around if you'd rather not pay.

On the return trip, I saw many bikers turn onto Virginia Key's Arthur Lamb, Jr. Road, a wide, well-paved, lightly used road that adds about 4 miles to your ride.  And as a bonus, I found the Virginia Key North Point Mountain Bike Trails which offers 4 miles of mountain biking on trails labeled as novice, intermediate, and advanced. Wow!  What a great course!  I did about three of the miles and compare it favorably to the Santos Trails outside of Ocala in the Ocala National Forest which I rank as one of the best in the USA with its 50 or so miles of trails. Here's a photo of one of the advanced trails as viewed from an easy one...

Biking Miami's North Point Mountain Bike Trails on Virginia Key

Since 2011, Miami has had a wonderful venue for mountain biking out on Virginia Key.  The four miles of trails are rated as novice, intermediate, and advanced, with half rated as novice.  Here is a biker just after entering the area...

The scenery is marvelous, even occasionally displaying the water and some of Miami's sights, and all trails are well marked and in good condition.  Be aware that helmets are require of all riders, a precaution all should take even when not required, and all trails are one way for safety (and well used while I was there.)

For those who like moguls, there are a bunch, even some as high as five feet or so...

Here's a view of a downhill on an advanced trail, as seen from a novice trail that briefly runs alongside it...

Here are some more photos and info from the Virginia Key Bicycle Club Facebook page.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Biking Shark Valley in Everglades National Park

This morning I biked the 15 mile loop in Everglades National Park with Dave from the Sierra Club kayak outing that had just concluded.  As I discovered the last time I biked the loop, abundant alligators were the highlight of the bike ride.  This guy was just feet from the trail...

...and this one was napping on the trail and only begrudgingly moved...

On the back loop, we enjoyed seeing this "triple-decker" of baby gators (click to enlarge).  We cautiously kept our eyes on mama gator who was watching us from the other side of the trail.)

Two cormorants entertained us with their diving for food and reappearing minutes later...

...while this male anhinga was drying its wings after emerging from the depths...

This white ibis with its distinctive curved beak was enjoying the sun from its perch high atop a tree...

Again, my favorites were the colorful purple gallinues we watched cavorting on water lilies with their oversized yellow feet plopping on the lily pads...