I’ve heard that expression before “driving down the Keys,” but never fully appreciated what it meant before. you’d think “archipelago, obviously it’s a bit of a drive” and yet … I was also surprised at how quickly we got out of Miami and onto the coastal highway. once we cleared the snarly right outside the airport, it was a nice, easy drive with only a slow-moving gawker or two.
in its early days, Key West was a bustling town as it was so accessible by water; even before Henry Flagler built his railroad link, the city was home to 30,000 residents. Flagler developed an interest in Florida towards the end of the 19th century and became a resort developer, constructing a series of hotels down the east coast, culminating with the Casa Marina hotel in Key West.
initially, the Overseas Railway was referred to as “Flagler’s Folly” — who’d think that a 128 mile extension over a coral archipelago would succeed? it necessitated immense amounts of labor, as well as innovations in railway construction. work began in 1905 and trains began running to Key West in 1912. hurricanes disrupted progress in 1906, 1909, and 1910 and, ultimately, destroyed it. trains rain until 1935, when the Labor Day Hurricane struck at Islamorada and swept away several sections of bridge, in addition to killing nearly 400 people. the company didn’t have finances to repair or replace the damaged sections and, eventually, they sold the remaining tracks and roadbed to the State of Florida, which turned the route into the highway it is today. while many of the bridges were replaced in the 1980s some remain as pedestrian and fishing bridges. you could tell the locals — bronze figures either running along otherwise desolate stretches of concrete, or planted in one of the fishing alcoves with a rod or two.
portions of the road were tolled until 1954. the Seven Mile Bridge was one of the longest bridges when it was constructed and once crossed over Pigeon Key (home to Flagler’s railway company) but now bypasses it as the original structure is unsafe for vehicular travel. the road, now designated U.S. 1 runs from Key West to Fort Kent in Maine.
I’m thankful that we ended up making the drive while it was sunny out. being on the road, with the water on both sides and the sun beating down, set the tone for the weekend wonderfully.
|the rest stop on I-90
anyone who’s driven towards, through, or around South Dakota has seen signs for Wall Drug in Wall, South Dakota. I’ve seen billboards for it in Minnesota and Iowa, not to mention all across the length of South Dakota. we started joking about whether or not to visit the famous Drug Store somewhere between Sioux Falls and the Missouri River, in spite of the fact that none of us had any interest in diverting off the road for the quintessential interstate tourist trap. I’d say “give ’em a giant ball of twine and they’ve got kitchiest road side attraction west of the Missouri sewn up” except I don’t think they need a giant ball of twine, really.
perhaps I’m not being fair to Wall Drug. I know we stopped there on my earlier westward trek to the Black Hills, but on pain of death and dismemberment I couldn’t produce any concrete memories of the place. all I know is that Wall Drug started up during the Depression (in 1931) by a Nebraska pharmacist who struggled to make his business work. his wife got the idea to offer and advertise free ice water for visitors of the newly-opened Mount Rushmore and, 80 years later, they boast handing out something near 20,000 cups of water a day during peak tourist season.
anyway, despite swearing we wouldn’t set foot in Wall, we did have to grace the city limits to get back onto the Interstate after diverting through the Badlands. and, leaving the Black Hills around 3 p.m., it turned out to be a decent place to stop and get some dinner. the local restaurant we found even had passable veggie options! (mostly because they had an extensive appetizer menu of fried foods.) in a town of 766, it might have been the only game besides the Subway and when a party of nearly two dozen people started showing up (a caravan of indeterminate make-up and origin) it stretched capacity to the limit. thankfully, we got in and out just in time and got out of Wall, bellies full and not a single Drug Store seen.
I might preface this post by letting you know that Dave told us we could see the Black Hills from this I-90 rest stop overlooking the Missouri River and Chamberlain. but don’t hold that against me.
on the drive from Sioux Falls to the Black Hills, we stopped at a rest area that overlooks Chamberlain and the Missouri River and boasts a decent interpretive exhibit on the Lewis & Clark expeditions. growing up with more intimate knowledge of both the Wisconsin & Mississippi Rivers (not to mention many, many smaller rivers throughout Wisconsin), I didn’t know much about the Missouri before Dave enlightened us. the other Mighty Miss officially flows some 2,341 miles and, by virtue of being mapped second, is a “tributary” to the Great Muddy. it’s the longest in North America, but only the 13th by discharge and spans 10 states and 2 Canadian provinces. according to Dave, however, the volume of water flowing from the Missouri into the Mississippi lends credence to the argument that the latter is actually a tributary of the former, rather than how matters currently stand. some of the natural length of the Missouri has been cut as meanders were circumvented to make the river more navigable. at Chamberlain, where we saw it, the river was dammed but doesn’t bulk up the river much in terms of width.
while the Lewis & Clark exhibit was informative, it wasn’t anything that tripped my fancy. mostly I remember the keel of a replica boat sticking half-way out the second floor of the rest area, providing a view of the River and a sense of how small the boat was for 20 or 30 men traveling together during this stretch of river.