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Happy Trails...island style!

When people think “Miami,” nature trails don’t necessarily leap to mind. But one discovery I’ve made? Not only are there some interesting islands just off the city’s coast, Miami also has its hidden pockets of unspoiled island beauty. Yesterday, Zickie, our littlest Island Runaways member, and I enjoyed an amble through one such jewel.

(A Tropical Trail in Bill Baggs park. Photo (c) Zickie Allgrove.)

You can find Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park on Key Biscayne, an island that lies south of Downtown Miami and just north of Coconut Grove. To get there, we crossed the Rickenbacker Causeway, then drove through Virginia Key and onto Key Biscayne. At the very end of the island, we paid our $8 entrance fee at the park ranger’s booth, and drove on in.

First, a little history about Cape Florida: After ships repeatedly went aground on the Florida reef not far from uninhabited Key Biscayne, the U.S. government decided to build a lighthouse on Cape Florida. To get this project underway – essentially in the middle of nowhere – bricks were brought down by boat from New York. The structure was completed in 1825, and a lightkeeper, his family, and assistants were installed on this isolated, beautiful stretch of natural beach and forest. About 10 years later, during the Seminole Indian Wars, Seminoles attacked and destroyed the lighthouse. In 1846, the structure was rebuilt. The lighthouse stayed in business until 1878, when another light took over its duties. Amazingly, the 1846 light has survived and been renovated more than once; fortunately, 400 acres of prime bay-front land were also set aside for the enjoyment of locals and travelers alike.

(Bill Baggs beach with the Cape Florida light. Photo (c) Zickie Allgrove)

Today, you can climb up the lighthouse, and there are also tours of the light and the keeper’s quarters. Yet many folks stick to the park’s one-mile beach, which is one of my favorites in south Florida. The water here is clear and clean, flushed by the current that brushes the tip of Key Biscayne. In fact, one year “Dr. Beach,” ranked Bill Baggs beach one of the Top Ten Beaches in the United States. (The kind of beach beauty contest I was talking about in my post the other day.) People also come to fish, kayak, and bike through the park. Boaters are allowed to anchor and overnight in No Name Harbor, something that I’d love to do…if I had a boat!

But let’s get back to our hike through the nature trails. The paths run through tropical hammock, with palm trees, gumbo limbo, saw palmetto, and other native Florida species providing shade. Yesterday the sun shone brightly, and the sky had that crisp winter blue you find only this time of year. At moments, bits of bright ocean peeked out from behind the brush.

(The sea peeking through. Photo (c) Zickie Allgrove)

We hurried ahead, in search of a great view. These paths aren’t very long, and soon I was rewarded with an amazing vista of sailboats anchored in No Name Harbor.

(Sailboats in No Name Harbor. Photo (c) Zickie Allgrove)

It really was a perfect time to visit Key Biscayne: no humidity, no mosquitos attacking your legs, just a gentle breeze keeping the three of us cool as we walked. We came across a man casting his line into the deep aqua-blue water. A jogger with a happy looking brown dog ran passed, and shouted, “Hi, guys!” Everyone seemed to be in a good mood.

“It’s hard to believe we’re just off Miami,” I remarked to Zickie. On the trail we heard crickets or simply…silence. In the middle of this island park, I could momentarily forget about Miami’s skyscrapers and the traffic and the noise.

Our trail looped back, past Boater’s Grill restaurant. Some stunningly gorgeous (and expensive) yachts were docked on the seawall, along with little dinghies. One of them was playing Bob Marley’s “One Love” on their sound system. This got us bopping along as we walked, and thinking, yet again, that no matter where you go in the islands, someone’s always going to be playing Bob Marley’s music.

(One of the boats had Bob Marley on the sound system.)

Ambling further ahead, we arrived at one of the most spectacular sections of trail overlooking Biscayne Bay. Far out you could see little stilt houses hovering over the water. This is Stiltsville, a haphazard collection of humble stilt houses and shacks that Miamians built starting in the 1930’s as an escape from city life. The sun literally sparkled on the sea’s surface.

(Sparking Biscayne Bay with Stiltsville barely visible. Photo (c) Zickie Allgrove)

It’s true that some of my favorite islands lie far, far away. Koh Samet in distant Thailand defied all my expectations of a tropical paradise. Recently, Zickie and I fell hard for irresistible Grenada, down in the very southern Caribbean Sea. I have such a case of wanderlust that sometimes I take for granted the islands practically in my own backyard.

Yesterday, however, I did feel extremely grateful to be based at the southern end of the Florida peninsula, where we have access to places like Key Biscayne, as well as the Florida Keys. As the three of us came to the end of our ramble through Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, the Marley lyrics we’d heard just earlier, passing by a boat, came back to me. “Let’s get together and feel all right.” Yeah, that about captured the feeling.

Happy Sunday, Island Runaways friends. Wishing you a beautiful island experience in the near future!

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