First of all I apologize for my prolonged absence. June 2016 was quite the month for me. As well as publishing my first book ‘Walking The Keys To Happiness’, about my solo walk of the Florida Keys (you can get it here), I had another important event to attend to and prepare for. Yes, my own wedding! And where else could that possibly have happened but in the beautiful Florida Keys! All this book and wedding hype has taken over much of my brain and creative process over the last few weeks. Now I can say, hooray, it’s done and I am fortunate to have acquired a husband who is just as crazy about the outdoors and things to do off the beaten track, as I am! Well, almost.
That’s us relaxing at the Lorelei on Islamorada on our wedding day. Incidentally, I can highly recommend them! We had a lovely time and it didn’t cost an arm and a leg either. Just an arm. Only kidding, great value and a great location!
However, the purpose of this post was not to talk about our nuptials, although temptation is hard to resist. Actually, I am supposed to write thank-you cards as I am writing this, but this is more fun. Plus, I was going to write about some stuff we got up to after the wedding, while we were still in the beautiful Florida Keys for a few days with some family from overseas.
Of course we had to show them Key West, but not being a fan of crowds and spending a whole day bar-hopping, I managed to convince them to leave Key West in the afternoon and move on to Big Pine Key.
Why Big Pine Key?
Apparently, so I read the other day, it is futile to begin a question with ‘why’. However, I can find plenty of good reasons for a ‘why’ when it comes to Big Pine Key.
For starters, it is the antidote to Key West. So if like me, you like peace and quiet and no-see-ums (wait, no I don’t like those, but there are plenty on Big Pine Key), make your way out of Key West and head back up on the Overseas Highway for about 30 miles, until you hit Big Pine Key. No more tourists, well not many anyway.
A Little About The History Of Big Pine Key
The trend of relative peace and quiet on Big Pine is not a new one. The area, although quite big (just under 6000 acres), is one of the last to become settled in all of the Florida Keys. In 1870, only one family was recorded as living in Big Pine Key, although nearby No Name Key had 44 inhabitants listed on the 1870 census (http://www.keyshistory.org/bigpinekey.html). Even as late as 1917, the population of Big Pine Key remained fairly small but now was 17 souls, with No Name Key having about 22 souls to its (no) name. Apparently, lack of schools and abundance of mosquitos provided challenges for settlement of the area, though this can be said for much of the Florida Keys at that time. Even the opening of the Overseas Highway, in 1928, did nothing much for the settlement of Big Pine Key.
I found an interesting snippet about No Name Key, specifically its wooden bridge, which apparently burnt down in 1948, not to be replaced until 20 years later. This for me begged the question as to how those folks living on No Name Key felt about suddenly needing a boat to get back and forth. After some scouring of records, it seems there were no more permanent inhabitants on No Name Key at that time. I wonder if that was indeed the case, and again that is a somewhat curious fact after learning that previously there had been more folks on No Name Key than Big Pine…
Much of the information of earlier settlement of Big Pine Key up until the 1970’s can be found here.
Big Pine Key Today
These days, the population of Big Pine Key, according to December 2015 figures, is just over 4.500. The island is of course home to the National Key Deer Refuge and the majority of what remains of the population of these sweet little creatures, can be found on this island. Key Deer, the smallest North American deer species, are endangered. Although they have recovered in numbers from the 1950’s when the entire Key Deer population dropped to as low as 25 animals. These days, Key Deer numbers are reportedly between 700-800, but sadly there are no grounds for celebration as the Key Deer remains endangered.
The biggest threat to Key Deer is habitat loss and road kill, as well as a relative low rate of reproduction. Unfortunately, those little big-eyed creatures are quite tame and readily come up to humans, mainly looking for food handouts. Although extremely tempting to give in, I must stress that it is strictly forbidden to feed wildlife. Also, rather than doing a good deed, we must understand that feeding Key Deer makes them much more vulnerable to car deaths. Let’s keep the wildlife wild and observe them from a distance or at least this: please do not succumb to those big begging eyes and start feeding them.
Why Did The Deer Cross The Road?
Where And When Do You Have A Good Chance Of Seeing Key Deer?
I have been to Big Pine Key a few times, however, not always seen a Key Deer. As a rule: during the midday heat you will most likely be out of luck. For me, the best time to see Key Deer has undoubtedly been dusk, when the sun is going down, and certainly after 5pm. Around sunset is usually a winner. Although I have seen them just by the side of the Overseas Highway also, we have found the best place to see them is close to the area of No Name Key, specifically outside of No Name Bar.
I don’t want to be overly suspicious and declare the fact that people feed them there as the reason for it, but judging by what we saw, I guess it’s not too far fetched. They clearly have a great sense of smell, as evidenced by one deer stopping to feed on grass instantly when a few people came out of the pub with styrofoam boxes. The smell must have been too tempting. They have good noses!
The No Name Pub – A Nice Place If You Can Find It
While we were searching for the Key Deer and checking out the bridge to No Name Key, we thought to ourselves: why not check out No Name Pub? The sign ‘No Name Pub – You Found It’ greeted us ominously as we arrived. A historic house and the oldest bar on Big Pine Key, plus with decent food and drink (so I had heard). We figured it had to be worth a shot. Although admittedly, when I saw the outside, I was not sure what to expect.
You find this place, which is a little hidden, just a couple of miles off US1 on the bayside, a little before the No Name Key bridge. If you see the bridge, you have passed it! If you see the sign ‘you found it’, you found it!
We Just Had To Add!
Well, the place is fabulous and unfortunately no photo I took could even begin to do it justice. It is a place full of nooks and crannies and a fabulously rustic and thick wooden bar, apparently made of Dade County Pine (which I am obsessed with). The whole of the inside is plastered with written-on dollar bills, and by plastered I mean several layers deep. So much so that a very nice member of staff told us the estimated amount stuck on the walls by customers is around $250.000 – incredible, if true? They bring you markers and a stapler so you can add to that amount…
Of course, we had to stick a couple of dollar bills on the wall also, having just gotten married and having my parents over from Germany. We are now part of the inventory! And many others were doing the same all around us.
Our Wedding Dollar Bill
It is a real local place too, well of course there are some visitors, but by ‘local’ I also mean: entirely unpretentious and exactly where you want to be if you are looking for a real old Keys experience. You can show up just as you are even after a sweaty day of exploring Key West. The food is unpretentious and delicious. The atmosphere is not so much drunk-to-oblivion vacationers, but rather families and all ages having a casual dinner, with the noise level (important to me) quite low and ideal for conversation. I was wondering whether it was all muffled by the several layers of dollar bills?
The No Name Pub actually has quite an interesting history, as well as just being a great place. It opened way back when, in 1931, as a general store and bait shop. An eatery was added a few years later. Remember, this was at a time when Big Pine Key was pretty underdeveloped with hardly any facilities and inhabitants! Even more ‘interesting’, the upstairs served as a brothel until the early 1940’s. Later on in the 1950’s, it became the Pub that we know now.
All in all, a great day was had mainly by escaping Key West and spending some time in the much underrated Big Pine Key area, with the highlight being the No Name Pub and surroundings. We will be back!
What do you think, had any encounters with Key Deer? Have some tips of more things to see in the area?Please get in touch!