Above:  I camped for several nights at Oscar Scherer State Park in Sarasota, then continued south to the Keys, where I camped at Bahia Honda State Park near Key West.

The Conch Republic

I headed over to nearby Oscar Scherer State Park the day after the election, where I camped for several days and got my website caught up, then I packed up the truck and got back on Interstate 75 and continued south, stopping at a Publix grocery store in Naples to stock up on groceries.  I’d been listening to satellite radio, Sirius XM, on this entire trip and after getting back on the road, I was saddened to hear of the passing of PBS NewsHour reporter, Gwen Ifill.  I always liked Gwen’s boisterous and bubbly personality and will greatly miss her.

I took I-75 across the sunny Everglades towards Miami, then around 2 p.m. I turned south onto US 27 and headed onto the Keys, the long chain of islands off the southern tip of Florida.  Every person in America, I believe, should visit the Florida Keys at least once.  Well, you can visit but you don't have to stay – or as they say about so much of Florida, "It’s a great place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live there" (as opposed to the Midwest, which is a great place to live but you wouldn’t want to visit there).  OK, I’m just kidding folks – please no hate mail.  But I am serious about visiting the Keys.  You must do it if you've never been there, because the tropical "Conch Republic," as the locals call this area, is unlike anywhere else in America.

The clouds rolled in as I drove through Key Largo, then it started raining.  Like really raining, but at least it was warm.  Midwesterners like to temper their bracing winters by saying, "But it's a dry cold," the same way Floridians temper their sogginess by saying, "But it's a warm rain."  A few hours later, around 6 p.m. I pulled into Bahia Honda Key, towards the end of U.S. 1 and nearly as far south as you can drive in the U.S.  I had a camping reservation that evening at Bahia Honda State Park, the best state park in the Florida Keys with one of the few stretches of sandy beaches found anywhere in the keys.  By now it was pouring and blustery – a veritable gale, in fact – so I had a hard time putting up my green shelter, especially trying to pound the metal stakes into the key's limestone bedrock.  A half-hour later, and still pounding, I was totally soaked but the shelter finally went up and I huddled inside and cooked some dinner.  Wet dinner.

The next morning was much calmer thankfully:  sunny, warm and breezy, and after eating breakfast I walked around the park.  I’d stayed at Bahia Honda once before, back in the spring of 2005 during a business trip I’d taken to Miami.  I’d extended my stay in Florida for a few days after my work so I could camp in the keys and drive up to the city of Fort Pierce, north of Miami, because I wanted to visit the museum of U.S. Navy SEALs there.  My Dad had been one of the first Navy SEALs – that was during World War II – and there were a few plaques and things at the SEALs museum in Fort Pierce with his name on it that I wanted to see.  I camped at Bahia Honda State Park for the first time during that trip and fell in love with it.  There are three state parks with campgrounds in the Florida Keys and Bahia Honda, I think, is the nicest.

Bahia Honda State Park has three campgrounds, two of which are geared towards RVers and are pretty bland.  I stayed at one of the RV campgrounds, called Buttonwood, my first night during the gale.  The third campground, Sandspur, is a tenter’s campground and is a half-mile away, perched right on the Caribbean/Atlantic Ocean.  The Sandspur campground is phenomenal and that’s where I stayed the second night.  In fact, it’s probably my favorite campground in the entire country, and that’s saying quite a bit because I've camped in, literally, hundreds of campgrounds across America.  The dozen or so campsites here that line the sandy beach are, I believe, the absolute epitome of a tropical camping experience. 

But because it’s such an amazing place to camp, the Bahia Honda campground is nearly booked solidly 365 days a year.  In fact, to get one of these prized campsites, you usually have to make a reservation at the exact moment the online reservations open, which is precisely 11 months beforehand.  If you dawdle even just a few minutes, forget it – you’ll have to wait another day.  I lucked out, though, and because of a cancellation at Sandspur I was able to swoop in and snag a beautiful beachside campsite for a night.

I ate dinner next to the beach, enjoying the warm November breezes.  After reading my Kindle for a bit, I went to bed early, around 9 p.m., because I was getting up early – like real early – the next morning for what I hoped would be an unforgettable adventure.

Bahia Honda State Park



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