Key West, at the end of the line, is a Mecca for many residents, a Sodom and Gomorrah to others, whose frequent revival meetings remind you that you are still in the Bible Belt.
Key West dominates the geography of the Keys. It is miles from Miami to Key West. Every mile leading back toward what Key Westers call ''the real world'' has a small green rectangular sign with white numerals alongside the road. You live by these markers and advertisements, for everything from marinas to motels use them.
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O ne restaurant simply calls itself ''Marker 88 Restaurant. The most notable is Seven Mile Bridge, which arches gracefully 65 feet above the sea to permit tall ships to pass below.
In most cases the old bridges became fishing piers and native Conchs like to boast that the Keys are the longest fishing pier in the world. It was destroyed in a hurricane in with great loss of life; the highway opened in For animal lovers there are the once almost extinct Key deer, usually about two feet high, on Big Pine Key Mile Marker There is also a mile-and-a-half nature trail there for hikers and a freshwater ''Blue Hole'' attracting alligators and deer.
Bird lovers can rent boats for a few dollars at nearby marinas to see the bird sanctuaries up close. Divers, or more timid people in glass-bottom boats, can see all manner of coral formations plus angel fish, multi-hued parrot fish, the sinister silvery gray barracuda, the wreck of a Spanish galleon and an underwater statue of Jesus.
The park at mile marker There are many good restaurants in the Key Largo area. The Tahiti Village MM You can also rent a war canoe, drink at a floating outrigger bar or sail on the Tahiti Queen paddlewheeler. It is noted for its excellent marinas, but it is also a headquarters of the National Audubon Society.
Telephone The stars are five trained dolphins, which on command leap from the sea in unison in a maneuver remindful of an aerial circus. Visitors can shake hands with a sea lion, touch a small shark, and talk to a dolphin. There is an open-hull boat ride. Islamorada calls itself the sports fishing capital of the world. There is still-fishing from the bridges and jetties, casting on the flats and drift fishing over the reefs.
There are numerous fishing boats with expert captains and guides to go either ''outside'' to the reefs and Gulf Stream for dolphin fish known elsewhere as dorado and mahi mahi, not to be confused with the dolphins, which are mammals and perform in the oceanariums , sail or other billfish, or ''inside'' Florida Bay for bone fish and tarpon. Islamorada is also the home of Cheeca Lodge, recently opened to the public after years as a private club.
Florida Keys Scenic Highway
The resort is housed on 25 neatly landscaped acres that include a par three golf course, swimming pool, four lighted tennis courts, one of the longest stretches of private beach in the Keys and a foot lighted fishing pier. The restaurant overlooks the ocean. Sometimes you can dine by candlelight while watching an angler land a bonefish on the pier outside.
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Reservations: Harry Galloway, P. Box , Islamorada, Fla. Chesapeake of Whale Harbour features motel rooms and villas at MM There are discounts for longer stays. There are prime ribs nightly, but the specialty is seafood. The menu sometimes has alligator, which tastes a bit like fried chicken. A few miles south at MM is Layton. There are beautiful sites for campers and trailers, with good boating facilities. M arathon, the capital of the middle Keys, is strung out for seven or eight miles along U. Marathon boasts that it is the world's finest fishing ground.
AA necklace of islands that begins just south of Miami, the laid-back Florida Keys are connected by the Overseas Highway's 43 bridges - one almost seven miles long - over the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico. Each region has its own flavor, attractions, including historic museums, flora, fauna, seafood restaurants, fishing, diving, watersports and boutique-type shopping. Vistas of the Keys feature deep-blue seas, nodding palms and olive-green mangroves. Sharing this eco-paradise are white herons, roseate spoonbills, pelicans, sea gulls, ospreys and countless underwater creatures.
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