Monroe County Highpoint Trip Report

Date: February 2005
Author: Bill Jacobs

While traveling through South Florida a few months ago, I called Ranger Dave Garcia about access to Lignumvitae Key in the Florida Keys. He is a long-time veteran of the Florida National Parks and is familiar with the various highpoint possibilities of Monroe County. I have been unable to reestablish contact with him to confirm what he told me so the information presented here is to the best of my memory from that ONE phone conversation. He believes there are two additional areas to examine. He became aware of them as the result of working with the USGS.

Andy martin lists five areas in his book at the 15+ contour. (Andy also lists a sixth manmade area - a 40 foot bridge abutment on Bahia Honda Key.) The two additional areas mentioned by Ranger Dave do not appear to rise into a 15 foot contour when looking at the topos. Nevertheless, they are easy to reach and should be explored in the event they are proven later to be definitive candidates for Monroe's highest points. It was Ranger Dave's contention they are, or at one time were, the highest points in the county.

Casting a shadow over the search for the highest point in Monroe is the Flagler Railroad. It was built one hundred years ago - now abandoned - along the entire length of the Florida Keys, terminating in Key West. The excavations and abutments changed the landscape of the Keys and have created some doubt as to which elevation rises are natural and which are the result of earth displacement caused by railroad construction crews.

Four areas are along Highway 1 between Mileposts 88 and 84, two are on Lignumvitae Key, and one is in the City of Key West. For orientation, Highway 1 runs from southwest (Key West) to the northeast with Milepost Number One starting in Key West.

I have no additional comments on the Plantation Key (Area 1) and the Weigh Station (Area 2) near Mileposts 88 and 86.

Milepost 85.5 is the Ranger Station and Visitor's Center (a worthwhile stop) as mentioned in Dave Covill's excellent report. Ranger Dave Garcia said the breezeway connecting the Visitor's Center with the restrooms was, prior to ground excavation for building construction, the highest point (Area 3) in Monroe County at 18+ feet. The topos are not clear but they do not seem to show an elevation rise above 15 feet. The surrounding land is mostly made up a permanent coral stone so if it ever did rise above 15 feet, it probably was God-made.

Between Mileposts 85 and 84, prior to the "Theater of the Seas" and Highway 1 making a slight left bend, pull into a small motel parking lot on the right. From there you can drive up a side road to the top of the hill (Area 4).

Commercial access for the two areas on Lignumvitae Key is via "Robbie's" Marina (1-877-664-8498) at Milepost 84.5. We had our scheduled trip canceled due to rough seas.

Ranger Dave indicated the second highest natural area (Area 5) in Monroe is somewhere near the house where the boat drops you off and the tour begins, on the east side of the Key. The topo does not show a 15 foot contour anywhere near the house. If it did, it would not be keeping with the seemingly gradual elevation changes on the Key. A rise above fifteen feet in this vicinity does not seem to logically fit - too near the shore and the edge of the 10 foot contour.

The fifteen foot contour (Area 6) shown on the topo is on the northern side of the Key. Unfortunately, the tour follows a path almost up to the area but turns back before reaching it. Three different rangers told me due to environmentally sensitive plant life they do not allow tourists to wander by themselves nor will they take the tour group beyond the designated route. On rare occasions they do allow folks with special interests, e.g., wildlife photographers, to be escorted off designated routes but you must sign up well in advance and be available when they have time to fit you in. It's probably an infrequent occurrence.

The final area (Area 7) is in downtown Key West at 622 Angela. It is even pointed out as a landmark by the guide on the Conch Train ride. Ranger Dave indicated the USGS surveyors were of the opinion this elevation rise is merely debris buildup leftover from the construction of the Flagler Railroad.

The highest point is the driveway and, while giving it close examination, the homeowner opened the gate and walked right on by me. Doing what any self-respecting highpointer would do when caught trespassing, I told her she lived on the highest point of the County. Not one lukewarm to the cause of brevity, she answered, "That's right", and continued on her way without even looking back.

In summary, there is not enough evidence to add two new areas to Monroe's count but future visitors would be well served to visit them.