Monroe County Highpoint Trip Report

five areas (15+ feet)

Date: October 17, 2008
Author: Michael Schwartz

As stated by previous reporters, construction of the Flagler Railroad may be responsible for all or some of the current highpoints in the Keys. There seems to be fairly high natural ground on Plantation and Windley Keys in the upper Keys, as there is in Key West, but it's not possible at this late date to know what was piled up during railroad construction or not. Web searchers will find different areas touted as the Keys' highpoint but without survey data or references to back up their claims. Lignum Vitae Key is supposedly in its natural state and is not easy to visit but visit we must as there is no positively natural, positively highest area along US 1.

Area 1 - Plantation Key subdivision: The dirt access road is just south of Islamorada Founders Park and there is no sign for the subdivision. Turn north at utility pole C5 585. Other than a large house under construction behind a locked gate well past high ground, not much is happening here. Previous descriptions of the highpoint are still valid.

Area 2 - Truck Weigh Station: The weigh station is very active. Parked on other side of road and walked to high ground. Was soon gently invited to leave by the weigh station staff.

Area 3 – Windley Key: GPS puts this area just south of the Ocean View Inn on the gravel road described by Bill Jacobs. This is the same area over which John Garner and Fred Lobdell differed concerning its origin. Put me down as a definite maybe.

About 1/2 mile north of area 3 is the Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park. Callers inquiring about Lignum Vitae Key (with Vitae pronounced VYE-tuh) will be speaking to the folks at this visitor center. The rangers state categorically that the highest natural ground in the Keys, ~18 feet, is at the Fossil Reef Park. I did not interrogate them about sources but from previous reports this is obviously an article of faith with them. I hiked the Hammock Trail, which nears high ground at its closest approach to the highway. My altimeter liked that area and the breezeway/parking area equally but showed the area 1/2 mile south near the motel to be 2-3 feet higher. This jibes with the topo, which does not show any 15+ feet ground at the state park. My recommendation is to walk the Hammock Trail with the rented trail guide ($1.50) and enjoy the deep shade and interesting flora but, lacking topo revision, the state park does not merit inclusion in Andy Martin’s book.

Area 4 - Lignum Vitae Key: Not visited. Note that Robbie's Marina has relocated south to just north of MP 77. I called them at 305-664-9814 and was told, "We aren't doing that (boats to L.V. Key) anymore." The person to whom I spoke said they were losing money on the service and were negotiating with the state for a better deal. He was noncommittal about future plans. When I mentioned this to the Fossil Reef rangers, they seemed surprised and said that Robbie's was still the official concessionaire and was still running boats to the island. They did advise me that Robbie's will not usually run a boat for only one or two customers. As for access to the highpoint, the rangers were completely noncommittal. If there is a large group on tour, the rangers are very unlikely to detour to the highpoint but if the group is too small Robbie's may cancel. Catch 22. I asked if one could arrive for the 10 AM tour but hang around afterwards and get a ranger to run him up to the highpoint before the 2 PM tour arrives. Response: If the ranger(s) is not busy with "other projects," maybe that could be arranged but no promises. Nonetheless, that would seem like a workable strategy.

Other Lignum Vitae info: Tours of Lignum Vitae and Fossil Reef are now given only Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Calls to the park on other days will not be returned until Friday. Per their agreement with the Nature Conservancy, the island is positively off limits to unescorted visitors.

Mosquitoes: Was advised by the ranger, who grew up in Maine and knows black flies, that the mosquitoes are just impossible in wet season. He wears a full body bug suit to work outdoors.

Area 5 - Key West: Previous reports work fine. The rangers at Fossil Reef pooh-poohed the Key West area as manmade. Considering the size of Key West, I'm not convinced. There's a good deal of ground above ten feet and a rise to fifteen feet doesn't seem unreasonable. The city cemetery is nearby and those are often located on high ground in low lying regions. Must be visited but the drive to Key West, although slow, is beautiful. Key West itself is one of a kind.