National Geographic : 1963 Dec
Florida Rides a Space-age Boom destroyed if for a short-time gain-by drain ing an area that should remain wet-we suffer a long-time loss. South Florida and the Miami area must decide now what sort of country they want this to be 25 to 50 years from now. Io you want to preserve this heritage, or do you want to destroy it by excessive drainage?" When I finally started back down the Keys, six weeks of traveling had made me forget how intensely blue and pale lime-green their waters can be. Nowhere else in Florida are they like this. Nowhere else in the state can Key WVest lies in the path of the setting sun at the tip of a chain of coral-and limestone islands tlividing the Atlantic (left) and (ulf of MIexico. World's ' longest overseas highway. , i built on an ablandioned rail road le(l. runs 100 miles down the Islorida Keys to Key \Vest. a city of some 40.000 at road's end. In the early I 800's Kev West was headlua rters forp rival leers and pirates; wrecking mas ters gleaned millions in sal- i' tage from foundered ships. Shrimp cocktails by the thousands spill from a trawler's basket at Key West docks. Rich beds dis covered in the (;ulf of Mexico in 1950 yield these succulent pink shrimp. you take a boat, as I did from Key ILargo, and look down at a living coral reef, now pro tected as a state lark.* Like the cypresses of Corkscrew, its 75 square miles of waving sea fans and forests of coral have been saved. Until 1912, when Henry Flagler completed the extension of his Florida East Coast Rail road from the mainland to Key West, the Keys were isolated from the world. Twenty See "\America's First Undersea Park," by Charles MI. Brookfield and Jerry Greenberg, NATIONAL GEOGRAPH 1(,January, 1962. three years later the Labor Day hurricane of 1935 destroyed Flagler's railroad. But its 40 bridges-one spanning seven miles of open water-remained. Now the Overseas High way runs over them, and a few hours' drive will take you from the mainland to Key West. A day after 1 returned, I climbed to the top of one of Key West's handsome old houses with a friend who was remodeling it. We stood on the white-railed mirador,from which the first owner of the house watched for the wrecked ships whose cargoes made him rich. "Every time I come back I realize Key West really is differ ent," my friend said. It is. It is the only truly tropical city in the continental United States. It is the only one that rides like a shilp a hundred miles out at sea. I looked down on the town's chimney less, silver-painted metal roofs. Beyond was the harbor, filled with the shrimp boats that, along with tour ists and the Navy, are Key West's l)rincipal source of wealth. It was dusk and other vessels were returning: submarines andl de stroyers, and charter boats laden with some of the hundreds of sl)e cies of fish that make Florida, ind especially the Keys, a fisherman s or WINFIELD PnARK !s ' e dream. Iong before there was a Miami there was a Key West. The resi dents prospered on salvaged cargo, fishing, sponging, and cigar making. In the 1830's it was judged the richest city per capita in the South. It no longer is, but its slender-col umned old houses wear the dignity of age. Somewhere below me, hidden in a dark green sapodilla tree, a mockingbird was sing ing. As I listened to the extraordinary variety of his song, I remembered that this was the state bird of Florida. It seemed a good choice. THE END) 903 ME'