We reluctantly said farewell to our alligator friends at Big Cypress National Preserve and headed towards Miami. Fortunately we moved the day before smoke from wildfires blanketed the Big Cypress National Preserve. We encountered some road construction and then arrived at our destination for the next fifteen days, Larry and Penny Thompson Memorial Park located in South Miami Heights. This is a large, popular county park located about twenty miles south of downtown Miami. It is so popular that reservations are very hard to get, as are many parks in southern Florida in the winter.
Our campground, as is all of Miami, is located in a culturally diverse community. One quickly feels like the minority in this area of south Florida. Miami has changed quite a bit since it was once called “The Magic City” and was viewed as a winter playground for the rich and famous. Between 1960 and 2000 the Miami metro area grew by 141%, with a large number being people from Cuba as well as Puerto Rico and many foreign countries.
On Wednesday we drove over to Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park. We enjoyed the beautiful views located in the park. Juan Ponce de Leon called the area Cape of Florida when he landed here on his first Spanish expedition to Florida in 1513. The park is home to a lighthouse built in 1825 and reconstructed in 1846. It is the oldest standing structure in Miami-Dade County. Near the lighthouse is a reconstructed lighthouse keeper’s house, Bill and I enjoyed the nice water views from the rocking chairs on the front porch.
From the Biscayne Bay side of the park, we had views of the remains of what was once Stiltsville, a group of wood shacks built on stilts. It is believed the first shack was built in 1933 toward the end of Prohibition by Crawfish Eddie Walker. He built the shack for gambling which was legal a mile offshore. A few years later two of Eddie’s friends built shacks on stilts and between shipwrecks and channel dredging, more people built stilt shacks. Newspapers began calling the area “the shacks” or the “Shack Colony” and in the 1940’s and 1950’s it was a popular place for lawyers, bankers and politicians to drink and relax, including Florida Governor LeRoy Collins. Various social clubs were built on stilts shacks and when rumors of gambling persisted, the clubs were raided in 1949 but no evidence of gambling was ever found. Crawfish Eddie’s shack was destroyed by Hurricane King in 1950. Most of the remainder structures were damaged by Hurricane Donna in 1960. In 1965 the state required shack owners to pay $100 annually to lease their “campsites”. No new construction was permitted, no commercial leases, and no shacks more than 50% damaged could be rebuilt. In 1980 the area fell within the boundary of Biscayne National Park. The leases were still honored. At the beginning of 1992 there were fourteen shacks but after Hurricane Andrew struck that same year, only seven remained. The Stiltsville Trust was formed in 2003 to save the remaining structures with caretakers doing periodic maintenance and park personnel installing hurricane strapping to try to prevent damage from major storms, all in an effort to save the historic structures. Over the years Stiltsville has been the setting for movies, TV shows and books.
We enjoyed a nice picnic lunch where we were visited by some new friends. We then went down to the beach and enjoyed dipping our toes in the Atlantic Ocean. We enjoyed the views of Miami during the drive over and back.
Another day we drove to Biscayne National Park. This park is located thirty-five miles south of Miami International Airport, twenty-one miles east of the Everglades, and is the northernmost part of the Florida Keys. First established as a monument in 1968 and later as a national park in 1980, it is made up of 181,500 acres, with only 5% of the park land. The other 95% of the park is submerged or made up of small islands only accessible by boat. It is a paradise of crystal clear aquamarine waters and lush seabeds. It is composed of the longest stretch of mangrove forest on Florida’s east coast and part of the world’s third longest coral reef tract. We drove to the land part of the park at Convoy Point and visited the Dante Farrell Visitors Center where we saw an excellent film on the park’s ecosystems. We walked along the boardwalk where we saw a stingray, barracuda, schools of fish and views of a distant Miami.
In the next blog we will continue our explorations of Miami.