Friday, February 17, 2017

Florida Keys, Part IX:
Key Largo splendor, despite key setback

Under the original plan, we were supposed to return to Indianapolis from the Florida Keys on the night of Jan. 21. But halfway through the first week in the Keys, Lee Ann had the itch to extend the stay. I was enjoying it, too, so ... in 24 hours time, we scurried to rearrange things so we could stick around another six days.

Fortuitously, the Hammocks resort in Marathon where we had been staying had an opening for five days the following week, too, but the room didn't open up until Sunday, the 22nd. Our first reservation required checkout there on the 21st. So we had to figure out where to spend the night of the 21st. We found a room at the Hilton in Key Largo, and drove up there Saturday after checking out in Marathon.

In the original plan, we were going to stop in Key Largo to take a cruise on a glass-bottom boat to enjoy the spectacle of the coral reefs in the John Pennecamp Coral Reef State Park  on the drive back to the airport in Fort Lauderdale early the 21st. Under the revised plan, we got to stay overnight in Key Largo -- then return to Marathon for five more restful and tropical days. 

As it turned out, that one day in Key Largo was memorable in several respects, even though we couldn't take the glass-bottom boat cruise (by the time we got there in the mid-afternoon, the operation shut down the cruises because of high winds). 

The Hilton in Key Largo was a great place; it sits along the gulf side (Florida Bay, actually), has its own beach and has a wonderful restaurant, the Treetops Bar and Grille, which is on an upper floor to allow diners to overlook the water. I believe the name of the restaurant is a misnomer; my impression of what I observed and enjoyed there could qualify place the restaurant under "fine dining," not a bar and grill. The menu items for our dinner were quite distinguished (I had a blackened mahi and rice w/vegetables, Lee Ann had a seafood combo and rice w/vegetables, and we both enjoyed our meals very much). We also partook in the Hilton's Sunday morning brunch; our omelets (made to order) were splendid. Most of the other buffet offerings were good, too; the one exception were the mini-Belgian waffles (on the dry side). 

Our room was nice (it lacked a microwave oven, though), but the highlight of the experience were the beaches. Guests had access to the main beach, where there were ample trees nearby to allow people to stay in shade or mostly shade very close to the water. There was one section of beach closed off for a wedding (which later moved to a section of the restaurant), but there were other sections -- because of tree placements -- that enabled a few guests to relax on chaise lounges in semi-privacy -- and in shade right near the water. That's where Lee Ann and I spent much of our afternoon Saturday and a lot of Sunday after we checked out. 

We never got to enjoy the Hilton's elegant swimming pools -- there is a separate one for adults-only, another one for general use (the two are separated by a nicely landscaped waterfalls) and an outdoor hot tub. And while I thought the facilities were on the elegant side and the grounds very nicely tended, we learned while we there that the Hilton planned to begin a major remodel this spring. I can only imagine good things for whatever turns out from that!

We managed to get our semi-private spot along the beach at night to watch the sunset, and I managed to photograph yet another. One of my shots from the sunset leads off the post; I have several views of the spectacle, and I elected to go with this one because of the water reflection ... but also because the upper tip is slightly concealed by the thin layer of clouds the sphere dropped behind momentarily before emerging immediately above the water. The sunset also was another instance where I witnessed a "green flash" spectacle ... but was not able to capture it in pictures. 

Photo geek stuff: Most of the photos in this post were taken with my Canon 6D equipped with a Tamron 28-300mm f/3.5-6.3 Di PZD VC lens on which I mounted a 67mm B&W polarizing filter, which I swapped out with the UV filed for the sunset shots. I bracketed shots for three exposures for each composition with the intent on melding them into one during post-processing using Photomatix HDR (high-dynamic range) software. Some pictures also were taken with my iPhone 6S Plus.

As always, to view a larger, sharper image, click on any picture. This is particularly useful if you access the blog post using a mobile device. To view a full gallery of images from my trip to Key Largo,  visit my site at 

Above: One of the first scenes I came upon when inspecting the beach areas at the Hilton. 

Above and below: Scenes from the section of the beach that would be closed off Saturday afternoon for a wedding party. 

Above: One of the semi-private areas along the beach, the only one I saw with a hammock in place!

Above: The ground level of the Hilton's south and much of the west facades is landscape with native rock like these. I didn't make it to the north side, so this could be there, too.

Above: A tree I came across in the maze of paths (mulched and/or wooden plank) behind the hotel near the beaches. There were markings on the other side as well. 

Above: The end point of an L-shaped pier on the Hilton's beach off which I saw several folks fishing.

Above: One of the hotel's amenities is an outdoor massage (by appointment) in this hut situated in a semi-private, heavily foliaged area behind the hotel near the beaches.  

Above: A wooden-planked portion of the maze of paths behind the hotel.

Above is the start point of the L-shaped pier (which turns to the left at the far end). It was was farther out on the pier that I turned around and took the first photo below and the cloud-detail shot (second below) before lowering the camera to point into the water, where I captured these needlefish (third below). Signs along the peer indicate that manatees also frequent this area, but I didn't see any.   

Above: Yet another parasailor in a shot that I cropped on the right and left because the vignetting there was too radical to correct in Photoshop Elements. The pier would be to the immediate right of this crop. 

Above: I struggled a bit with this shot in my sunset series, but I really liked the framing, reflection and water post composition elements. I was still working on finding proper exposure settings when I took this, so I'm not sure whether to attribute the interesting bright burst of solar light to dumb luck of the settings ... or because of slight overexposure. I'm going to go with the former.  

Above, the sun just as it began to slip behind the thin layer of clouds, then (first below) as it began to emerge below the cloud line, and (second below) moments below total disappearance. It was at this point that I saw the green flash, but obviously (and sadly), the picture didn't do it justice. But I got some wonderfully rich sky hues in the trade-off.

Above: A view of Florida Bay from the waterside seats in the Treetops Bar and Grille on Sunday morning. 
Above: The area between the tree in the foreground and the tree in the backgrounds is roughly the space of one of the semi-private beachside areas where we sat. The beach is immediately to the right.

Above: A closeup of the lapping waves along the shoreline. I made a video of this that I turn to from time to time to remind me of that serene place ...  

Above: My spot in one of the semi-private coves along the beach in back of the Hilton. Just a smile-conjuring (hopefully) way to put a wrap on this post about Key Largo.

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