Thursday, February 16, 2017

Florida Keys, Part VIII:
Beaches, beauty at Bahia Honda Park

By devoting this post to our trip to Bahia Honda State Park, I'm jumping a little ahead in the chronology of our trip to the Florida Keys last month. But I wanted to briefly get away from the focus on sunsets that I have spent in the past couple posts (and to which I'll return with the next post, devoted to Key Largo).

It was at Bahia Honda (which is Spanish for "deep bay" and is pronounced BY-yuh Honda) that I took what I consider to be my favorite shot of the whole trip, the one leading off this post.

We had passed quite a few state parks during our drives along the Overseas Highways (U.S. 1), which extends the length of the Keys, so the big question when we made the decision to stay an extra week -- especially considering the cost of admission to a state park was $9 per person -- was which one(s) to visit?

Early on in the Keys, we had decided we wanted to take a cruise on a glass-bottom boat to enjoy the reefs near John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park at Key Largo. That was supposed to happen early the day we were scheduled to head home, Saturday Jan. 21. In the next post on Key Largo, I'll explain what happened with that. In addition to John Pennekamp and Bahia Honda (which is Spanish for "deep bay" and is pronounced BY-yuh Honda), state parks in the Keys include Key Largo Hammock Botanical, Long Key, Curry Hammond, Windley Key Geological Fossil and Fort Zachary Taylor Historic.

On Tuesday, Jan. 24, in the second week of our stay in the Keys, we chose to visit Bahia Honda State Park. It was recommended by locals for its beaches (in 1992, its beaches were rated tops in the country by "Dr. Beach" Stephen Leatherman), swimming, kayaking, fishing, beautiful shorelines and access to remnants of the historic Florida East Coast Railway, which went out of service in 1935.

The park is split into two parts; the north end is less developed, but its beaches are very nice, and it has a water fowl sanctuary, something I inadvertently walked into while strolling the north-end beach. The southern end has a dedicated swimming area, picnicking areas, a concessions stand and boating facilities. It's also where you can find accesses to parts of the railroad infrastructure.

A new concrete incline on this end of the park allows you to appreciate a panorama of the area, and I spent some time photographing from there. In fact, the photo of the ocean leading off the post was taken from there. I noticed the composition immediately after grabbing a shot of a fisherman who was working the shoreline immediately below and left of the bottom lines of the photo. To get substantive looks at the railroad infrastructure on the south end of Bahia Honda, you have to access it from the ground, which I did.

Photo geek stuff: I shot everything with a Canon 6D equipped with a 28-300mm f/3.5-6.3 Di PZD VC lens and used a 67mm polarizing filter on the lens. I bracketed my shots for three exposures for later melding into one using high-dynamic range (HDR) software in post-processing.

As usual, to view a larger and sharper version of any image, simply click on the image. This is particularly important if you access the blog using a mobile device. To view a full gallery of my images from Bahia Honda State Park, visit my site at

Above and below: A couple looks at the beach on the north end of the park. In the image below, I used "V" shaped grass blades in the foreground to frame the couple closest to the camera. Integrating beachside grass blades into photo compositions is a technique I picked up from Lee Ann during our trip to Wrightsville Beach, N.C., in July 2014.

Above: I stopped the car on the drive to the north end of the park to take this shoreline perspective photo. Later, while strolling the beach at the north end, I would come upon this area much closer -- and learn that the section immediately in front of the bridge in this picture is the water fowl preserve. 

Above and below: While strolling the north end beach, I came upon a cove where this gentleman had found paradise. He had this cove all to himself. It was extremely quiet here, and I don't think the man realized I had walked the full beach perimeter, from left to right, or that I took any of the photos of him that I did. I got at least a dozen perspectives, choosing these two for the post. You can see the other perspectives in the full gallery. 

Above: Before realizing the area I had walked into was a water fowl preserve, I took a couple dozen shots of these two visitors, neither of which seemed happy I had intruded on their space. 

 Above: A look to the sea -- and a sailboat -- from the shoreline. 

Above: I liked how the pigeon in the foreground kept watch on the other bird, which appeared to be foraging by the wave laps. 

Above: Another example of grass blades being integrated into the composition.

Above: I was willing to accept a full silhouette outcome of this shot of beach strollers that I took looking toward the sun. As it was, HDR enabled me to pull a little detail out of the shadows. 

Above: The concrete incline that gives visitors a panorama of the area. At the far end, a sign and gate stop you from going any further (which is a good thing, because the structure halts abruptly not far beyond the gate and sign. 

Above and next two below: Shots taken from the apex of the concrete incline. The ocean-side beach above, the Seven-Mile Bridge (first below) and the gulf-side beach (second below).

Above and below: Fishermen I came across on opposite sides of the railway infrastructure -- and also opposite sides of the island. The man above was fishing from the gulf side, the man below on the ocean side.  

Above is the railway infrastructure as seen from the gulf side, the most visible access available to visitors. If you climb the nearby steps (below), you'll be able to inspect the infrastructure from underneath it. And then if you descend another set of stairs from there, you can view the tracks from the ocean side (second below), which at this time of the day (early afternoon) was more photo-friendly.

Above: A look at the Seven-Mile Bridge from near the railway infrastructure on the gulf side.

Above and below: It occurred to me when I reached this point of the post that I hadn't included many palm tree pictures in this post, so ... here are a couple gratuitous palm tree shots from Bahia Honda State Park.

Above: Some fun and some very important (i.e., the last one) signage to help you in the park. 

Next up: Key Largo

Previous posts in this series:

Part I: Not bad for 'almost paradise'

Part II: Sombrero Beach strikingly beautiful

Part III: Key West packed with sights and attractions

Part IV: Ernest Hemingway house is worth the tour

Part V: Getting a panoramic view of Key West

Part VI: Sunsets and sailboats at Mallory Square

Part VII: Enjoying a sunset cruise on a catamaran

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