Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Our Trip to Egmont Key

(Note on Thursday Morning: I'm going to leave this up for another day since I wasn't able to post this until late in the day on Wednesday.)

This weekend we took the catamaran and headed for Egmont Key. Egmont Key is actually a misnomer, because it's an island (affectionaly known by us locals as Turtle Island). You can only get there by boat - so few people come, and even fewer have the time and ability to explore this island ghost town.

If you click on the link above you can read a little about this island's interesting history. Over time, it's been a modified prison for Seminole Indians en route to The Trail of Tears, a Civil War checkpoint and burial ground for the soldiers that died of Yellow Fever, an army installation in the late 1800s, and a town of 300+ people.

Now it's been abandoned for 100 years, with most of the buildings left to crumble to dust. The only inhabitants are tortoises and some surly tugboat operators that lease a portion of the island to live on and are (according to park rangers) highly territorial people who will and can legally run anyone off their portion of land. Since THEIR area is relatively uninteresting, it means nothing to anyone else. There's plenty of island left to explore.

At one tip of the island is a very old, operational lighthouse with a park ranger that lives below it. The rest of the island consists of paved and brick roads and abandoned buildings. The land tortoises are very friendly and are extremely fond of fresh apples, so we always try to remember a sack of apples to hand out to the natives.

Following are pictures (and a little narration when needed). These were taken with my cell phone, so they're not of the BEST quality, but it was a heckuva lot easier than taking my super expensive camera through the trauma of splashing sea water, sand, and (later) rain.

Below is part of the military installation, build around 1907:

This is inside one of the rooms. It's finished with stucco and has a fireplace. It was the officer's mess hall, basically:

Parts of the military installation have collapsed and rooms are partially buried:

Most of the island is now overgrown with palms and scrub brush and other weedy, hearty plants but it's still beautiful:

These stairs are very steep and creepy to climb since there are no railings. People climb up and down them, but it's risky to get near the edge. We saw some kids playing hide and seek here, until their father wisely called them back and scolded them. There are many dark, dank rooms that wind back inside which haven't seen the light of day in a century. It's no place for children to play in:

Here's one of the natives, eating an apple:

Here's what I believe to be a wild blueberry bush:

This is the only remaining part of a massive building built high on stilts. It was used as a military plotting tower. Strangely enough, I believe that neither Egmont Key OR Fort DeSoto (which is the mainland part of Egmont Key) were used in any battles. They were built in order to fight off any attacks, however. Perhaps we could say they were successful. ;o)

These are "sea grapes", bushes with edible fruit that grow freely in brackish areas in Florida:

I believe that this was a culvert. There was actually a relatively advanced plumbing system throughout the occupied island at one time:

There is only one building that had been kept renovated. It was really Central Command at one time, apparently. It has fresh clay tiles on the roof, the rooms are up to date and wired for electricity, but no one uses it:

At one time this island had a little railroad of it's own. The tracks still remain. Now, this island is not at all huge, so it's rather amazing that they'd go to the trouble of having a railroad, but when it came to lugging about heavy things, I'm sure it was more preferable than a simple horse-and-buggy arrangement:

Here's the lighthouse, which was built due to numerous shipwrecks off our coast. It is still operational:


daveawayfromhome said...

I dont understand. Why havent condos been built there?

Hans said...

After the State Legislature's special session to determine how badly they are going to forcibly sodomize us with the new property tax scheme, they'll know how much pork money will be available to build a bridge to it. Then the condos will come and probably an Outback Steakhouse.

Ed Abbey said...

I've always thought it would be fun to be a lighthouse keeper on some tropical island. Especially since they rebuilt it to withstand "any" storm.

Saur♥Kraut said...

Daveawayfromhome & Hans, beautifully summed up. It may be only a matter of time, I'm afraid. I read somewhere that the current government agency which oversees the land wants to put it up for sale. I hope that's not true, since I only read about it in one place an no other site mentions it.

Ed, Yeah, the "any" storm is a hoot. Nothing can withstand ANY storm. But I would LOVE to live there, too! My son is spooked by the thought - alone, at night, on an island, by yourself... I just say, have a gun nearby and good locks on your doors and windows. It would be worth it to me, but then I tend to be somewhat of a hermit, anyway.

Lee Ann said...

Wonderful photos! I hope all is well Saur!
Lee Ann

Herr Krokodil said...


You're braver than I am the mouth of Tampa Bay scares me.

You left your phone number on the picture 3rd from the bottom. Thought you should know.

Excellent post.

The Lazy Iguana said...

I could probably run the surly tug boat operators off and take the place over. Then rename it "keep the hell off key" and set up some land mines.

Seriously, sounds like my kind of place. Next time I am in the area Ill try to lug the boat with me. I do not trust rentals.

I have charts of the area, Ill try to find it.

The Lazy Iguana said...

By the way, if you need some sandals check out Crocs. Ugly as all hell, but supposed to be very comfortable. I am considering getting a pair for the boat.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

oh lord....please do not get either Lazy!

Saur♥Kraut said...

Badoozie & Lazy, I tried crocs and hated them. First, ugly as hell (as you pointed out). Second, hot plastic in the Fla sun: Need I say more?

Lazy, I was thinking of you! I rather thought you'd like it!

Herr Krok, I wasn't by myself. I had my son with me and a friend who's a very experienced sailor (I'm a rookie, really) and so there were no worries.

LeeAnn, Thanks! All is well. It's a typical life: Ups and downs, but more ups than downs right now and that makes me happy.

Just Another Beggar said...

Wow! Great pics! Tell me, was there any food left in the mess?

--the UL. Don't be confused. JAB is my other tagname for my other blogsite.

green said...

Very attractive pics. It would be a shame if the gov't sold the land to condo developers or the like but it would be a shame to see the island be consumed by the weeds.

Do you know why it was abandoned all together? Seems a terrible waste.

BTW, did you find my email?

Bryan said...

History is so cool! The secluded location makes it that much more interesting.

Thanks for sharing.

The Lazy Iguana said...

I got a chance to look at the location on some satellite maps. In a small day sailor, my biggest concern would be the tide change. Looks like on an outgoing tide, there can be some wicked currents around that island. I would have planned the trip so that I was in the main channels during slack tides. That would mean about 6 hours on the island.

In my power boat - no problem. A little current will not bother the outboard engine.

I may try to get out there one day. But it is a long haul. Maybe I can make a weekend trip out of going to Bradenton and finding a place to hole up there. That is somewhat close to the key depending on where I can find a boat ramp.

Have you ever checked out Passage Key? What is there? The satellite images makes it look like nothing is there. Just a beach. Is it private property?

Meow said...

Looks like an amazing place, the kind I'd loooove to explore. Your photos turned out great, even though they were with a mobile phone. Thanks for sharing.
Have a fabulous weekend.
Take care, Meow

Saur♥Kraut said...

Meow, It IS gorgeous. I love the photos you're always posting of your outings in Australia, as well. ;o)

Lazy, here's a link on Passage Key. We've never been there - looks interesting! I hadn't heard of any of our small islands with a fresh water source, but it's there... the only thing saving it from commercialization appears to be a wildlife refuge.

Bryan, Isn't it?!

Green, thanks, and I got your email: I'm interested. Will get back to you this Saturday.

The Lazy Iguana said...

Looks like Passage Key is closed to public use.