Key West Visit, Saturday July 6th & the Butterfly Conservatory

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe were able to sleep in Saturday since our schedule wasn’t being driven by a need to be any particular place at any particular time, which is at it should be when visiting Key West!  As we emerged from our room for breakfast around 8:00am we could see the rain that fell overnight was reduced to a light shower and the clouds eventually gave way to mostly blue skies with puffy white clouds overhead for our last full day in Key West.  In fact, we were really quite fortunate as we could clearly see storm clouds and thunder showers passing to the South of Key West, which was how it remained for much of the day.

For breakfast we decided to stick with English muffins and pass on the Curry Mansion’s made-to-order omelet bar which was set-up out on the front porch because of the lingering light rain.  It was normally served around back by the very compact pool area.

butterflyOur first destination for the day was going to be The Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory, something we’d missed on our first visit.  Once again, no need for anything other than our feet to get around since we were staying down in the heart of old town. The walk to the Conservatory was just about a mile straight down Duval Street towards South Beach…  pretty much the same walk Debbie and I made on our last night in Key West back in April.

It was in the upper 70’s and still muggy from the rain, but the sun was shining as we walked along the now quiet Duval Street watching Key West’s public works folks clean up after their city’s guests.  I’d grabbed an umbrella just to be on the safe side since there was still the threat of rain and dark clouds lingering to the South of the Key.  I made the mistake of wearing a heavy cotton T-shirt and just my prescription glasses, neither of which proved to be a good choice for the steamy tropical weather we had on our morning walk.

kwbcWe arrived at the Conservatory around 9:30am as best as I can recall, so there weren’t too many other patrons about.  From the street it simply appears to be a large yellow historic home with very large Lanai in back. I believe the admission was about $10/ea after our $2.00-off coupons plus a tax of some sort.  Not knowing anything about what we were about to experience I didn’t know if that was a good deal or not: it just seemed to be pretty much par for the course on what was charged at all of the Key West historical attractions, e.g., Hemingway House, The Little White House, the Aquarium, etc.

IMG_20130706_094732_409The first stop after paying our admission was “The Learning Center” where several large monitors played a very informative video that took you through the life-cycle of a butterfly and its anatomy.  These were all things that I’d learned in high school biology, but simply tucked away and probably took for granted.  It was really nice being the only patrons as we were able to take a seat on a bench and enjoy a private screening and then investigate the caterpillar terrariums before entering the Conservatory’s amazing, glass-enclosed tropical paradise. The space was filled with flowering plants, waterfalls and trees and nearly 60 different species of butterflies, several different species of small birds and a box turtle that resided in the climate-controlled habitat.  Here’s just a very short sampling of what it was like…

I don’t think there was a moment when we weren’t surrounded by at least a dozen of the butterflies; it was surreal!  In fact, it moved Debbie to tears.  Close to the exit was the Conservatory’s small butterfly farm where you could see butterflies undergoing the various stages of metamorphosis, noting all of the specimens in the enclosure were raised on butterfly farms, not collected from the wild.  The same was true of the butterflies  mounted in acrylic display cases that were for sale in the Conservatory’s gift store.  The very artistic displays had the same effect on Debbie who was once again so taken by the beauty of so many butterflies that she was moved to tears and had to excuse herself.  It was pretty clear to me that we’d figured out what we’d be taking home as a keepsake from this visit. We’d just have to make a return visit later in the day so Debbie could find a display that “talked to her”.

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mark deb southernmostWe walked the final block to South Beach at the end of Duval Street where the Atlantic Ocean lapped-up against Key West and then made our way a block West to the iconic concrete replica of the original buoy that has been used to mark the southernmost point in the continental United States.  It looked like there were at least 50 people standing in line waiting for their turn to be photographed.  Fortunately for us, we didn’t need to stand in line for our photo as we checked that box (without standing in line) during or visit in April!

FWIW, some folks will say that the southernmost point is actually a mile to the west of the marker at the end of Whitehead Street. While that’s technically true, that particular piece of real estate isn’t a natural part of Key West.  Instead, it sits on landfill that was brought in during World War II to expand Key West for the U.S. Naval Base and is therefore neither a true part of Key West nor a place that is accessible to the general public.  More than you wanted to know!

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Our next destination was originally planned to be the Key West Lighthouse erected in 1848, which sits directly across the street from the Hemingway House.  However, neither Debbie nor I were really savoring the idea of paying another $10 each for the privilege of climbing the spiral staircase’s 88 steps.  So, we continued on our way north along Whitehead street passed the Parrot Bar, the Mile Zero marker and made our way back to Caroline Street and the Curry Mansion, completing our 2.4-mile morning walk just before noon.

I opted for a change out of my blue jeans, western boots and the aforementioned heavy cotton T-shirt into some Madras shorts, a button-down light cotton shirt, my Shimano sandals and some darker sun glasses before we headed back out to find some lunch.  Oh, that was MUCH better!  On our way out we were seriously tempted to stop for our first cool cocktail of the day at the Flying Monkey, but decided we’d be better off to go and have lunch before going down that road.  After considering all of our options we both came to the same conclusion: Commodore’s Boat House Grille to split that delicious blackened Mahi-Mahi sandwich and side salad.  As expected, the food was outstanding. Equally as expected, the service was less than outstanding.  We got the impression that none of the folks who work there really seem to enjoy what they’re doing, never mind pretending to enjoy it if only to enhance our dining experience.  Of course that only reduced their chance of getting anything more than a 15% tip, noting I tend to tip 20% for good service and even more for the servers who know how to deliver a great dining experience.  Hey, at least I saved a few bucks!

After lunch we wandered around the marina and I grabbed a couple of photos of two rather impressive mega-yachts that were docked alongside each other:  the 164 foot long Wheels and the 125 foot long Hi-Banx.

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Wheels belongs to Rick Hendrick / Hendrick Automotive Group / Hendrick Motorsports and Hi-Banx belongs to NASCAR Inc’s owners, the France family.  Hard to know who may have been staying on the yachts, if anyone.  But, if you’re in the market for a mega-yacht Wheels is being offered for sale at the reduced price of $28,750,000.  I’m guessing the Hi-Banx is valued at a more modest $5,000,000 – $6,000,000.

After paying a visit to the Flying Monkey to kick off the afternoon, we wandered down to the Gulf end of Duval Street to take in the sights along the entrance to the marina.  It was just a beautiful day and there was no better way to spend it than with a beautiful lady in paradise doing absolutely nothing but enjoying that time together!

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Of course, we still needed to make that mile-long walk back up to The Butterfly Conservatory so Debbie could find her very own butterfly creation by Sam Trophia, the owner and founder of The Butterfly Conservatory.  As was the case earlier in the day, Debbie was once again brought to tears just looking at all of the butterflies; it truly was a fascinating and spontaneous emotional reaction for her.

15x30rectangle2lgHowever, after she searched around the room for a while I finally had to ask her which display was the one that she truly found herself drawn in by: turns out it was the same one that had grabbed my attention.  So, we had our keepsake for our 20th anniversary visit to Key West, and it was a very special one at that.  The kind folks at the Conservatory will be shipping it to us this week and I know Debbie is very anxious to see it and find a place where she can enjoy it!   It’s similar only in configuration to the one depicted at the right, noting photos don’t do these 3D acrylic displays justice. The overall dimensions are 15″ wide by 30″ tall by 3″ deep. The butterflies are all mounted suspended in space on an acrylic post that extends out from the back of the display case such that they all appear to be flying in a lovely formation.  You can read more about Sam Trophia, his Butterfly & Nature Conservatory and his art at their Website by clicking HERE.

As you might expect, our next destination was the Flying Monkey and our timing was impeccable.  We arrived, found a couple stools at the bar and were enjoying our frozen cocktails just as the sky decided to open up for a brief, 5-10 minute shower.  It was interesting to watch Duval Street quickly transform from a crowded outdoor venue to a nearly empty road and sidewalks as visitors disappeared into shops, bars and hotels as waiters and waitresses cleared the outdoor dining tables of anything that wasn’t rain proof.  Of course, within minutes after the rain cleared, the sun started to peek through the clouds and Duval Street was once again filled with people out enjoying the day.

conch-repub-seafood1We went back to our room at the Curry Mansion so Debbie would have plenty of time to get herself ready for our last dinner in Key West of this trip. Our dinner destination was the Conch Republic Seafood Company back at the Marina.  As you’d expect, she looked like $1,00o,000 and I could kick myself for not getting a picture of her.  When we arrived at the Conch there was a 20-30 minute wait, so we did a quick survey of the massive bar and lucked out by finding a place to sit close to the water and the live entertainment.  Debbie ordered the Yellowfin Tuna and I went with the blackened sea Scallops.  The food was the best we’d had of the trip, even better than the Commodore, and that was pretty darn good.  Even though we ate at the bar, it was an excellent dining experience as our bartender / waiter was as good as they come: attentive but not over-attentive and always there when you needed something.

After dinner we headed back towards the boardwalk that connected the North end of Duval Street to Mallory Square in front of the Ocean Key hotel.  About half way across the walk we ran into Debbie’s cousin and his long-time girlfriend / significant other from Taccoa, Georgia.  We’d first ran into them at the Key West airport, not even realizing they were on the same flight.  It’s a small world, to be sure.  We’d talked about getting together for dinner, exchanged phone numbers and had even talked a bit earlier in the day on the phone about dinner plans, but our time tables weren’t quite in sync.  They were just finishing up their dinner and enjoying some cocktails when we ran into them so we joined them for what must have been the better part of an hour.  As had been the case the night before, cloud cover on the western horizon pretty much killed the Key West Sunset Celebration, so having time to visit with her cousin was really quite a nice treat.

We ended our night with one final visit to the Flying Monkey and a little dancing, having been rewarded once again with a lovely, clear evening of mild temperatures and no rain!  It was a spectacular final evening in Key West, and one that truly gave us insight into what a good friend told us was “the keys disease” that often leads folks back to the Florida Keys time and again.  For us, there was no question that we’d be back!  

There are still some attractions that we haven’t visited and we have yet to even crack open the door to water-related activities like snorkeling, jet-skis, sailing and the sunset dinner cruises.  Heck, we may even need to see if we can score an invitation onto Hi-Banx or Wheels if those big NASCAR Yacht Club icons are still tied-up when we next visit!  I’m sure if we do some checking around we’ll find someone who knows someone, who knows someone in either the NASCAR or the Hendrick Automotive / Motorsports Groups.

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About TG

I've been around a bit and done a few things, have a couple kids and a few grandkids. I tend to be curmudgeonly, matter-of-fact and not predisposed to self-serving chit-chat. Thankfully, my wife's as nice as can be otherwise we'd have no friends. My interests are somewhat eclectic, but whose aren't?
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