The Lower Keys are more sparse and uncluttered before the excess that is Key West
Before you get to Key West there is a last stretch of paradise that offers some hidden pleasures.
Perky’s Bat Tower at mm17 Lower Sugarloaf Key is one. Built by Richter Perky in the 1920s in response to the terrible mosquito problem it didn’t banish the evil bug but it’s now on the Register of Historic Places, a part of Florida history created by the dreamers and schemers that are drawn here.
Many people have heard of the key deer, the diminutive little fellow found only in the keys. A sort of natural selection like that found in other island territories like the Galapagos has taken place here and the mainland whitetail deer has grown smaller and morphed into a distinct other species in response to its isolated environment. Signs along US 1 urge drivers to slow down and watch out, they even tell you how many died trying to cross the road this year.
There is a key deer refuge on Big Pine Island. It was formed in 1957 and gives the deer and a few other species like the marsh rabbit their own home on 9200 acres of pine scrub, hammocks and wetlands. The National Key Deer Sanctuary headquarters is at 28950 Watson Blvd. To get there, turn on Key Deer Blvd. a quarter mile north of the Big Pine Key Shopping Plaza. Go slow, the deer are likely to wander out to greet you and will come right up to your car if you are still.
While you are in the neighborhood check out the nice nature walk at Blue Hole on Key Deer Blvd. Plenty of wildlife ranging from gators and iguanas to turtles and wading birds. Smooth trail, easy walking.
No Name Pub, which advertises the best pizza in the known universe, is also on Big Pine and shouldn’t be missed. It started out as a bait and tackle joint in 1931 and added a room for eating in 1936. It tried its hand as a brothel but gave that up, according to its website, because the scrappy fishermen were better looking than the ladies. Bait and tackle gave way to food only and the No Name as we know it now was born in the 1950s. The Key West shrimp pizza is pretty darn good.
Like most good and legendary joints with a past, sometimes the law was conspicuously absent while fights and gambling comingled with beer, pool and good eats. Fishermen and other big spenders left dollars on the walls and ceiling for later just in case. These days it’s a fine place to take a break and eat. As it’s own slogan says, “a nice place if you can find it.”
© Copyright 2012: text Sue Harrison; photos Sue Harrison & Lee Brock for MyOldFlorida.com.