From two lakes to one couple

| November 03, 2005

Canaveral is actually part of the narrow strip of land that becomes the flimsy barrier to the east of the Intracoastal Waterway as it runs down the coast to arrive at the state’s most famous islands, the Florida Keys. For more than 100 miles the Keys protrude from the southern mainland tip of the state, and if you go all the way, you’ll be in storied Key West. While they are more crowded, and expensive, than they’ve ever been, the Florida Keys are still a magical place where you can find hideaways, hotels and restaurants that make you feel you are escaping to the Caribbean.

Moving northwest from the keys and up the west coast of Florida you will find the Ten Thousand Islands, a maze of mangrove islands where the “river of grass,” the Everglades, drain into Florida Bay. These still-remote islands can take you back centuries. They border the massive and fascinating Everglades National Park. Here is a part of our country that looks much as it must have when the first European settlers saw it.

A little to the north and you can find Sanibel Island, an island that stands out among barrier islands because it lies east-west instead of north-south as the other barriers do, as they hug the coastline. By thrusting out into the coastal currents, Sanibel has become known as one of the finest places in the country to find rare seashells.

If you go to Alabama’s Gulf Coast, or for that matter anywhere from Alabama to Texas, you will have to contend with the after-effects of hurricanes. Check before visiting, but not all is devastation. Alabama’s Dauphin Island at the mouth of Mobile Bay was first discovered by Europeans when Spanish explorer Alonzo Pineda anchored there in 1519.

The island was taken by the British in 1766 and retaken by the Spanish in 1780 during the American Revolutionary War and finally taken from the Spaniards by the United States during the War of 1812 to stop the British from using it. Dauphin was occupied by Confederate forces in 1861 and captured by Federal troops during the Battle of Mobile Bay. The phrase, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead,” was spoken by U. S. Admiral David Farragut just a few hundred yards from the island’s shore.

The city of Galveston, Texas, is actually on Galveston Island, linked to the mainland by a causeway, a toll bridge and a ferry. In the 19th century it was one of the richest cities in the south and the country’s biggest cotton exporting port. The city’s famous seven-mile seawall was built after the devastating hurricane of 1900 killed somewhere between 6,000 and 12,000 people.

Two big, long islands protect the Texas coast south of Galveston. Matagorda still has some trenches left from the Civil War, but there has been little development in the past hundred years. Today Matagorda is becoming known as an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise, a place to camp or tramp or just watch clouds of seabirds.

Padre Island begins where Matagorda ends, a narrow (nowhere more than three miles wide) 130-mile-long island that runs down to the Mexican border. Imposing sand dunes 25 to 40 feet high run along the Gulf side of the island. While Texas became independent in 1836 and a state in 1847, Padre Island did not become part of the state until the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which ended the Mexican-American War of 1846-8. The island is today known for a wondrous array of flora and fauna, with some plants found nowhere else and huge flocks of birds.

Some of these islands are obviously expensive resorts. Others are almost as they were a hundred years or more ago. Take the time to use the Internet to check them out if you are going to be running near enough to visit. Access to some can be limited, if not by season then by local regulations, which may, for example, let you camp but not drive.

But these islands are such a distinct part of America that they might just give you a view of the nation you haven’t seen before.

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