Bahia Honda State Park, Florida Keys
I had spent a long day driving all the way to the end of US 1, then exploring Key West. I still had to drive back to my motel room in Miami for the night, but as sunset drew closer, I knew I had to find someplace special to watch the daylight disappear. Bahia Honda State Park turned out to be perfect.
Bahia Honda Key is 37 miles from the end of US 1 in Key West. The island is located at the eastern end of one of the Overseas Highway's most impressive, and hard to build, bridges. Before crossing the new bridge, I found a good spot at the side of the road to admire the old one.
The original Bahia Honda bridge proved to be incredibly difficult for Henry Flagler, as he built the Key West extension of the Florida East Coast Railway, for several reasons. For one, it would need to run nearly a mile across some of the Keys' deepest and fastest-moving waters. The pillars required a tremendous amount of gravel, sand, and a newly-developed form of concrete that would harden in salt water. Several hurricanes between 1906 and 1910 damaged the work already complete, and chased off workers (so did the mosquitoes and the heat). But, against those odds, the first train rumbled across the Bahia Honda Bridge in 1912, carrying Flagler himself. †
These days, the century-old bridge is quickly approaching the end of its life. Signs warn boaters to watch for falling debris, and pieces of the structure are obviously crumbling. Thankfully, though, a small portion of the bridge is still in great condition, and you can walk on it!
Leave your car at the main parking area at Bahia Honda State Park, and look for this sign. The trail leads up to...
... the old road surface atop the bridge.
When trains used the Bahia Honda Bridge, they passed through the center of the steel trusses. That narrow passage wasn't wide enough to carry two lanes of automobile traffic, so when the Overseas Railway was converted to the Overseas Highway, crews built a two-lane road surface on top of the trusses. It makes for a bizarre, top-heavy appearance, and a breathtakingly-high drop on either side of the road, which must have terrified drivers for decades, until the new bridge was built.
From the top of the bridge, there's a great view of the deep channel between the old and new roads. Everything you see on the right is part of Bahia Honda State Park, including crescent-shaped Calusa Beach.
Walk to the end of the maintained portion of the bridge, and there's a guardrail, followed by a sudden drop (where a chunk of the old bridge was removed). Then, the old, decaying bridge continues. You can still see the circa-1970's yellow lines down the center, along with chunks of concrete and a thick layer of bird poo.
Down below the automobile deck, you can get a look at the old railroad route -- but you can't go beyond a fence, that blocks access to this part of the bridge, unfortunately.
After exploring underneath the old road deck, I decided it was time to find the ideal sunset spot. I couldn't help but notice...
... that the sun was setting behind the old bridge, so I found a spot to stand, where the sun was centered perfectly. With a few minutes to spare...
... I headed back to Calusa Beach. The view was nice here, too, but I was happier in my first spot (which required a very delicate balancing act, on a concrete wall that's only about 18 inches wide, with deep water on either side).
I think it was worth it.
Admission to Bahia Honda State Park varies from $1.50 (for pedestrians and people on bicycles) to $6 (for two people in a car -- add six more people for 50 cents each). You can also rent kayaks and snorkeling equipment, or take a 90-minute guided snorkeling tour for around $29. Get all the details here.
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