Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Windley Key Fossil Reef and Geological State Park

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Located: MM 84.9 Islamorada, Florida 33036

Windley Key is one of the highest in the chain of Keys formed of "Key Largo Limestone" over 125,000 years ago. Over the centuries the sea rose and fell. At times the water level was approximately 25 fee higher than at present while at other times the ocean levels dropped by as much as 300 feet, revealing the entire Florida Plateau. About 5,000 years ago, the water level stabilized and the ancient coral reef crest that remained exposed created the island we call the Florida Keys. 

Various tribes of Native Americans of Native Americans inhabited the Keys before the first European explores arrived. Middens and other remains are located throughout the islands documenting their earliest human occupation. 

 Indian Key Historic State Park

After Key West was settled "Conch" families moved up the Keys to establish small farming and fishing communities. In the mid-1800's  the Russell family homesteaded Umbrella Key, Windley's earlier name. The Russell family lived on the land until it was sold to the Florida East Coast Railway in 1908 for $852.80. From that time, until the final completion of the Overseas Railroad, the quarries along the tract were used to supply thousands of tons of fill for the railroad and the bridges approaches. 

Below: Fossil Conch

The railroad was completed in 1912 and the quarries and Windley Key Station continued to serve in many ways. Local trains stopped daily to deliver much needed fresh water from the mainland and pick up mail and passengers.

 On return trips, shipment of polished "Keysone" were railed back to mainland. This keystone, a decorative building stone, can be seen on several buildings throughout the United States including the St. Louis Post Office, an alter in a New York City chapel and many other locations. Local examples include the Alison Fahrer Environmental Education Center at Windley key and the Hurricane Monument located in the center of Islamorada. 


The quarry was active into the 1960's and today stands as a preserved geological treasure. The clean cuts of the quarry machinery reveal the perfectly preserved fossilized specimens of a variety of ancient coral animals.

 The park offers a rare opportunity to professional geologist and curious visitors to compare the living corals of today with their fossilized ancestors. The limestone cuts also reveal the tin layer of soil that supports the abundant variety of botanical life that thrives in the subtropical environment of the Keys. 

Over 40 kinds of tress can be found along the trails whose fruit, nuts, and berries provide sustenance for several endangered animals and dozen of migratory birds species. 

Self-guided walks of the quarries and the hammock are available. Access to the quarries and trails system is $1.50 per person. Guided tours take place Friday -Sunday at 10am and 2 pm and are $2.50 per person. children 6 and under free. Group tours welcomed. The Alison Fahrer Environmental Education center is open friday - Sunday. Admission is FREE. The conference room is available for public use at a reasonable fee. 

Following the railroad's completion, it was a source for decorative stone pieces 

called Keystone. Now on display are exposed sections of fossilized coral

View from the bottom of the quarry showing how deep it is.

Dixie's interesting find on their hike
Quarry cutting tool sits as if someone just walked away...

Short hikes along the park has  some of the original quarry machinery. 

The Hurricane Monument at Mile Marker 82 in Islamorada is constructed of keystone from the quarry. 

Mike enjoying the sunshine
All the times I have traveled to the keys I have passed this place, even knowing I wanted to stop!

It is easy to miss. It is quiet easy to get lost in the view of the keys with numerous bridges and ever change glimpse of the blue-green water of the keys.
But this time, I made sure we did not pass it! We had just finished three nights camping in Ft Lauderdale and could not wait to make it to the keys! We booked a campsite at Long Key State Park and Curry Hammock before we headed back north to our central Gulf coast home.

Alison Fahrer Enironmental Education Center at Windly Key 

Quarrying Key Largo limestone (photo courtesy Florida State Archives)

Fossil conch

Old photo of the Lounge care "Camaguey" on the Havana Special, New York to Key West, Florida East Coast Railway. (photo courtesy Florida State Archives)

Things to see in the keys:

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