The Florida Keys are a subtropical archipelago reaching from the south-eastern tip of Florida below Miami south and west to the Marquesas and Dry Tortugas located south and west of Naples on the gulf coast of Florida. US Route 1, called the Overseas Highway in the Keys, connects the first Key, Key Largo, over a series of land fills and bridges to Key West, the southernmost city in the continental United States.
The Keys have been built up over the eons on the skeleton of an ancient coral reef. While the islands are surrounded by water, most of it is very shallow. Not far off shore on the ocean side, however, are the Florida Straits, the Gulf Stream and deep blue open ocean waters. Because they are coral rock islands and because the reef is 2-5 miles off shore, the Keys offer only a few sandy beaches and lack the wave action typical of the beaches of the south eastern coast of Florida.
The Keys were discovered in the early 1500s by Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon and at the time were sparsely populated by the Caloosa Indians. After the Spanish, the British explored the Keys for fishing and turtling. In the 1800s, Bahamians settled the Keys and developed the wrecking industry. In the late 1800s, the islands were cultivated by Methodist fishermen who grew a variety of crops including coconut, pineapple and melon. Since then the economy has changed over the years, dramatically when Flagler completed the Overseas Railway. Today the economy of the Keys is fueled by tourism and commercial fishing. Pirates have played a significant role throughout the history of the Keys and some say they still operate today.
The Keys are subtropical and with reason are considered the American Caribbean. Surrounded by water and with the gulf stream paralleling the islands just a few miles off shore, the Keys are 5-10 degrees warmer than mainland South Florida in the Winter and 5-10 degrees cooler in the Summer. The islands also get less rain the mainland Florida and are rather arid in nature, similar to the landscape of St. Martin in the eastern Caribbean.
Can you find Key West on a map?
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