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Florida Keys and Key West Information Vacation Travel Guides

The Florida Keys are an archipelago of about 1700 islands in the southeast United States. They start at the southeastern tip of the Florida peninsula, about 15 miles south of Miami, and extend in a slow curve south-southwest and then westward towards Key West, the westernmost of the inhabited islands, and then to the uninhabited Dry Tortugas. The tropical lislands lie along the Florida Straits, dividing the Atlantic Ocean to the east side from the Gulf of Mexico to the west side, and delineate one edge of Florida Bay. At the nearest place, the southernmost tip of Key West is only 94 miles from the shores of Cuba. The Florida Keys are between about 23 and a half and 25 and a half degrees North latitude, in the subtropics! The climate of the Florida Keys is however defined as tropical according to Köppen climate classification. More than 95 percent of the land mass area lies in Monroe County, but only a small portion extends northeast into Miami-Dade County, located primarily in the city of Islandia, Florida. The total land mass is 355.6 km² (137.3 sq mi). As of the 2000 census the total population of The Floarida Keys was 79,535, with an average density of 223.66/km² (579.27/sq mi), although much of the population is concentrated in a few areas of much higher density, such as the city of Key West, which has 32 percent of the total population of the Florida Keys.

The world famous city of Key West is the county seat for Monroe County, which makes up a section on the Florida mainland and is almost totally in Everglades National Park, and the Keys islands from Key Largo to the Dry Tortugas.

The islands of the Florida Keys are the exposedsections of an ancient coral reef. The northernmost tropical island arising from the ancient reef formation is Elliott Key and is located in Biscayne National Park. North of Elliott Key are several small keys, made up of sand formed up around small areas of the exposed ancient reef. Further north, Key Biscayne and other places north areconsidered barrier islands, made up of sand.

The Florida Keys have taken on their current form as the result of the huge changes in ocean sea level associated with recent glaciations or ice ages. Beginning some 130,000 years ago the Sangamon interglacial elevated sea levels to approximately 25 feet (7.5 m.) above the current level. All of southern Florida was covered by a shallow ocean. Several parallel lines of coral reef formed along the edge of the submerged Florida plateau, extending south and then west from the current Miami area to what is now called the Dry Tortugas. This reef formed the famous Key Largo limestone deposit that is exposed on the surface from Soldier Key (midway between Key Biscayne and Elliott Key) toward the southeast portion of Eco-friendly Big Pine Key and the Newfound Harbor Keys. The types of coral that created Key Largo limestone has been identified on the exposed surface of these keys.

As early as about 100,000 years ago the Wisconsin glaciation started lowering sea levels, exposing the coral reef and nearby marine sediments. By 15,000 years ago the ocean level had dropped to 300 to 350 feet below today's level. The exposed reefs and sediments were severely eroded. Acid water, which can result from decaying vegetation, dissolves the limestone. Some of the dissolved limestone redeposited as a more dense cap rock, which can be seen as outcrops overlying the Key Largo and Miami limestones and throughout the Keys. The soft limestone that eroded from the coral reef formed oolites in the shallow ocean behind the reef, and together with the skeletal remains of bryozoans, formed the Miami limestone that is the current surface bedrock of the lower Florida peninsula and the lower keys from Big Pine Key to Key West. To the west of Key West the ancient reef is covered by recent calcareous sand.

The Famous Seven Mile Bridge
One of the longest bridges when it was constructed, the Seven Mile Bridge connects Knight's Key (where the city of Marathon is located in the Middle Keys) to Little Duck Key in the Lower Keys. True to its title, the piling-supported concrete bridge is 35,862 ft or 6.79 miles (10.93 km) long. The current bridge bypasses Pigeon Key, a small island that housed roadway workers building Henry Flagler's Florida East Coast Railway during the 1900s, that the original Seven Mile Bridge crossed. An old 2.2-mile section of the bridge is used for access to the island, and was closed to vehicular traffic on March 4, 2008. The aging structure has been determined unsafe by the Florida Department of Transporation. Costly repairs, estimated to be as much as $34 million, are slated to begin in July 2008.

After the destruction of the Keys overseas railway by the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935, the railroad bridges, including the Seven Mile Bridge, were all converted into automobile roadways. U.S. Route 1 runs the length of the Florida Keys and up the Continental U.S. East Coast to Maine; the Florida Keys portion is also called the Overseas Highway.
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