southernmost spot in the united states

Key West Butterflies, Flamingos and Southernmost Spot

Butterfly at Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory

Butterfly at Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory

A perfect childhood described to me by Joanna, a woman I once hired decades ago as my intern, had been filled with memories of sitting cross-legged on the soft grass in her yard, surrounded by fluttering butterflies kissing her face, and she was so happy, at peace, filled with joy. She grinned wide while sharing this story. Some kids live fairy tale lives, unlike my awful upbringing. I blurted out I hate you and she laughed.

It’s not too late to get that fluttering surrounded-by-butterflies experience in Key West, though. We walked from the north end of Key West, fighting crazy cruise-ship tourist traffic along Duval, all the way to the south end to visit the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory. The day was hot, humid, 81 degrees, and we met an occasional downpour along the way, which meant we were forced to stop for ice cream. Once inside the the conservatory where the butterflies live, we noticed the temperature went up a few notches, but we didn’t care.

Flamingo at Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory

Flamingo at Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory

Here, hundreds of butterflies, prancing, pruning, warming their scaled wings in the mist of lush tropical vegetation; a winding walkway looping back and forth, waterfalls, dozens of birds and small chicken-like babies scattering and pecking along the ground; it was an exotic paradise. If you stood very still, butterflies landed on your head and shoulders. In the center of all of this is a pond, and oh, my gosh, there lives two strutting flamingos. Crap, we searched all through the Everglades National Park, from numerous entrances, including Flamingo Visitor Center and we found no flamingos. In fact, we were told there are no flamingos in Everglades National Park, contrary to what we had previously been led to believe.

Black and white butterfly searching for nectar

Black and white butterfly searching for nectar

Yet, here they were. Granted, this is not the wild, but it is a place to see flamingos up close and personal. These birds seem to spend most of their time with their beaks in the water, digging up the ground beneath, searching for food. Not much different than any other kind of bird’s continual search for food.

The south end of Key West was much windier yesterday than the other end. We walked out to South Beach and onto the pier, weeding our way through the sea of drinking-rum-in-coconut tourists, many of whom were Asian. Bags of litter, white foam, seaweed and other sea vegetation swirled in the water below us but that did not stop swimmers from swimming. The water was a milky color and did not appear inviting to me.

Tourists at the South Beach pier in Key West

Tourists at the South Beach pier in Key West

I slumped to the cement and leaned up against a pole to shoot photos with my cellphone. My husband was busy taking a picture when one of the foreign tourists bent over to motion him to move out of the way so she could take the picture she wanted to take. She then shoved her foot under my leg and tried to lean over my head to shoot a photo. I straightened up. She sighed. It was an unmistakable sigh of frustration. She was too polite and perhaps did not know enough English to say “excuse me, get the hell outta my way,” but that’s what she was thinking, so I did not budge.

A short skip and a jump from that beach is what is billed as the southernmost point in the continental United States. That’s not really true because the military base at Key West is further south. It’s the southernmost point that the public can reach. The State of Florida has to define the spot as continental because this Key West place is also not the southernmost spot in the United States. The true southernmost spot in America is located on the Big Island of Hawaii.

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