Saturday, December 6, 2014

Windley Key Fossil Reef

Many years ago, after the ocean water levels stabilized and lowered, an ancient coral reef was exposed and created what became called the Florida Keys.  In my previous posting I mentioned Flagler, who built the Overseas Railroad.  He needed a source of fill for the railroad, and purchased the property on Windley Key to use as a limestone quarry to meet that need.  After the railroad was built it was discovered that the limestone is quite decorative with the ancient coral reef imbedded in it, if sliced evenly and polished it could be used as a decorative stone for building construction.  Key Largo Limestone is used on the face of many buildings in southern Florida, as well as the post offices in Miami and St.Louis, Missouri.   Pictured below is the part of the quarry where the limestone was sliced into blocks.
It is strange that I have walked past buildings which had the ancient coral animals in the limestone and never gave a thought about it!  At the park office we were given a booklet to use for our own self-guided tour of the quarry.  The booklet encouraged us to look closely at the different kinds of coral imbedded in the limestone, of which there five different types in this quarry.  Pictured below is the brain coral.
Part of the fun of walking the trails of this park was not only seeing the old quarry beds and the equipment used to retrieve the limestone, but also learning about the thin layer of soil in the limestone cuts which support a variety of botanical life that exists in a subtropical environment.  One of the trails took us through a hardwood hammock (hammock comes from the native word "hamaca" meaning a shady place).  With the assistance of our book we were able to discover such trees as the gumbo limbo, the mahogany, strangler fig, and poisonwood.  We were especially warned by the park ranger not to touch the latter, exposure to that tree can cause a skin reaction like that of poison ivy.  Black sap spots on its yellowish-orange bark is a clue to its identity.   There are many of those trees here, which is fortunate for the white-crowned pigeon who eats the berries of this tree. This is one of the few areas in the Keys where that bird can be found.
Speaking of birds, our day ended at the Florida Keys Wild Bird Sanctuary.  Seeing the sunset at the shore there and hearing a barred owl sing out his distinctive call was a special moment for me.

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