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The Florida Keys: Lower Keys

Big Pine Key and Lower Keys are known as the "Natural Keys"

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Looe Key Reef, established in 1981, the 5.3-nautical-mile Looe Key sanctuary is named for the HMS Looe, a British frigate that ran aground on the shallow reefs in 1744. The 5- to 35-foot deep waters surrounding the reef provide spectacular views of sponges, soft corals, vibrant elkhorn and staghorn coral thickets, and a wide variety of fish. Commercial dive charters provide excursions to Looe Key from Big Pine Key, Little Torch Key and Ramrod Key.

National Key Deer Refuge and Watson Nature Trail, Key Deer Blvd. at MM 30.5 bayside, Big Pine Key. Tiny deer no larger than a mid-size dog roam freely here. A nature trail winds through protected pinelands. The visitor's center is located 1.5 miles from the nature trail at the intersection of Key Deer and Watson Boulevards, in the Winn Dixie Shopping Center, 701 Key Deer Blvd. It's open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday. For more information call 305-872-2239 or visit online at www.fws.gov/nationalkeydeer.

The Blue Hole, Key Deer Boulevard, MM 30.5 bayside, Big Pine Key. An old rock quarry, used for construction of Henry Flagler's Florida East Coast Railway, now provides a freshwater habitat for alligators and wading birds.

Perky's Bat Tower, MM 17 bayside, Sugarloaf Key. Visitors can discover an early Florida Keys attempt at mosquito control. In 1929, late Lower Keys resort owner Richter Perky erected this wooden structure to house bats to eat the mosquitoes that pestered his guests. Although his plan failed, today Perky's Bat Tower is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Sheriff's Animal Farm, MM 5 bayside, Stock Island. On the grounds of the Monroe County Detention Center, this children's attraction features horse, pony, cow, ducks, geese, pigs and other animals. The farm is open 1 to 4 p.m. on the first and third Sunday of each month. Call 305-293-7300 for more information.

Take these links to find out more: Florida Keys FAQs, Key Largo, Islamorada, Marathon, Key West.

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