In 1908, Henry Flagler opened a quarry on Windley Key during construction of his Overseas Railroad. The Florida Keys are made of coral rock, and it is at this geological site that you’ll peer deeply into the island’s fossil past, frozen in the walls of these massive quarries.
At first, no one thought much of the rock. It was used as crushed limestone for the railroad bed. But by 1921, they wised up and started slicing slabs of decorative store, which became the norm for facing for government buildings in South Florida.
In the 1980s, the site was threatened by condo development. Local residents stepped up to the plate to preserve the remaining 30 acres of tropical hammock and historic quarries. The park has an excellent visitor center to interpret the unique history, botany, and geology of the site. Go on a guided tour, or roam on your own. Ranger led tours are offered Fri-Sun at 10 and 2.
The richly textured tropical forest that surrounds the historic quarry is a delight to explore, especially with interpretation along its nature trails. You’ll encounter a natural tropical plum grove with hog plum, saffron plum, and darling plum growing alongside more common mastic (jungle plum), pigeon plum, and poisonwood. A stroll through this tropical forest not only yields interesting tropical trees but offers the possibility of seeing the rare mangrove cuckoo and white-crowned pigeon.