Countless fossils dating back nearly 125,000 years are the focal point of Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park. Here you are actually walking inside a fossilized coral reef. This is made possible by 3 large former quarries. Every surface is covered with ancient history. Probably millions of square feet in all.
A rock quarry in the Keys? Considering that the average elevation in the Keys is about 2 – 3 feet above sea level, it seems unlikely. But Windley Key is the mountain of the Florida Keys with a peak elevation of 18 feet, so the Florida East Coast Railroad was able to mine here…at shallow depths. The stone was used as railroad bed and bridge approach fill. Later, polished Key Limestone became a popular building product.
What’s unique about this quarry is that it was once a reef, when nearly all of Florida was under the ocean. As sea level fell, the plants and animals died, eventually becoming petrified, their existence preserved for many millennia. Thanks to the relatively neat cuts made while harvesting the stone, you walk through the quarries as you would a museum.
Indeed, this park is very much like an outdoor museum, moving from one hall of displays to the next through a corridor of paths. Some of the original mining equipment is still on site, too. The roughly 1.5 miles of trails are beautifully wooded, providing often-needed shade, as well as an opportunity to see some 40 indigenous plants.
It was a great contrast to snorkel the living Florida Reef in John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park two days after visiting Windley Key’s fossils. Even today you can see corals and plants that appear the same – or very similar to – the fossil record from more than 100,000 years ago. How much the oceans have risen and fallen over the Earth’s lifetime is pretty amazing.
It’s definitely worth the visit. I’ve passed right by dozens of times, but I’m glad we stopped in to check it out. Looking for other great places to enjoy Florida’s great outdoors? Check out Where-to-Go and my Bucket List of places I’ve explored first hand. Wherever you are in Florida, natural wonders and good times are close by.