DRY TORTUGAS NATIONAL PARK

 

Looking for something different to do while in Key West?

  The Dry Tortugas are a cluster of seven small tiny coral islands about 70 miles west of Key West Florida. Due to their remote location, they are accessible only by a 40-minute seaplane ride or a 2-hour boat ride. The isolated islands are rich with history, abundant wildlife and great scenery. Ponce de Leon "discovered" the islands and dubbed them "Las Tortugas" (The Turtles) after the area's dense population of sea turtles. The qualifier "dry" was added shortly thereafter to indicate that the islands had no fresh water. The United States began construction of Fort Jefferson in 1829 to control navigation through this critical area. Construction of the fort continued for 30 years, but advancing technology rendered the fort obsolete before it was completed. The fort was never involved in battle. During the Civil War, the fort was used as a Union (that's right, Union) military prison. It's most famous prisoners were four men convicted of complicity in Abraham Lincoln's assassination. The most notorious, Dr. Samuel Mudd was convicted for setting the leg of Lincoln's assassin, John Wilkes Booth. Mudd served less than four years of his sentence before he was pardoned by president Andrew Johnson. Mudd's second-floor cell is clearly marked at Fort Jefferson.

I chose the Fast Cat catamaran operated by Sunny Days and I would recommend it highly. The boat departs at 8AM daily and arrives at the park around 10 AM. Donuts, bagels, juice and coffee are served as the boat departs the dock. Upon arrival at the park, the tour operator takes visitors on a very informative 45-minute tour of the fort. After the tour, there's a "build-your-own sandwich" picnic lunch with salads and chips. After lunch, visitors are free to go snorkeling, lay on the beach or explore the fort at their leisure. We snorkeled for about a half-hour, but didn't see much. I left the girls to sunbathe on the beach (I knew I wouldn't lose 'em.) while I checked out the fort. Although the fort was never fully completed, it was nearly completed and the architecture is superb. The fort has over 2000 brick arches, inside and outside... and the fort's hexagonal shape required some precision work. Visitors have free time until about 2:30, when the boat begins its return trip to Key West.

Although the snorkeling was lousy the day we visited (the water was murky), Garden Key is known for its outstanding snorkeling. There is a small but beautiful beach. The beach is hard on the feet as is is comprised of crumbled, and sometimes sharp, coral. Birds are not hard to spot. You'll see the magnificent frigatebird riding the thermals above the island. Their seven foot wingspan and graceful flight is on amazing sight. We arrived in February, just after the sooty terns returned to nest on the adjacent Bush Key. Although visitors are not permitted on Bush Key due to the bird habitat, the thousands of noisy terns are visible and quite audible from Garden Key.

The day trip to the Dry Tortugas is not cheap, but all things considered, it's about the same you'd spend for breakfast, lunch and a couple of attractions in Key West... and you'll be back just in time for the daily Sunset Celebration at Mallory Square!

   
  LINKS TO ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:
  Dry Tortugas National Park
  Sunny Days Catamarans - Dry Tortugas Ferry and Tour
   
   

 

 

DRY TORTUGAS NATIONAL PARK PHOTOS - CLICK ON THUMBNAILS FOR LARGER IMAGE

       
  SUNNY DAYS "FAST CAT" FERRY TO THE DRY TORTUGAS   "YANKEE FREEDOM II" FERRY TO THE DRY TORTUGAS   SEASICK PASSENGER   FORT JEFFERSON
               
       
  FORT JEFFERSON   BUSH KEY   PARK SIGN   THE MOAT
               
       
  LOGGERHEAD KEY LIGHTHOUSE   FORT JEFFERSON   BUSH KEY WITH NESTING SOOTY TERNS   THE MOAT
               
       
  SEAPLANE BEACH FROM THE FORT   FORT JEFFERSON   FORT JEFFERSON   INSIDE FORT JEFFERSON
               
       
  FRIGATEBIRD   BARRED OWL   GARDEN KEY DOCK   INSIDE FORT JEFFERSON
               
       
  INSIDE FORT JEFFERSON   INSIDE FORT JEFFERSON   FORT JEFFERSON   FORT JEFFERSON