On our last voyage to Southern Florida the main goal was to visit Everglades National Park. When planning a park trip we look at nearby national parks as well and in the process explored Biscayne National Park which we would never have gone to due to lack of knowledge about it. Another park that came up was Dry Tortugas National Park. This requires a boat ride or seaplane ride to get there as it is 70 miles off the coast of Key West . Due to the difficulty and expense in getting there we took it off the list. Having another opportunity this past winter we decided to plan a trip to Dry Tortugas if the weather was going to cooperate. This means warm, sunny, and low winds.
I was in Ft. Lauderdale for a convention and decided to extend the trip for a couple more days. Near the end of the convention I started watching the weather forecasts a little closer and saw expected highs in the upper 70’s with minimal wind. It couldn’t possible get any better so off to Key West to catch the Yankee Freedom II for a 2 1/2 hour boat ride to Fort Jefferson. The morning starts early with boarding at 7:30 am in order to get to the island and back before sunset. We had a beautiful trip with plenty of sun although it was a touch cool requiring sweatshirts. During our voyage out to Dry Tortugas National Park we saw a ship with a long trail of white debris behind it. Turns out this was a crew working to recover items off a Spanish shipwreck. They were out on a weekend because of the calm water from lack of wind. It was certainly interesting to see an actual shipwreck recovery in process.
Finally we arrived in the Dry Tortugas! These are a chain of very small islands but extremely beautiful. Docking at Fort Jefferson we quickly got off the boat as there were only 4 hours to explore this place. First we wanted to snorkel for an hour or so in these tropical waters. For being tropical waters it sure took some time to get use to the cool water. There were some great things to see such as a conch slowly moving along the sandy bottom and some squid in the sea grass but very little coral. After swimming for some time we heading in a different direction and discovered the coral. While enjoying the fish swimming in amongst the coral I noticed we were being watched by a barracuda. I get a little nervous around these fish as they have a reputation for being a little aggressive and seeing the rows of teeth covering their mouth just adds to that reputation. Fortunately this fish just continued to move ahead of us. After this short time in the cool water we dried off and got something to eat before touring Fort Jefferson.
Fort Jefferson was constructed around the civil war and was one of the few southern locations aligned with the Union armies. This fort takes up almost the entire island and was built to house up to 2,000 soldiers however it was never completed. As the construction continued the island began to settle (sink) under the weight of all the bricks and other construction materials used. Prisoners were kept here and the most famous of those were 4 men convicted of helping in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. There is some fascinating history being preserved at Dry Tortugas National Park. I understand why this was placed under the national park system.
After learning about this fort and it’s history and exploring under the surface of the ocean it was time for the journey back to Key West. I would have liked to stay longer and take more time to explore but we did not plan for it on this trip. Camping is possible and would give more time for snorkeling and exploring the fort along with experiencing the peacefulness and solitude of the Dry Tortugas. This is one of the least visited national parks for obvious reasons. If you are ever in the area, I highly recommend this opportunity!