is a 100 square mile marine preserve about 70 miles west of Key West, FL. There are 7 Keys in the park, the most noteworthy being Garden Key where Fort Jefferson (FJ) is located, but more on that later.
The Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon was credited with discovering this area in the 16th century. So abundant were sea turtles here that he named the area La Tortugas, Spanish for "the turtles". Sea turtles became a very necessary and coveted food source for travelers here during these times. Refrigeration was non existent and food preservation methods were crude at best. Kept on their backs, sea turtles can live for weeks if splashed with sea water from time to time.
Due to the scarcity of drinkable water here, rainwater being the only real source, dry crept into this area's name. So goes the Dry Tortugas.
In the interests of conservation, only one commercial tour boat, The Yankee Freedom, is allowed to operate in the park, and only 175 people are allowed to Garden Key on the boat daily. The tour boat operates almost every day of the year, and leaves from the Key West Ferry Terminal. This terminal is also where the Key West Express operates out of, a ferry connecting Southwest Florida with Key West.
As you enter the terminal
there is a waiting area for passengers
and shortly before departure a park service employee talks a bit about the tour and what to expect when in the park.
Shortly after boarding,
people start to line up for breakfast service served buffet style inside the boat.
ham, hard boiled eggs, cheese,
fruits and breads were served to attendees.
There was quite a crowd initially when the buffet opened,
and some decided to wait before dining on the upper deck until the line died down a bit.
Suddenly, we were on our way out of Key West.
Here was the schedule of the days events.
On the way out there, there was the faintest of rainbows, a portend of things to come.
As the boat approached FJ, we were able to see the lighthouse on Loggerhead Key, about 3 miles from the fort.
Built in the middle 19th century, it is still in use today and can be seen from over 50 miles away at night.
As you approach the fort,
it is really an impressive structure as you get closer.
After getting off the boat,
there was about 30 minutes before the tour started so I decided to have a look around Garden Key
and the moat that surrounds the fort.
The tour started shortly thereafter,
and Jeff, our tour guide, gave us an excellent historical
and structural tour of FJ.
Why was FJ built? The keys that make up this area provide a sheltered "safe harbor" for ships from storms, and ships could resupply at FJ. These islands were also strategically located at the end of The Great Florida Reef. They were within firing range of ships passing by traveling from the Northeastern United States through the Straits of Florida into the Gulf of Mexico, Mississippi River and back and were in a good position to protect shipping interests there.
The fort has 8 foot thick walls, no wonder it's still standing! Interestingly, as you go to different levels of the fort, it's all by spiral staircase. In case the fort was breached, this would force invaders up the stairs single file rather than in rows, easier to shoot as they were ascending the staircases.
There were many historical stories about FJ. Probably the most famous one was this was where Dr. Samuel Mudd was imprisoned after being convicted of being a co-conspirator in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.
A final walk around the top of the fort gave very nice views of Garden Key,
our boat and the camping area to the right of the boat.
The boat does take up to 10 campers a day to Garden Key for a maximum stay of 4 days and 3 nights. Campers are also allowed use of the outside rinse-off showers while the boat is moored and can eat lunch on the boat for just $7.00.
Talking about lunch, here is what was served, again buffet style.
Ham, turkey, chicken salad and cheeses,
lettuce tomatoes and potato salad,
and some cucumbers, banana peppers, pickles and watermelon
to make either sandwiches or salads with the condiments provided.
For a brief time dry did not seem to be part of the Dry Tortugas
but the rain was short lived allowing for a bit of snorkeling, equipment included with the tour.
The boat left the park at 3 P.M and by 5:30 or so was back at Key West.
This was a really good tour. The tour of FJ was really interesting, the food served not bad and the boat ride painless and uneventful. I wish I would have had more time to snorkle as apparently there is a beautiful reef area a few hundred yards from FJ. There was no time to do this after the tour of FJ and lunch. If out there again, I would devote all my time to a snorkle tour. Other than that, a great day out!
That's that for another post on forks.
Dry Tortugas National Park
Yankee Freedom National Park Ferry
100 Grinnell Street
Key West, FL 33040