February 9, 2013 — Today was an adventure day! We left the comforts of our funky-cool-quirky fave hotel in Key West [Eden House], drove to the Key West airport, boarded a sea plane, and flew 90 miles west of Key West to Dry Tortugas National Park. This is another unique park as it is a remote island in the Gulf of Mexico accessible only via private boat, passenger ferry or seaplane. Adventurers that we are, we opted for the seaplane as it seemed like it would be a way more fun way to get there (it was!) plus it was only 40 minutes each way vs. three hours if we had traveled via boat.
Dry Tortugas NP consists of seven small sand/coral islands plus some of the surrounding Gulf of Mexico, and during our water landing approach we could see Fort Jefferson, the gem of the park. This is a massive U.S. Army fort that stands mostly abandoned today on Garden Key. Viewable, too, was the lighthouse that stands on Loggerhead Key, although key this was not accessible on our trip.
Dry Tortugas got its name in two parts: “tortugas” is Spanish for turtles, and is the name Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León gave this place when he was sailing around Florida in the 16th century. The word “dry” was later added on as it described the total lack of fresh water on these islands and was meant to warn sailors to replenish their ships’ supplies before coming here.
Work began on Fort Jefferson in 1846, and upon completion, it was to help the U.S. maintain control of the Gulf of Mexico. Some 16 million bricks were brought in and the fort was started, but complications and cost-overruns delayed its construction for decades. During the Civil War it became a military prison – its most famous inmate was Dr. Samuel Mudd. He was the physician convicted of conspiracy to assassinate President Abraham Lincoln after he set John Wilkes Booth’s broken leg. Mudd was kept prisoner here for four years, but was pardoned after his service during a yellow fever epidemic at the fort in 1867.
The two main activities on this 16-acre key are touring the fort (done in about an hour) and snorkeling/swimming. While Fred continued to photograph the fort and its casemates (gun rooms), arches, huge walls, and Samuel Mudd’s prison cell, I set out for some snorkeling in the clear Gulf waters. After a couple of hours on this barren island (no drinking water, no public restrooms, and no food/drink available) we boarded our seaplane and headed back to Key West.
Ah, the things one must go through if one is to see all 59 of our country’s national parks…!
Click on photos to open gallery in Flickr –