Saturday, September 20, 2014

Day Trip to the Dry Tortugas National Park: I

Over the weekend my Aunt Theresa visited me in the Keys. We spent the weekend partaking in Key West culture, being tourists, and eating great food. I have been living in the Keys since the beginning of June, but I had yet to visit one of the most famous places down here, Fort Jefferson and the Dry Tortugas National Park. As you can see on the map, it’s quite the haul to get out there. It’s located approximately 70 miles west of Key West as we know it, in the Gulf of Mexico. It’s expensive to get out there ($170 for adults which includes: breakfast, lunch, passage aboard the Yankee Freedom catamaran, National Park fee, snorkeling gear, and a 45 minute tour of the Fort), but well worth the money. It’s a long day as well, starting and ending with a 3 hour boat ride. All summer we’ve had great weather. No hurricanes, no tropical depressions, just normal tropical rainstorms that are over within in minutes, then back to sun. Of course, the weekend my aunt chose to fly down here from Michigan, we had some sort of tropical system sitting on top of us dumping wind and rain. We suffered through it by eating and drinking indoors at beautiful, delicious restaurants (poor us), but I REALLY wanted to go out to the Dry Tortugas! We waited until the very last moment, late Saturday night, to book our trip. The radar was showing an OK day for Sunday. We booked it, set the alarm for 6:00 am.

Looking from bow to stern while we
were still docked. Notice the bank of
black clouds in the direction we would be
We arrived at the Yankee Freedom III terminal, and boarded the boat with 100 other passengers, hoping and praying that we would have smooth sailing. As we pushed off, the sun was still shining, and we sat on the top deck soaking in the rays, and enjoying the breeze. Within minutes though, it started drizzling, and the water started rolling, and we were only 10 minutes into a 3 our trip. It was rough, to say the least. Pouring raining and whipping winds made for a very rocky trip, and people all around us were heaving. It wasn’t exactly the calm, relaxing, tropical tour I had hoped for. My aunt and I were strong though, and made it through without getting seasick. As we approached Fort Jefferson, the clouds did part and the sun did shine. Approaching the Fort, all I could think was that we were going back in time. I thought about how long construction projects take in 2014, and this Fort was built between 1846 and 1875, with something like 16 million handmade bricks from Pensacola, Florida! There were no high-speed ferries, or freshwater, or electricity out there then. Even now, freshwater and electricity is limited. This feat of construction is impressive. Click here for more information about the history and culture of Fort Jefferson.

Approaching Fort Jefferson within the Dry Tortugas National Park

My Aunt Theresa in front of Fort Jefferson. Sadly, my version of this picture got lost somehow!

The architecture was beautiful throughout the Fort.

From the second level looking towards the Harbor Lighthouse.

From the top of the Fort looking towards Bush Key, which is attached by a land bridge.

Bush Key
While the history is interesting, and the Fort itself is beautiful to walk through, and learn about, I was really interested in birding while I was visiting. Bush Key, as shown in the last picture, is home to two species of birds that almost exclusively nest here! Both the Brown Noddy and Sooty Terns call Bush Key home, and I was very fortunate to come at just the right time, the tail end of their breeding season. Bush Key has been closed off to visitors all summer, but the day before I visited, the beach reopened for visitors to walk. My aunt wasn’t interested in birding, so she went to tan on the beach, while I got out my camera and headed down the shore.

Unfortunately, I did not get any pictures of the Noddies or Sooties. There were just a few, and they were kind of soaring on the wind high above. I wasted 5 minutes trying to focus my camera to have *proof* that I saw them, but gave up. Who do I need to prove it to, right? :) Here are some other critters I saw while walking.

I believe this to be a house gecko (Hemidactylus mabouia), unless someone else can suggest something else!

Ruddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres)

Unknown crab species

Ghost crab (Ocypode quadrata)

Land hermit crab (Coenobita clypeatus)

Assorted shells and coral bits that had washed up in the wrack line.
I realize this entry is getting lengthy, so I will come back with Part II in a few days. Enjoy the pictures, and start planning your trip RIGHT NOW!

1 comment:

  1. The history of Fort Jefferson is so interesting, and a real shame the trip was rough. Lovely for the two of you to be tourists for a day together. Cheers,Jean


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