Our trip to the Dry Tortugas yesterday, we felt, deserved a journal entry of its own….we had originally debated about even taking this trip; it was a bit costly but our military discount helped a lot and it took up an entire day but it was well worth it!! And no, we didn't take the RV!!
The Dry Tortugas National Park lies at the farthest end of the Florida Keys, closer to Cuba than the American mainland!! In order to reach this destination you need to travel over 68 miles of open ocean to visit. We traveled on the Yankee Freedom II, a catamaran equipped to travel at 30-35 knots. The trip takes about 2 ½ hours both ways and while on board they served a sumptuous breakfast and lunch to the 170 guests on board all the while giving a history of the area so that you are prepared upon arrival. We picked a beautiful day, very light winds and about 82 degrees; perfect for enjoying the sights along the way. We saw porpoises, flying fish and other sailors heading to destinations in the Gulf, Atlantic or Caribbean. The Dry Tortugas is home to vibrant coral reefs and tropical fish, during the summer, sea turtles use the beaches on Bush and Garden Key to bury their clutches of eggs and it is the only place where the Sooty Tern nests in the United States. The Dry Tortugas and specifically, Bush Key, home to Fort Jefferson, are a mecca for bird watchers; they are a “layover” for migrating birds between South America and the U.S.
We spent 4 ½ hours on Bush Key, home to Fort Jefferson; part of the day was spent touring this historic fort and the other time snorkeling in the clear, pristine waters of the Gulf of Mexico. The Tortugas location is along one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes so it made it a great military asset. Fort Jefferson was nearly thirty years in the making (1846-1875) however, it was never fully finished, fully staffed or armed. Yet, it was a vital link in a chain of coastal forts that stretched from Maine to California. Fort Jefferson was one of the most sophisticated of such forts and a symbol that the U.S. wanted to be left alone. It was never attacked but it did help protect the peace of our young Nation. It was abandoned in 1874 and was used briefly during WW I and WW II but it’s claim to fame is that it housed 4 of the accused Lincoln conspirators, to include Samuel Mudd who treated John Wilkes Booth of his injuries sustained during the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. He was there from 1865 to 1869 and took over the duties of doctor when the military doctor passed away from yellow fever. The fort was made of over 16 million bricks, coral and granite, much of it is still there today except where nature has taken its toll. They are in the process of a major rehabilitation project that will save this national treasure for future generations.
The other part of our day was spent in the warm, tropical water adjacent to the fort. We spent hours snorkeling along the moats and old coaling docks. We saw Parrotfish, Barracuda, Sergeant Majors and many more colorful fish. Dennis went a bit deeper and farther than I did and he found huge conch shells, sea urchins and sea fans.
After our day there we decided to treat Bandit and Tiki by taking them to Schooner Wharf Bar and Grill. We have eaten there before but never with the boys. Our waitress treated the boys to doggie treats and their own water bowl while we enjoyed a fabulous meal (Stu, I won’t torture you with a picture of what we both had!!) while listening to a local singer who sounded a lot like Janis Joplin.
It was a wonderful day we will never forget…if you are ever in the area, take the time to visit there, it’s an adventure of a lifetime!