Island Hopping Through History
Dry Tortugas National Park is both the southernmost park in the system and one of the hardest to reach. Visiting the park has been on my bucket list for years, and we were fortunate enough to make it there on Monday (the fifth park of this trip!). Located in the Gulf of Mexico 70 miles off Key West, the Dry Tortugas can only be reached by boat or sea plane. We traveled there on the Yankee Freedom II, a two-level passenger ferry. The first hour of the trip—out past the Marquesas—was relatively smooth sailing, but the second hour took us across a deep-water channel, so the seas were a little rough. We arrived in one piece and were happy to be on land, if only temporarily.
The ferry boat docks at Garden Key, the largest island in the park and home to Ft. Jefferson, the largest masonry structure in the Western Hemisphere. Millions of bricks from places as far away as Maine were used to construct the three-level fort during the 19th century. Construction was never completed, but the fort has been used for a variety of purposes, including a military outpost and a prison, for much of the last 150 years.
The fort is impressive, but the view from atop it is stunning. Surrounded by park waters in ten shades of blue, thousands of birds nest in the islands or make temporary stops as they fly between the Americas. In addition to exploring the fort and the island, we hit the water with snorkel gear and explored a few underwater areas, including the fort’s moat wall and old pilings from a former coal dock. (There are no services on the island, so for one all-inclusive ticket price, the ferry company provides breakfast, lunch, restrooms, and snorkeling equipment for day passengers.)
Satisfied with our adventure and just a little sunburned, we settled in for the trip back to Key West and arrived in time to watch the sunset. More on that later! In the meantime, take a peek at this video. Consider it a sneak peek of your own trip someday! -J