Thursday, April 7, 2011

Dry Tortugas National Park - Key West, FL

"We'll get there fast then we'll take it slow....that's where I wannnnna go, way down to Dry Tortugas"  Well, that's not exactly how it went, but it could.  Dry Tortugas is a group of islands about 70 miles west of Key West as indicated by the map below.  Just click on the map to zoom in and out or move it around.

Spaniard Juan Ponce de León discovered the islands in 1513 and today, 498 years later, it's considered Florida sand as part of as part of Monroe County.    Dry Tortugas Park is one of the least accessible National Parks in the U.S being so far out there so these days, not many people get the chance to visit them.  However, you can jump a boat in Key West and be there in a matter of hours.

The park itself encompasses nearly 143 acres with 7 little islands.  The second biggest island, Garden Key, plays host to historic Fort Jefferson and the now inactive Garden Key lighthouse.  Most visitors to the park find their way to Garden Key and the fort that was built in the early 1800's.   The fort is composed of over 16 million bricks and was ultimately left unfinished.  But it did see action by hosting both civilians and soldiers during the civil war.

Fort Jefferson Facts
  • It's the largest masonry structure in the Western Hemisphere
  • It has over 16 million bricks
  • It has a 65 foot lighthouse
  • It has 410 canons at one point
  • Advances in weapon technology would come to render the fort obsolete by 1862

View Larger Map

Once at Dry Tortugas National Park you can do some amazing snorkel/scuba diving, sightseeing of the fort, camping and more.   The area is known for its famous bird and marine life, its legends of pirates and sunken gold, and its military past giving the tourist many things to check out.

It cost a whole $5 bucks per person to visit the islands and this gets you a 7 day pass just in case you want to stay down there for the week.  Most boat or plane shuttles out of Key West collect and pay for that fee on your behalf.  If you're down to camp, it costs just $3 bucks per night.

What about camping at Dry Tortugas?  All camping in the National Park must go down at Garden Key at a special campground that's located just south of Fort Jefferson.  The campsite has 8 spots with a spot for the rare event of overflow.  Keep in mind this is primitive camping.  You get NO shower, NO electric and toilets that operate w/o running water.   It's you, the beach and your tent. 

One word of warning:  Rats.  Rats have been on the island now that people are on the island.  So when camping, pack up your foods in some type of rat rejection container.  It's not THAT bad, but leaving a nice hot dog outside the tent is temping and why temp rats to your campsite.  Also, if you're thinking about building a big fire on the beach, you can't do it.  No wood fires are allowed.  But you can burn charcoal briquets in the campsite fire-pit.

Dry Tortugas has a subtropical climate. Temperatures range from the mid-50s to mid-80s.  April and May are often some of the best months to visit. There are essentially two seasons: The winter season (December-March), which can be windy with rough seas, and the tropical storm season (June-November) during which Dry Tortugas experiences both hot, humid weather and calm seas or severe weather events.

For those of you curious about nude camping or sunbathing at the parks, forget it.  Nudity is not permitted on the islands.  If you're daring I guess you can wander around till you find an isolated spot but I would not risk it.  But for amazing diving, this is the place to be.  The islands have water that looks like fish aquariums full of fish, coral and other cool sea creatures.  But beware, American crocodiles have been spotted in the area but not where you snorkel, mostly in a few remote inlet lakes.

So you can see there's lots to do west of Key West, just hop a boat for $165 per person on any number of services like the Yankee Freedom II.  Camping round trips cost $180 a person but this includes all the fees for the park itself plus camping fees.

(Check out this brain surgeon hand feeding a HUGE jewfish at Dry Tortugas)

So if you head to the Keys, do me a favor and swing by Dry Tortugas National Park and let me know what you think. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...