We are visiting Key West for the first time as part of our Big Adventure. We decide to take the day trip to Dry Tortugas National Park. It has to be the most sublime experience either us have ever had. This truly is a magical adventure that took us back into the past.
However, we will both readily admit that a key to the intensity of this experience was Jeff. Jeff was the tour guide from the Yankee Freedom ferry company. His introductions and humorous commentary during the 2.5 hour ride to Dry Tortugas National Park made it easy to choose his guided tour of Fort Jefferson rather than the National Park’s Ranger’s – and he just made it so real.
We started the day on a 2.5 hour ride on the Yankee Freedom catamaran ferry boat, with buffet breakfast included. Jeff and the crew did an excellent job of looking after all, including those who were a bit green around the gills (not us).
You first see the Fort Jefferson at quite a distance, while Jeff explains that these “islands”, which are mainly sand bars, are continually changing with the current and storms moving the sand around. However, the main key, Garden Key, is very secure on bedrock.
However, there is an alternate way to get to and from Dry Tortugas NP, a seaplane. Much quicker than the ferry and better for those who maybe aren’t good sailors.
We then went on the guided tour of the fortress with Jeff. As the water wasn’t conducive to snorkeling for most of the other passengers Jeff expanded his tour – it took over an hour and a half. Jeff is such an excellent raconteur and his passion about Dry Tortugas National Park just took us back in time to when it was being constructed and the Civil War. But we understood why the largest structure in the Western Hemisphere (16,000,000 bricks) was built here in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico miles from land.
The other main reason for wanting to go to Dry Tortugas was the arrival of the Sooty Terns (Onychoprion fuscatus) at the end of their migration. For their protection Bush Key, where they nest, was closed to the public.
The Sooty Terns (Onychoprion fuscatus) were also joined on Bush Key by some recently arrived Brown Noddys (Anous stolidus) which also come to Dry Tortugas NP to breed.
We also saw large groups of the Magnificent Frigate Birds (Frigata magnificens) – they almost look pre-historic.
We then made the 2.5 hour ride back. The first 40 minutes of which were quite rough as we were heading into the waves.
We know if we revisit Key West again we will definitely do the Dry Tortugas NP trip again, maybe even camp there? One Ranger went out there on Christmas Eve to camp knowing that Christmas Day is the only day the ferry service doesn’t run (subject too storms). Oh to be a National Park Ranger in Dry Tortugas National Park!
Gear: iPhone, Nikon D4s, Nikon D800, Nikkor 600mm f/4 VRII, Nikkor TC-17 EII, Nikkor 80-400mm F/4.5-5.6 VRIII, Really Right Stuff Tripod & Gimbal Head, Lexar Digital Film