Full Disclosure – we are no longer traveling in our RV nor is it still 2017, however, the adventure continues!
Earlier this month we visited Dry Tortugas National Park in Florida, continuing our quest to explore all 47 of the National Parks located in the lower-48. We’ve now visited 44!
We had the pleasure of our friends, Kirby and Betsy, joining us for this excursion which included a two-night stay at a great Airbnb in Key West, FL called Blu and hosted by Shawn. He was an awesome host who met us upon our arrival and shared lots of local info to make our stay even better as we got to experience some of the places that the locals enjoy rather than only the tourist traps. The best part of our Blu stay was the four beach cruisers included in the deal. We rode those bikes all over the island and had an absolute blast doing it. By far, the best way to get around down there.
We have a friend, Todd, that has lived in Key West for the past fifteen years. Although we are not able to coordinate schedules every time we get to Key West, this trip we got to have a couple of beers with him the evening we arrived. It was great to catch up with him and, after a couple of beers at Hog’s Breath Saloon, he brought us to the Green Parrot to listen to his favorite band from New Orleans playing an early set.
As an added bonus, although we didn’t plan it this way, we just happened to be in town during the offshore powerboat racing 38th Annual Key West World Championships event. I love it when a plan comes together! According to their website (www.superboat.com), Super Boat International Productions (SBIP) is the premier national and international sanctioning body for offshore powerboat racing around the world. They were expecting sixty boats to be entered in the 2018 event, including multiple entrants in the Superboat class that has no restrictions on engine horsepower nor number of power plants. The dry pits for these racing machines, capable of reaching speeds of 180 MPH, were located at the Truman Waterfront. We were able to ride our bikes past many of these boats loaded on their trailers and even chat with some of the owners. Key West is considered one of the top venues in the world for its exceptional viewing opportunities and its position at the convergence of the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico which can create extremely challenging sea conditions. Portions of the training runs and actual races were happening right off of Mallory Square, giving us a great viewing location complete with bars and excellent live bands. We also got to see the race boat parade one evening and had dinner at a harbor side restaurant on another. What a deal.
Anyway, back to the main reason for our trip, visiting Dry Tortugas National Park which is located about 68 miles west of Key West, FL, out in the Gulf of Mexico. This park encompasses 100 square miles and is mostly open water, although, there are seven small islands here too. They are called: Loggerhead Key; Garden Key; Bush Key; Long Key; Hospital Key; Middle Key; and East Key. There are two ways one can get to this park, either via sea plane or boat. We chose the less expensive method, opting for the 2 hour 15 minute cruise on board the Yankee Freedom III ferry service. We checked in at 7AM, departed the ferry terminal at 100 Grinnell Street, Key West at 8AM and arrived at Garden Key about 10:15AM. This one day round trip included breakfast, lunch and snorkeling gear in the price. We departed Garden Key bound for Key West at 3PM that afternoon, arriving there just in time to bike over to Mallory Square for another sunset celebration.
The ferry docks only at Garden Key, the second largest island in this park at about 14 acres. It is home to historic Fort Jefferson, one of the nation’s largest 19th century forts. The fort was built between 1846 and 1875 (although never fully completed nor fully armed) to protect one of the most strategic deepwater anchorages in North America as well as the primary shipping lanes between the Gulf Coast and the eastern seaboard of the United States. Included in the ticket price of the ferry excursion is a National Park Ranger-led tour of this fort that is well worth the 45 minutes it takes. The Ranger will share much of the history of the fort, leaving you more informed and with plenty of time to enjoy the beaches and perhaps one of the best snorkeling locations available.
We did try snorkeling, unfortunately though, we did not find the best spots. There are maps available on the ferry indicating where the best coral reefs can be found. I even snapped a picture of the map while en route to the park. For some reason, we just forgot about it and randomly chose to snorkel off one of the beaches. Big mistake. Take the time to plan where you are going to snorkel so you get to enjoy the abundant marine life while you are there.
If we make it back to this park, we are going to camp overnight. Camping is allowed just outside of the fort wall, it just takes more planning and gear. There is no fresh water on the island, no food, no stores. Its remote and primitive. However, after having been there for a day, its exciting to think of just how beautiful the sky will be after dark with no artificial light to obscure the view. Also, imagine what an exceptional spot it must be to view the sunset. And if you’ve ever enjoyed the experience of night diving, consider the experience awaiting you while taking the recommended night snorkel along the outside of the moat wall. Being in or under the water is an entirely different experience at night and one sure to be memorable.
Whatever you intend to do on your visit, plan ahead and be sure to coordinate your travel plans. We started our journey from Fort Myers, FL, taking the Key West Express ferry out of Fort Myers Beach to get to Key West. You can also drive or fly directly into Key West, FL. Here you can take another ferry or a sea plane to Dry Tortugas. Since we chose the Key West Express, it was important to know that it does not sail on Tuesday nor Wednesday. And even more important to coordinate that schedule with availability on the Yankee Freedom III ferry to get to Dry Tortugas. Finally, finding a available place to stay that lines up with the two ferry dates.
This three day excursion was non-stop fun the entire time. (Well, almost the entire time. The ferry ride did get a bit long…)
Only three parks to go…