Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Paradise Found

Dry Tortugas National Park lies 70 miles west of Key West, Florida. The park consists of several TINY islands (or, keys) so named because Ponce De Leon, the spanish explorer who discovered them, saw an abundance of sea turtles (tortugas, en espanol). Later the "dry" was added to indicate that none of the Tortugas had sources of fresh water. Fort Jefferson was built as a naval base in the mid 1800's. It's purpose was two fold: to discourage piracy and hostile forces, and to prevent hostile forces from occupying this important piece of land thereby controlling gulf shipping channels. The fort was never completed, though it was used. Its construction was halted when the weight of its 16 million plus bricks began to sink.
Visitors to the park can tour the fort and investigate all of its nooks and crannies (except for those occupied by the park rangers who live there 30 days on, 4 days off). The fort covers most of the little island, but there is a strip of pristine beach which is ideal for lounging on. Just off the beach, visitors can snorkel along the moat wall. Jason and I experienced some of the most vibrant and varied marine life we've ever seen snorkeling there.
Only accessable by sea plane, ferry, or catamaran, the Dry Tortugas and Fort Jefferson are a spectacular day trip. We went by catamaran and the trip was 2 1/2 hours each way. The islands are still dry, but if we ever go again, Jason and I will camp there so we can spend two full days investigating the history and ecology of this American treasure.

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