Wednesday, May 5, 2010
Dry Tortugas National Park
One of the most remote, and perhaps least known of our national parks, Dry Tortugas National Park lies in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico, some 70 miles west of Key West, Florida. Only accessible by boat or sea plane, Dry Tortugas consists of a handful of islands discovered by Ponce de Leon in the early 16th century. He called them Las Tortugas, for the abundance of sea turtles found there. Alas, there was no fresh water. Hence the name - Dry Tortugas.
The shallow waters are home to a wide variety of sea life and offers the best snorkeling I've experienced in the United States. The crunch of parrot fish, chomping and spitting coral; the shadow of a giant sea turtle floating by; or the imposing shape of nurse sharks, resting in the shallows, are just some of the delights of the park.
Many species of marine birds, such as sooty terns, masked boobies and magnificent frigatebirds, nest on the Dry Tortugas. Occasional sandbars connect the islands, allowing rats from Fort Jefferson to threaten these rare species.
Constructed as a coastal defense in the mid 1800's, and later used as a prison for Confederate soldiers during the Civil War, Fort Jefferson stands as a crumbling bastion of brick and mortar, circling the main island. Tropical winds and sea salt have eroded the largest masonry fort in the United States.
Today, instead of prisoners, dragging balls and chains, Dry Tortugas National Park hosts campers who enjoy coral reefs, white sand beaches and little else. And really, that's the point. There's not much to do at Dry Tortugas but relax and enjoy.
*Update* – I found my pics. Only the aerial view and the fish aren’t mine. I left them because they’re cool.