Dry Tortugas National Park is comprised of a cluster of seven islands located 70 miles west of Key West and their surrounding shoals and water. This area is known for its bird and marine life and pirate legends. The islands were originally named Las Tortugas (The Turtles) by Ponce de Leon in 1513, but soon became known as “Dry Tortugas” on mariners’ charts to show that they had no fresh water.
On our last week in Key West, Hector had a small calamity. One day while making a sudden move he landed hard on his heel and heard it pop. This was followed by much pain. Of course, this happened on a Sunday, but we were fortunate to find a podiatrist and made an appointment for Monday. The injury was in fact a torn plantar fascia, and the treatment consists of taping the heel for the first few weeks, and wearing a boot for six weeks. The good news was that when Hector wore the boot, he could actually walk on that foot. This was great, since we’d reserved a day trip on a ferry to the Dry Tortugas National Park on the following Thursday.
On Garden Key in the DryTortugas, stands Fort Jefferson – America’s largest and most spectacular 19th century coastal fort. In 1825, a lighthouse was built on Garden Key to warn sailors of rocky shoals. In 1856, another lighthouse was built on Loggerhead Key.
Fort Jefferson’s construction began in 1846 after American leaders realized that fortifying the Tortugas was an essential step in controlling navigation in the Gulf of Mexico and protecting Atlantic-bound Mississippi River trade.
Construction continued for 30 years, but the fort was never finished. During the Civil War, it was a Union military prison for captured deserters and housed four men convicted of complicity in Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, including Dr. Samuel Mudd.
By the 1880s, the Army had abandoned Fort Jefferson; in 1908 the area became a wildlife refuge. Proclaimed Fort Jefferson National Monument in 1935, it was designated Dry Tortugas National Park in 1992 to protect its natural and historic wonders including its namesakes, the endangered green sea turtle and the threatened loggerhead turtle.
We took the ferry (2 ½ hours each way) for a day trip to Garden Key and Fort Jefferson. And we met a very nice couple from Chicago on the ferry who have a goal to visit every National Park in the country and are very close to meeting that goal. Big kudos for working people who are so focused on seeing these beautiful places. They also mentioned the five best drives in the U.S., which include the Overseas Highway that we’d just traveled on. Needless to say, they are incredibly well educated on our National Parks, and it was fun to talk to them. We sat with them on the ferry back also.
Our original intent was to snorkel AND see the fort (which would have been tight in 4 ½ hours on the island, including lunch), but the water was too cold for this Island Girl. So we focused on walking around the fort, skipping the guided tour so Hector could take his time walking.
The setting is surreal, waters in multiple hues of brilliant blue and blue/green surround an enormous brick structure with a moat in between the two. The fort is three stories high, and the view from the top is just spectacular.
We wound up walking about five miles (Hector’s a trooper) in and around the fort. Hector’s foot miraculously survived, helped along by the fact that he was being VERY cautious of how he stepped on that foot. A follow-up visit to the podiatrist the next day revealed that his swelling was down (!!!). Definitely some good karma.