We had to get up early to get this picture! It only took us 5 times going by this landmark in the past two days to get here when there wasn't 20-50 people standing in line to have their picture made here! Luckily, there was a motorcycle group that was there when we got there and we took their picture so they would take ours. I feel bad for them because it was rainy and they were leaving Key West. Then on the way back to park the car for the day, we snapped this quickly(think:Chinese firedrill):
A couple obligatory photo ops out of the way... TODAY IS DRY TORTUGAS DAY! : )
Check in was at 7:30am, so these photos were snapped at 7am! We were so excited, it was hard to sleep the night before, and from about 4am on to 6am, kept waking up because I was afraid the alarms(yes, that is plural!) wouldn't go off! They did, and we made it to the docks in plenty of time! We were set up to cruise out on the Sunny Days "Fast Cat" to the Dry Tortugas(here is their site). While waiting to board the boat, we observed some of these, they are so funny, I just can't resist!
They roam all over Key West, the ultimate in free-range, citified chickens...
Our crew for the day sized our flippers for snorkeling as we boarded the boat. That way once we got inside and sat down we could try them on and make sure they fit before we left the dock as they don't carry those on board(takes up too much space). Zach tried his on and had to get a bigger size! Flipper sizing out of the way, we had breakfast. Sunny Days includes a continental breakfast(danish, bagel, doughnuts, fresh fruit, coffee, juice) and a make-your-own sandwich with all the fixin's lunch. Unlimited drinks(water, soda, tea) are provided all throughout the day. For the long ride out, there are playing cards, magazines and coloring books for kids. There is an XM radio playing island music and an outside deck at the back for those who wish to smoke or just get fresh air. The crew was knowledgeable, helpful and nice. Our ride out was bumpy because of the rough seas(3-6ft). On a catamaran boat, you are more "sloshed" about than on a regular hulled boat, where you are more bumped up and down. I guess sloshing is smoother than being bumped? We were out on a boat, going to a place not many people get to go to, and we didn't have to drive, so it didn't really matter to us(we don't get sea-sick)!
The view coming into Garden Island, upon which sits Fort Jefferson:
At the front entrance to the fort is an anchor that my father had a part in getting to where it stands today:
My father has captained many boats in his lifetime, and part of his life on the water brought him out here. This anchor was found on a near-by reef, covered with netting. My dad helped to uncover and unnet the anchor, before it was brought up to it's current position. He has been all over this fort, many years ago, and knows things about it that the current park rangers don't know. I would really have liked for him to give us a guided tour, but he was at the other end of the state. Maybe another time, as my mom hasn't been out there yet and would like to go.
Inside the fort at the front entrance:
Information plaques are all around the fort, giving you a self-guided kind of tour:
Fort Jefferson is the largest masonry structure in the Western Hemisphere, and is one of the least visited parks in our National Park System. Understandable, but sad, as it is a marvel to visit!
Up on the very top of the fort, a good bird's eye view of the island:
Up on the very top of the fort, a good bird's eye view of the island:
The Dry Tortugas is know as such because of the turtles("tortugas" if you come from Spain as Ponce deLeon did) that are abundant here, and dry because out of 365 days in a year, it only rains on about 30 of them, therefore there is an absence of fresh water. We were "lucky" enough to out there on one of those 30 days...
Looking down into the collection areas of one of the cisterns:
I seem to remember our guide saying there were 11 cisterns built for freshwater collection. However, because of the great weight of the fort being built on top of them, on top of sand, 9 of them cracked and saltwater intrusion rendered them useless. The remaining cisterns provide freshwater for the park rangers(2-4) stationed there.
This is the "hot shot" furnace. Men would stoke fires in the bottom of the structure and put cannon balls in at the top(on the other side), they would then roll them down, gradually getting them hotter and hotter, till they came out the bottom. The cannon balls would then be transferred to a waiting gun and be shot at the enemy. No shots were ever fired in anger from this fort, but better safe than sorry! The star-lookin' thingies on the sides of the furnace are handles, the men would "roll" the shot down as it heated up.
This is looking up from the bottom, where the "hot shot" would come out :
At one point the moat served as the "sewer" for the fort, with gates that would be opened when tide was coming in for freshening, and opened again when the tide was going out for disposal. It didn't work, can you imagine the smell(at one time the fort housed over 1000 people!)? EWWWWW!
This shows some of the damage the years of exposure have taken on the fort:
A beautiful place...so unlike all the other war functional areas of the fort.
The caption to this plaque read: Not a Happy Place
This is the entrance to one of Dr. Samuel Mudd's cells. He was originally housed in the cell above the entrance bridge with the three windows. He was moved here after he had escaped. I think there were only 3 or 4 prisoners in all that had escaped from the fort.
(It has been said this plaque was once above the entrance to the mess hall!)
Dr Mudd was released from his imprisonment because of his good medical works during a Yellow Fever epidemic at the fort.
Here is the picture from inside the dungeon, can you see my orbs? Some say they are the spirits of people who are unhappy or "stuck" here somehow. I don't know how to explain them, but I know they are NOT dust particles or condensation spots on my lens or in my camera, and I have taken photos of these same kinds of things all over St Augustine, mostly in historical places.
It was about time for us to go snorkeling, and as we made our way to the docks to get our snorkel gear, we noticed the huge black clouds rolling in, and people streaming in from the snorkel areas. Alas, because of said storm, we did not get to witness the parts of park under water. That storm was just too ugly. Zman was VERY dissapointed, and angry at me, as I was at myself, for not getting to snorkel there. It rained and poured till we left the docks and then it passed and I believe it followed us in to Key West!
Looking to the left of the docks at the storm rolling in at a very fast pace(picture does not reflect it well):
Here is a panoramic photo of the fort, taken from the third level. I wish now I had taken it farther on either side, but considering I had never used that function on my camera before, I think it turned out pretty good:
This trip was a once in a lifetime kind of deal. However, I hope to one day get back out here with my parents and hear my father's information and stories of when he was here in days when Florida was a much wilder place.
Most of the Dry Tortugas Nation Park is underwater. The reef system here is the world's third largest. The land that is directly in front of the Fort is called Bush Key, and is home to the nesting grounds of about 100,000 Sooty terns, and about 10,000 Brown Noddies. On near-by Loggerhead Key is a functioning lighthouse and was once the grounds for the Carnagie Institute of Washington, Marine Biology Laboratory (from 1903 to 1939) which "…quickly became the best-equipped marine biological station in the tropical world.” It also has the highest (natural)elevation in the Dry Tortugas at 10 feet.
On the way back in to Key West, we played cards( I whipped Zman heartily at rummy!) and talked, we were both very tired and looking forward to bed that evening.
Stay tuned for the last couple of days...