When you hear the words "Florida" and "National Park" you probably immediately imagine alligators, spanish moss and the mangroves of the Everglades. But on a remote island far from Florida's mainland lies one of America's most remote National Parks, Dry Tortugas.
On a map, Dry Tortugas is about 70 miles west of Key West. Unlike most National Parks which protect land, Dry Tortugas protects some of the United States' most pristine waters. Encompassing 100-square miles, Dry Tortugas National Park protects picturesque blue waters, superlative coral reefs, marine life, and a vast assortment of bird life that frequents the area.
Along with protecting tropical marine life, Dry Tortugas also protects seven islands one of which is home to the breathtaking Fort Jefferson. The striking red mortar of this gargantuan Civil War era military base against the aqua ocean feels like a scene from Pirates of the Caribbean. That's not much of an exaggeration given that the Island's history even starts as early as the 1600s and 1700s when the area around these islands was used by pirates as a base for attacking merchant shipping in the Gulf.
After the War of 1812 a group of forts from Maine to Texas was envisioned to provide defense for the United States of America. Fort Jefferson was built to protect the southern coastline of the United States and the lifeline of commerce to and from the Mississippi River. The fort was planned to be the greatest of these.
Fort Jefferson itself is a six-sided building constructed of 16 million handmade red bricks. Fort Jefferson’s peak military population was 1,729. In addition, a number of officers brought their families, and a limited number of enlisted personnel brought wives who served as laundresses (typically four per company). There were also lighthouse keepers and their families, cooks, a civilian doctor and his family, and others. In all, there were close to 2,000 people at Fort Jefferson during its peak years.
In 1908 the area was designated as a bird reserve and transferred to the Department of Agriculture. On January 4, 1935, it was designated by President Franklin Roosevelt as Fort Jefferson National Monument, the first marine area to be so promoted. On October 26, 1992, the monument was upgraded to national park status in a bill signed by President George Bush.
Nowadays, the only access to Dry Tortugas is by private boat, ferry, or seaplane. There is a public ferry service on Key West. The cost for an ferry ticket to Dry Tortugas is $180. There is a $10 discount for members of the active military, seniors ages 62 or higher, and full-time students 17 or higher). Children ages 4 to 16 are $125 each. Access to the other islands is limited to personal transportation. Dry Tortugas is an ideal park for fishing, snorkeling, diving, and even camping. Visitors to Dry Tortugas should be aware though, that there are no restaurants, shops, fuel, water, or food on the island, so visitors are expected to bring everything they need before arriving.
For more information on Visiting Dry Tortugas, visit https://www.nps.gov/drto/index.htm