Just Florida Things: Epic Beach Crawl 2017: The Dry Tortugas & Fort Jefferson, Garden Key, FL
"You doing alright, sir?" I asked Justin, who was resembling a sad puppy. "Mhm." He responded between his 4,999th and 5,000th cheerios. In the name of adventure and "Babe, we can't not do this" experiences, we were on a boat again.
Roughly 7,000 cheerios and two and a half hours later, Justin and I set foot on the shores of the Dry Tortugas. Fort Jefferson, though its red brick façade was cracking and crumbling from the abuse of time and exposure, stood tall, presiding over the surrounding brilliant blue waters and white sand beaches. We wasted little time in crossing the moat to explore its many halls.
Because of the sweltering heat and Justin’s still questionable status, we opted to forego the tour. Fortunately for Justin, I had taken the time to read about the fort’s history in the downloadable articles provided on the ferry, so I was able to regale him with the most fascinating details as I lead him down the many similar-looking corridors. Unfortunately, I had not so thoroughly studied the map and we ended up briefly and mildly lost. I think this is how the phrase ‘getting turned around’ was coined. I say mildly, though, because there are so many windows looking both out and into the fort and the general construction – a 3-tiered hexagon with sides hundreds of feet long – enabled us to quickly right our direction. At least, once we figured out we were lost. When archway after archway looks exactly the same, we only finally realized we were not approaching the exit when our internal clocks went off telling us it didn’t seem to take that long to get to where we had ventured.
Bonus content: Read more about the history of the fort at DryTortugas.com!
In the end, the heat was starting to overwhelm us and we ended up not making it around the entire fort. No matter, I would happily return to walk every inch of the 2,558 feet on each level! Beyond wandering the halls and casemates, we did venture to the top level for a stunning view of both Garden and Bush keys and the harbor light as well as to find the cell where Samuel Mudd was imprisoned for several years. Just imagine the life of a prisoner here: outside the walls, this island might seem positively idyllic, but to be trapped with the stifling heat in a tiny, possibly windowless brick room…shudder. Even armed with plenty of water and the freedom to wander near the casemates with the hope of catching a cooling breeze, Justin and I were veritably melting.
Cue time to explore the crystalline waters to cool off! Rivalling some of the prettiest beaches we’ve witnessed in the Caribbean, the South Swim Beach was the larger of the two swim beaches and definitely our favorite. There was some sea grass off shore, but easy to avoid. While not abundant, there was a fair amount of small fish, both clear and multi-colored here. We spent plenty of time trying to follow them around, simultaneously keeping an eye on each other and an eye out for the infamous crocodile whose known existence but unknown whereabouts made this excursion all-the-more intense.
Suddenly, all the little fish I had been chasing with the camera as they darted about synced into perfect formation and sped away. ‘Look at them go!’ I tried in vain to get Justin’s attention as I pointed towards the departing fish with one hand and fiddled with the Go Pro in the other. Justin was ignoring me.
In the void left behind was The Big Fish. A small barracuda. Just like the one we encountered in the waters off Turks & Caicos! Later, Justin told me he tensed up immediately when the little fish scurried away so fast -- that he knew something was coming at us. Possibly the resident crocodile. Or a shark. I suppose since we couldn’t outswim either of these, it was nice of him to let me remain utterly oblivious to our peril.
With limited time remaining on this lovely key, we emerged long enough to hike over to North Beach. On the day we were here, the waves on this side were much rougher, the water deeper. Here, there were fewer small fish and more teeny tiny ones. At first, I didn’t even see them until I swam through a school and the ocean came alive with their dispersal! I floated very still (rather, with the motion of the ocean) and when the school stilled again, I could see the tiny black dots for eyes and only then could I make out their nearly transparent bodies.
At long last, since we were not brave enough to dare camping here overnight, it came time to leave this slice of paradise. The seas were choppier on the way back and for the first time ever, even I took a preemptive Dramamine. Mercifully, exhausted from our explorations, we napped much of the return trip, dreaming of our day of adventure.
Have you been to the Dry Tortugas or are dreaming of going? Did you take the seaplane or your own private boat (lucky!)? Were you brave enough to stay the night? Tell us in the comments!
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Our Favorite Photos from the Trip:
Top Tips & Notes for Next Time:
One random Saturday, Justin and I were discussing our hopes and dreams and landed on the topic of our chosen home state of Florida and how little of it we’ve seen, even after living here for several years. One thing lead to another and the question popped up: “How long would it take to drive around the entire coast of Florida?” According to Google Maps, roughly 24 hours give or take. And thus, the Epic Beach Crawl idea was born. Fortunately, after beginning our research, we came to our senses and realized there is far too much to see and do, especially since our modus operandi is along the lines of long walks on the beach paired with mid-afternoon naps! And so, we have split our Beach Crawl to End All Beach Crawls into Epic Beach Crawl part 1, the Florida Keys, a 10 day adventure we took this summer, to eventually be followed by Epic Beach Crawls 2-infinity, TBD.