Dry Tortugas National Park

National Park Passports

Since it is the 100th anniversary of our national park system I was reminded that you can get a “passport” to the national parks.  When you visit a national park, there will be a cancellation station in at least one of the visitor centers where you can stamp your passport with the date of your visit.  Cool!

Soon after learning this, I got one for Melanie and one for myself.  We are only interested in stamping the national parks although they apparently have stuff for national monuments and hundreds of other things.  There are 58 national parks and that seems like a much more manageable number, but when you plot them out on a map, there are very few in the southeastern part of the country where I live.

For Thanksgiving this year Melanie and I decided we would visit the three that are very close together in southern Florida.  I’ll break each of them into its own short post for handy reference for anyone else choosing to follow in our footsteps.

Dry Tortugas National Park

Basically this park is a giant fortress that covers an entire key.  It looks like the big brother of Fort Clinch, which we visited here.  It makes sense, because they are both masonry construction and built about the same time for similar reasons.

I’ll leave it to you to discover why the United States would build such a huge fort way out in the middle of the ocean.  I suspected one of the main reasons but didn’t know about the other two really cool ones.

I went in to this national park expecting to be underwhelmed or just whelmed since Melanie and I are not big beach people.  I was pleasantly surprised to have a really great time here learning about the fort, taking pictures, and just enjoying the impossibly turquoise waters that spread out in every direction as far as the eye can see.  If you love the beach or snorkeling, then this place is for you.  It is like having your own private island for a day.

GETTING THERE:  Located about 2.5 hours southwest of Key West, The Dry Tortugas National Park is considered one of the more difficult parks to bag.  It requires either your own ocean-going vessel, sea plane, or passage on the ferry.

A couple of notes about the ferry:
1.  It is pricey – north of $100 (but it does include breakfast and lunch and an excellent guided tour)
2.  It fills up fast.  Plan to book one month in advance.  Our boat was filled to capacity and we even went on Thanksgiving day because the days surrounding it were sold out.
3.  You travel on the open ocean.  I’ve been on many ferry boats for work and vacation and this one was the roughest ride of any of them.  I don’t think I would have gotten seasick without it, but I took a half a Dramamine for the ride out and back.
4.  It is an all day affair.  You board at 7:30am and return to Key West at about 5:30pm.

STAMP LOCATION:  Enter the fort through its only entrance.  Immediately take a right and the first room built into the wall on your right will contain the visitors center.  In the first room of the visitor’s center in the back right corner is the cancellation station.  It is not through the second doorway into the room with the cash register where you can buy park tickets.  Save yourself from waiting in that line like we did.



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