Key West and the Dry Tortugas

My friend C-Lo flew in from snowy Virginia on Tuesday afternoon for a week of fun and sun down here in Florida. We had discussed going down to Key West for a few days, so after getting everything together Tuesday night, we headed out on the 4-hour drive down on Wednesday morning. I usually like to stop here and there along the way at the different Keys, but we drove straight through this time to get in as much time in Key West as possible, especially since we had a day-long boat cruise on Thursday. After arriving and checking into our hotel room at the Southernmost Hotel, we took a walk towards downtown and visited the Key West Lighthouse. C-Lo wasn’t up for going inside it so I went up instead and got some great photos and video from the top of the city and ocean. We then made our way to the historic downtown district and Mallory Square to enjoy the daily ritual of the sunset. After another gorgeous Key West sunset, we enjoyed the various entertainment in the square and then enjoyed a nice seafood dinner on the harbor. Since we had to get up early for the next morning’s boat ride, we retired for the night.

There’s one place in Florida I’ve always wanted to go to, and you have to be in Key West to get there. So since we happened to be down that way, I made us reservations for a boat ride out to the Dry Tortugas and Fort Jefferson. I was pretty excited about this trip, but C-Lo wasn’t too crazy about getting up at 6 am to catch the boat. We set sail for the 70-mile, 2-and-a-half-hour venture towards the largest fort in the United States around 8 am. The winds were whipping up a bit and we were warned that it could be a bumpy ride. But luckily, it wasn’t too bad and we made it to Garden Key with no problem. This area is known for its pristine waters and the gorgeous torquoise ocean definitely lived up to its billing.

The fort itself was also quite a marvel to behold. Big enough to put Yankee Stadium inside of it, it was rich with history, including being a prison during the Civil War, Matter of fact, its most famous prisoner was Samuel Mudd, who was the doctor who fixed John Wilkes Booth’s broken leg after he shot and killed President Lincoln. For doing so, he was sent out here to suffer, but because he did such a good job of taking care of the Yellow Fever victims of the late 1860’s, he was set free in 1869, 4 years after he arrived. Lately, Cubans seeking freedom in the states have been landing on the fort grounds, where they are then taken to Key West.

Another impressive feature of the fort is the lighthouse, which sits atop the fort. Originally built in 1825, it was eventually replaced in 1876. The 65-foot-tall lighthouse still shines but is no longer used as a navigational aid. Several types of rare birds also inhabit the Dry Tortugas, including the Brown Noddies and the Sooty Terns. Many people on the boat went snorkeling, as this is a great place for it but the winds were churning up the water, which did not make for good fish-spotting opportunities.

After about 4 hours at the fort, it was time to head back to Key West. Unfortunately, the ocean had gotten rougher, and it was a LONG boat ride back that caused at least half the boat to get sick. Luckily, I didn’t get sick but I definitely got wet from hanging out on the bow. I also got airborne a few times as we went over a couple good size waves. C-Lo couldn’t wait to get back on land as she didn’t fair as well as I did. We thought about staying another night down in Key West instead of driving back the four hours, but after some deliberation, we made it back to my house around midnight. A long rough day indeed, but I felt it was well worth it to mark off the top spot on my Florida to-do list.

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