Friday, July 10, 2020

Dry Tortugas National Park, Fort Jefferson and the Marquesas Keys

Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas. Submitted photos

Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas. Submitted photos

By Frances Diebler

How lucky we are to live in Southwest Florida.  We are located in such an area close to many areas of historical importance.  Seminole Indians lived on this peninsula. Ponce De Leon explored here.  There are many artifacts and remains of the people who came before us.  One of the grandest remains is FORT JEFFERSON, which is still standing though in disarray on Garden Key in the Dry Tortugas.  The fort was started in 1846.  Its purpose was to defend the United States after the War of 1812.  It was to be built on the remote island of Tortugas.  In 1850, the officers’ quarters were started but, the walls didn’t reach their final height until 1862.  Fort Jefferson was named after Thomas Jefferson.

Construction of the fort dragged on for more than 30 years and was never completed.  It was difficult to build the fort due to weather conditions, storms, difficulty of transporting workers to this outpost.  Not only those inconveniences made the fort difficult to complete, but by the time it was done it was obsolete.  Prior to the completion, cannons that were developed during the Civil War, were too powerful for the existing building materials of walls thus making the fort

Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas.

Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas.

vulnerable and therefore obsolete.

Rather than be a total waste, during the Civil War, the fort was used as a prison for deserters and criminals.  The US army completely abandoned the fort after several hurricanes and yellow fever epidemics. On January 4, 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt designated it as a National Monument, the first marine area to be protected. On October 26, 1992, President George Bush upgraded it to National Park status.

Given a glimpse of its early history leaves no wonder that the Park has become a cruising and tourist destination.  The Park is located about 70 miles west of Key West.  It is accessible by ferries, seaplanes, or private yachts.  If you plan to take your own boat, please be very aware of water depths as it is very shallow. Boats must anchor off and dinghy in to the shore.  Check your local areas for the closest “Ferries to FT. Jefferson/Dry Tortugas” or “Seaplanes to Ft. Jefferson/Dry Tortugas.”  On Marco Island, call Key West Express at 203-394- 9700.  This is an independent article.  No affiliation or endorsements intended.  For information only.

Aside from the historical remains of the fort, you have other options to experience while there.  Snorkeling in particular is very popular.

Dry Tortugas National Park.

Dry Tortugas National Park.

The waters are “gin clear” and warm.  There is an abundance of sea life to see and explore such as under water reefs teaming with colorful fish.  Charter boats offer scuba equipment for rent or fins, snorkels, and masks are provided.  Also, since it is a national park, check the availability of tents and camping on the beaches. There are no facilities for boats in the park, no water, no food, no pump out. Also, no tenders or watercrafts are allowed inside the park.

If you plan to go, make sure that the weather pattern for at least a few days is to be rather uneventful. If you wish to stop on the way back, the closest place is the Marquesas Keys which is about thirty miles west of Key West.  It is made up of atolls,  a group of barrier islands formed in a circle with a natural harbor in the center.  This island region is under the protection of marine sanctuary laws.  Therefore, the island, the beaches and the waters are pristine.  The fishing grounds are loaded with fish, turtles, and bird life.  Some of the more popular game fish in abundance are tarpon, permit, cobia, yellowtale, snapper and bonefish. Check with

 

 

Fish and Wildlife or charter boats to locate just where fishing is legal.  You also need a fishing permit.

For more detailed information, go to fknms.nos.noaa.gov.  You can also call the Chamber of Commerce at 1-305-294-2587.

Another most interesting fact about these islands is that just off the western shores of the Marquesas, the Spanish galleon, The Atocha, was torn to shreds and was lost in a hurricane in 1622.  The ship, loaded with Spanish treasure, gold, silver, and emeralds was headed to Spain when they disappeared beneath the sea.  If you recall the story of Mel Fischer, a famous salvage expert, who located the Atocha and salvaged what remained of the riches.  The wreckage was found in thirty feet of water.

The true value of the wreckage may never be known.  Any time you visit Key West, go to the Fischer Museum and see for yourself some of the treasures recovered. You can also purchase original gold coins that have been made into chain necklaces, etc.  There are many prizes for sale.  The only thing you must think about when you are in the museum is just how much you are willing to spend for a piece of history.

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