Dry Tortugas National Park, the least visited national park in the NPS system, is an extraordinary experience and well worth the somewhat difficult route it takes to add it as a stop on a road trip! Seventy miles due west of Key West, Florida and only accessible by ferry, private boat, and seaplane, you find a tiny collection of Keys originally founded by Ponce de Leon in 1513 that named it Las Tortugas after the giant sea turtles he caught there. The name later evolved to Dry Tortugas in reference to the lack of fresh water to be found - 500 years later it is still a marine and bird wildlife oasis and eco-wonderland to behold!
I will admit that long before Postcards from the Parks was even an idea developing in this artist’s mind, Dry Tortugas ranked high on my bucket list of must see places. Even once this art activism road trip was underway, I wasn’t sure I could manage to get myself all the way to this isolated dot in the Gulf of Mexico due to the remote location and cost to get there. Unfortunately, it wasn’t in the cards for me to see this incredible gem of preserved public land with my own eyes due to a sweet rescue dog named Theo here at home that needs his mom right now to nurse him back to health. That being said, there is only one thing that is even better than me being able to dig my own toes into the white Tortugas sand, and that is to have my sister Stephanie be here with us after over a year of battling cancer and well enough to be able to hit the road and catch a ride on a seaplane to have a dream-like adventure exploring this breathtaking tropical haven. So am I a little bummed I wasn’t there to see it with my own eyes, absolutely, but to be able to gift this experience to my warrior sister and her amazing partner Justin and see it all through their eyes - truly PRICELESS! So, Welcome to Dry Tortugas National Park from the viewpoint of Stephanie and Justin! Thanks for your awe and enthusiasm, your thirst for knowledge and historical contest, your amazing photos and spirit of fun and adventure that is clear to see from the images you are sharing with us! Great works of art will be coming from your interpretations and one of them will be for you <3
All packed up with snacks, water, various gear, and a healthy dose of adventurous spirit, Steph and Justin climbed on board the Key West Seaplane Adventures and took off for a day they will never forget! The flight above the water, views along the way, and crazily cool water landing was second only to Dry Tortugas itself! They used their 4 hours on the island to its fullest: exploring the historic Fort Jefferson and hearing all its lore from the self-guided tour plaques and through their visit with the single park ranger that stewards the park. MANY photos later and sporting their Postcards from the Parks garb (you’re a good sport, Justin!) they headed beyond the fort to explore the coast and get in the water to experience the best of Tortugas which lies under the ocean. It was a feast for the eyes with colorful coral, a plethora of fish and even a school of Barracuda that chased Stephanie out of the water at the end (good thing we spent our childhood on swim teams in Michigan!)
Quick change and back on the plane bound for Key West and meeting up with Ivy and Ranger Celia who had spent the afternoon exploring old town of Key West, eating ice cream, and taking a ride on the Conch Train (Celia even got a new friend to take the ride with her!)
Here is your necessary 60 second history lesson so you can truly appreciate their experience and this one-of-a-kind destination:
Known for its spectacular reefs and marine life, Dry Tortugas National Park encompasses a seven-island archipelago in the Gulf of Mexico and if that isn’t unique enough, the area of the park is only 1% land and 99% water! In 1846 the US Navy began building a fort to protect the Florida coastline. While still under construction, the Civil War broke out and Fort Jefferson was never finished, in fact it served as a prison during and after the war though incomplete. In 1935 Franklin Delano Roosevelt declared it a National Monument to protect the lands. Next in 1983, the protection was expanded to cover the surrounding keys and marine wildlife and reef areas surrounding Dry Tortugas and finally in 1992 the conservation area was elevated to Dry Tortugas National Park. One of its coolest features for those that can get out on to the water with appropriate gear is that the area possesses one of the richest concentrations of shipwrecks in North America. Nearly 200 ships sank around Dry Tortugas before the construction of the Garden Key Lighthouse in 1825.
Dry Tortugas feature a borderline subtropical/tropical ecosystem that hosts numerous rare, endangered, and endemic species that do not normally breed anywhere else in the United States. The park’s coral reefs are home to barracudas, sharks and wahoos, as well as lobsters, sponges, and sea anemones. Dry Tortugas National Park is also the most productive nesting region for the green and loggerhead turtles in the entire Florida Keys. Five different species of Sea Turtles in the Florida Keys are listed on the Endangered Species Act. Open year-round, for scuba diving, snorkeling, along with birdwatching, marine life viewing, and historic touring, Dry Tortugas sees just 80,000 visitors a year.
Now before I wrap up this amazing moment from Postcards from the Parks, I need to send a very special thank you to Mark Wills and Kelly Wood of Santa Rosa, CA. These wonderful friends and supporters of PFP came in at the last minute to make a special donation to help this trip to Dry Tortugas a reality! Though their original intent was to help me get there to paint and share this special place with all of you, I’m sure they will agree that helping to make it possible for Stephanie and Justin to get there is even more special. Be on the look out Kelly and Mark for some special creation inspired by the beauty of Dry Tortugas to be headed you way - with gratitude, Alyssa
Stay tuned for my next blog post with exciting news of what’s coming up this winter and spring for me and Postcards from the Parks!