Wednesday, May 29, 2013

One Last Thing

"Dry Tortugas."  That was usually one of the answers whenever we would ask anyone about must-dos in Key West.  It took 4 years, but we finally pulled the trigger and booked a ferry ride on The Yankee Freedom on Memorial Day a few days ago.  All I can say is, they were right!

Pulling up to Fort Jefferson

Since not everyone is familiar with the ins and outs of South Florida, just a quick little 411 on the Dry Tortugas:  They're seven little islands about 70 miles west of Key West, and are part of the National Park Service.  You can only get there by ferry or sea plane.  That right there makes it sort of alluring, don't you think? 

Mandatory "Stand in Front of the Sign" Photo-op. - I'm compelled

Fort Jefferson is on Garden Key, and that's where the ferry takes visitors to tour the fort, camp, hike around the island, relax on the beach, or swim & snorkel in the unbelievably clear, blue water surrounding the island.  And honestly, the snorkeling was the best part!

I've snorkeled several times before, but this time was so memorable.  At one point, hubby and I were swimming inside an enormous school of silver fish, each about the size of your foot.  (I guess I should clarify. - The size of your foot if you wear a size six!)  All the fish were zig-zagging around in the same general direction, and we were completely enveloped inside the massive school.  They were all around, darting and flashing everywhere we looked.  At one point I drifted to the outskirts, and it was just a huge, undulating wall of silver glinting in the sunlight.  It felt like I was swimming in a giant salt water fish tank.  Which I guess we were.

All along the outer wall of the fort's mote were Discovery Channel worthy coral and sea life.  Purple fan coral, parrot fish, brain coral, vibrant yellow and blue fish I learned are called damselfish, and so many other species of coral and fish that I couldn't even begin to name.  We saw one fish that was about half the size of me. - Which is about two and a half feet long.  (not a barracuda, thankfully!)  I don't know about you, but being in the water with anything that is almost as big or bigger than me is a little nerve wracking.  I was good, though. - I didn't freak out like I normally would.  Like the time we had the boat anchored & I realized I was in the water only a few feet away from a manatee, and had a full on freak out.  Hubby tried to make light of it and tell me the manatee wouldn't hurt me even if I had lettuce in my pocket.  Whatever. - Wild animals are unpredictable!  Even if they are nicknamed sea cows.  Yes, yes.  Ridiculous, thy name is Peg. 

Bush Key Rookery in the background
So, back to the Dry Tortugas.  Aside from the snorkeling, we also walked around inside and on top of the fort, which had spectacular views of the water.  I'm not a huge history buff, so I was more intrigued by the rookery on Bush Key, which we could see from the fort.  It was closed for nesting protection, so we couldn't get any closer, but seeing that many birds all in one spot was awe-inspiring.  I kind of have a thing for birds.  We were able to see lots of frigate birds, terns, and of course pelicans. - Which are one of my favorites.  Somehow they manage to be regal and goofy at the same time.  Like me.   :)

Truly Spectacular Views

What a terrific "one last thing" we got to squeeze in before we leave.  And now, it's really time to say goodbye to Key West.  Sigh.
One of my favorite Florida shore birds

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