Today would be the day I made it to National Park number 44, Dry Tortugas National Park about 70 miles off of Key West, Florida. Since I had nowhere to spend the night in Key West I’d be driving from Homestead, Florida starting at about 4am to get to the boat dock for the Yankee Freedom III at about 7:30am. I slept in my car for a few hours in Homestead, Florida before departing for Key West. I looked for accommodations in Key West but even campgrounds were around $60.00 per night for a tent site and the hostel with absolutely horrible reviews in Key West was around $60.00 per night as well.
The drive from Homestead, Florida to the Yankee Freedom III boat dock between about 3am and 7am was a smooth one. There was very little traffic on the way at that time of night/morning. The Garmin GPS found the boat dock area OK and then it was time to find parking. There is no free parking in Key West, aside from some of the shopping malls down there and the Yankee Freedom III website suggests using the City Parking Garage on Grinnell Street. The City Parking Garage cost $13.00 to park for the day and is a good spot to park. There is, however another garage just as close if not closer called the Conch Harbor Parking Garage. It is a smaller garage and only cost $10.00 to park for the day. The credit card machine was out of order but it did work when I put cash in it.
Once the car was parked I walked over to the Yankee Freedom III boat dock and ticketing area to pick up my ticket and check in. With ticket in hand, I went back to the car, grabbed all my camera gear as well as some juice, a bathing suit and water shoes. It was overcast and drizzling in Key West so I was not sure I’d actually be able to get out in the water and use the bathing suit or snorkeling gear provided on the boat. Once I had all my gear I headed over to the boat and boarded. The Yankee Freedom III can hold around 250 people but they seem to limit it to around 165 to make it more comfortable for those who go out to Dry Tortugas.
Since I had little sleep the night before I was nodding off the whole way out to Dry Tortugas on the Yankee Freedom III after taking advantage of the continental breakfast available on the ship. For the time I was awake there as little if anything to see but the endless ocean. We were out in the middle of nowhere off of Key West. That combined with the dreary weather most likely made it so I didn’t miss anything as I caught up a little bit on sleep on the way out to Dry Tortugas National Park. After about 2 hours and 15 minutes the Yankee Freedom III pulled up at the dock by Fort Jefferson at Dry Tortugas National Park.
Once there we got a little overview of what was there, important times and info about the guided tour of Fort Jefferson. Apparently there were not enough park service personnel to receive a guided tour from the park service, however one of the guys from the ship provided a tour that lasted about 45 minutes. By the time the ship pulled into the dock it was pouring. I had an umbrella but even with that I stayed on the ship for a little while to help ensure my camera gear didn’t get ruined. Finally I made a mad dash for the entrance to Fort Jefferson where the gift shop was located and waited there for the tour to start. I got the stamp for the US National Park Passport Book and then followed along on the tour for a while.
The tour of Fort Jefferson at Dry Tortugas National Park was good and included much of the history of the fort and included all three levels of the fort. Fort Jefferson has seen its better days and is crumbling in spots but there are still plenty of places to go and things to explore within Fort Jefferson. After about a half hour of the Fort Jefferson Tour I got bored. The rain let up and I started wandering around on my own in search of good photo opportunities. I got some good shots of the fort from some unique perspectives I hadn’t seen before. These included the Garden Key Lighthouse, an old boat inside the fort and numerous photos of the Garden Key Lighthouse, portions of the fort and the canons on the top level of the fort.
At around noon, lunch was served on the Yankee Freedom III. It wasn’t elegant but was more than enough to eat. It consisted of a deli buffet of sorts and was enough to fill me up and provide enough energy for the rest of the day. After lunch I moved my bags inside so as not to get wet from any additional rain and set out once again with all the camera gear to photograph more of Dry Tortugas National Park.
After exploring and photographing the fort, the rain stopped but the sky was still full of clouds. I’d hoped to be able to do some snorkeling out at Fort Jefferson and Dry Tortugas but the cold, cloudy weather with the constant threat of rain eliminated that possibility. Instead I checked out the campground, walked around the moat between Fort Jefferson and the Atlantic Ocean and walked around on the beach trying to get some good photos despite the dreary weather. I’d hoped to camp out on Dry Tortugas for a few days but back to Homestead, Florida by the Everglades. When I called the company that runs the Yankee Freedom III they said there were no spots left. I’m not sure why they said that because there were plenty of campsites available and plenty of overflow camping in the group sites available.
After the walk around Fort Jefferson and a stroll along the beaches it was time to get back on the Yankee Freedom III and head back to Key West. I got back on board the boat, grabbed a seat and drifted in and out of consciousness the whole way back. The lack of sleep last night was still with me but the weather was still gross so I didn’t miss anything on the way back to Key West. Once I got back to Key West I went back to the car and considered taking a nap in the car. I had until 3am in the parking garage. Instead of napping I walked around Key West in the cold dreary weather to see what there was to see. After walking by lots of restaurants, shops and boats I headed back to the car and started.
Once I got back near the Everglades Hostel I found a place to park for the night and went to sleep in the car hoping nobody would bother me. I planned to head up to Big Cypress National Preserve and the Shark Valley area of Everglades National Park tomorrow.