We got up bright and early to make it to the Key West airport in order to catch our seaplane. Today we were going to Garden Key in the Dry Tortugas. Garden key is one of the last islands in the Florida Keys and is home to Fort Jefferson.
I learned to snorkel on the beach just behind the trees on the left front of the fort
There is only one way into and out of Fort Jefferson. And although it was never finished, it was still used as a prison and a base of naval operations.
As if the fort wasn't difficult enough to enter or leave, there is a moat.
We spent our first half hour of our 2.5 hour stay looking at the museum and talking to one of the park staff, Neil, at the giftshop. Neil had great stories to tell about his past life as a Wallstreet tech guy. After a bit, he asked us why we were still talking to him. We should go have a look around the island!
After getting a recommendation from him over which way we should go, Connor and I had a grand time walking alternatively between the top and middle tier of the fort.
After walking out of the fort, I could tell Connor was getting antsy. I hadn't realized that we had spent a whole hour touring! We only had an hour to snorkel. It turned out to be a really well used hour. After Connor gave me the basics on how to not drown whilst snorkeling, we worked our way from south beach to the first turn of the fort. In that time I saw many, many fish as well as coral. I never thought I'd ever get to see anything like that because I'm not a strong swimmer and I have a fear of being in the ocean. I took to snorkeling, well, like a fish. Three times we swam from the beach out to a destination. The second place we looked at was the seagrass that was out a ways. Connor spotted a huge conch shell. It must have been nearly as big as my head. We called to some people on the shore and found that we had about 15 minutes left before we had to get back to the plane. With that information in mind, I swam as fast as I could to the pylons. Our pilot, John, had recommended going to the pylons, choosing one, and staying still for a moment. Sure enough, groups of colorful fish soon appeared and did fish stuff. I was pleased to have swam out much farther than I ever thought I could. But we had to head back. We ran to the beach where the plane waited for us.
I encourage Connor to ask to be co-pilot, which he did. I stayed in the back and enjoyed the sights. Our pilot pointed out wrecks and the different undersea geographies. I saw a pod of dolphins, sharks, and a million sea turtles. The ocean was made of them.
Upon leaving Key West, we headed towards Key Largo, where we would be staying with Connor's family at the Key Lime Sailing Club. Since we had missed things on our way down, we did our best to make up for it on the way back. At Big Pine Key we stopped at the Key Deer visitor center and got some recommendations on where to look for Key Deer. There were no guarantees, but we did end up seeing a bunch. Full grown, they are the size of medium dogs. We stopped at the end of a road that dipped into the ocean and ate our sandwiches, all the while watching white ibis hunt and lizards chase each other. It wasn't long before we headed north again, this time stopping by a scuba shop to get me fins before we snorkeled in Bahia Honda. (I know. I hadn't snorkeled in my life and this is the day I snorkel in two different locations.) Feeling confident, I swam, nay, raced Connor to a far out buoy. I won. Along the way we saw cow fish, a crab, and tarpin chasing after schools of tiny fish.
The next day we went kayaking (saw an iguana, but no manatees) and snorkeled even more after tying our kayaks up part way back. I saw upside down jellyfish and even had the pleasure of getting some of their stinging goo on me. Connor pointed out three parrot fish to me. And I watched a small barracuda chase after even smaller fish. Everyone was tired after the adventuring. But with only one more full day to enjoy after this day, Connor, his father Jeff, and I went out on a sailboat.
Connor has his sailing license and the three of us cruised around Buttonwood Sound for two hours. I'd never felt so relaxed. As we came back in, I took a wee nap. When I woke up, we were closing in on the dock and saw some dolphins swim by. I took a few more snaps before sitting back and enjoying the view. This picture is a poor substitute for how beautiful it was out there.
On our last day, the whole family went on a charter boat and snorkeled 4.5 miles off shore. Before we had come to Florida, I told Connor that it would be a cold day in hell before I'd ever do something like that. (Actually, I said "Maybe not this time", but I was thinking "Cold day in hell" in my head.) By the end of the trip, I told Connor I'd be disappointed if we didn't go. I am so happy we did. I was sure that I'd never see Brain Coral (my favorite coral) or a moon jellyfish (my favorite jellyfish) in the wild before this trip. We saw a large stingray hiding in the sand. A parrot fish decided to swim up to and stare directly at me. But the highlight, which Connor and I were the only ones lucky enough to see, was the saga of the octopus. Connor spotted an octopus being harassed by some fish. We thought it was neat to even see an octopus. After fighting a bit, it hid under a rock. We both floated nearby, just enjoying all the fish. All of a sudden, a nurse shark just as big as me (!) swims under me (!!!) and starts aggressively pushing the rocks with its snout. That poor octopus suddenly got sucked up by the shark! I attempted to say to Connor "Did you see that!" which sounded more like, "Aoooouuuaaa!" with some pointing. Of course he had. After an hour and a half we all headed back to the boat and the first mate asked everyone what they saw. He told us that in the 20 years he's been out there, he's never seen anything like what we saw.
It would have been neat to have pictures of the snorkeling, but I had a far better time just experiencing it all. And what might be a poor substitute for shark and octopus pictures is a picture of the fun doodads we collected. I thought the Dry Tortugas patch would be the rarest one we would find, but because a strange sequence of events and because Connor is the luckiest man alive, we were given a Florida Park Service patch.
We bought two luggage tags, a few magnets, and a heap of patches
I'm hoping to get going on my patch project soon. I'm still researching the best way to go about displaying them, but I have a pretty good idea of what I might do. In the interest of adding more patches to the collection and seeing places I might not have otherwise, does anyone have any recommendations of places to go check out? I'm better versed in what can be found in the west coast of the US, but am open to any and all suggestions.