Almost 70 miles (113 km) west of Key West lies a cluster of seven islands, composed of coral reefs and sand, called the Dry Tortugas. Along with the surrounding shoals and waters, they make up Dry Tortugas National Park. The area is known for its bird and marine life, its legends of pirates and sunken gold, and its military past. The islands were first “discovered” in 1513 by Ponce de Leon, who named them “Las Tortugas” (the Turtles). They were labeled “Dry Tortugas” on later maps to let later visitors know there was no source of fresh drinking water on the islands.
Today the islands boast a wide variety of plant and animal life. A variety of birds spending the winter here, including up to 100,000 Sooty Terns and 10,000 Brown Noddies that nest here between February and September. You may also see the magnificent Frigate bird with its seven foot wingspan. The islands are also home to their namesakes the Green Sea Turtle (which is on the Endangered Species List) and the Loggerhead and Hawksbill Turtles. There is also another world to explore by snorkeling amongst the coral reefs and viewing life under the clear waters.
Another site of interest is Fort Jefferson which is the nation’s largest 1800 masonry fort. The fort was started in 1846 to help control navigation of the Gulf of Mexico and to protect Atlantic-bound ships. The fort was never actually finished but saw use during the Civil War as a Union Prison. The four men convicted of complicity in the assassination of President Lincoln (including Dr. Samuel Mudd) were imprisoned here.
The fort is the main thing to see at the park, but it isn't the only thing. There's also the amazing underwater life and the birds. In the spring, the trees may be filled with hummingbirds and song birds resting on their migration north from central america. It must be an amazing sight.
Fondest memory: Observing the scenery and walking around the fort before the day-trippers get there.