Dry Tortugas National Park Things to Do

  • Sign about the Orange Jasmine shrub
    Sign about the Orange Jasmine shrub
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  • Outside the fort walls
    Outside the fort walls
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  • Birds circling
    Birds circling
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Most Recent Things to Do in Dry Tortugas National Park

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    Land Flora and Birds

    by grandmaR Written Jul 16, 2011

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    Sign about the Orange Jasmine shrub
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    The national park service has informational signs about even the smallest plants, but most of their energy is concentrated on the birds

    Between March and September as some 100,000 sooty terns gather on Bush Key for their nesting season. They perform nocturnal maneuvers above the Dry Tortugas but spent their days at sea. When they do land here in February, egg-laying starts immediately. Bush Key is closed to landings during tern nesting season, but the rookery is readily witnessed from the fort with binoculars. Interspersed among the sooties' rookery are 2,500 breeding brown noddies. Unlike sooties and most other terns, noddies nest in vegetation, such as bay cedar and sea lavender. Magnificent frigate birds that soar with seven foot wingspans pray on tern hatchlings in nature's endless give and take. Visitors often see masked and brown boobies, roseate terns, double-crested cormorants, and brown pelicans, a species recently de listed as endangered.

    In season, a continuous succession of songbirds and other migrants flies over or rests at the Dry Tortugas. During April and early May, the Audobon Society sponsors guided birding trips.

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    Self Guided Tour

    by grandmaR Updated Jul 16, 2011

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    Self Guided Tour sign at the start of the tour
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    Most of the ferries have a guided tour for their visitors. We listened in on one of these tours one morning when we were there. There are also intermittent ranger-led tours and also wildlife and bird tours led by the rangers. Check at the visitor center for more information.

    But there is also a self-guiding trail that interprets the history of human presence in the Dry Tortugas while leading visitors through the fort. So even if you aren't there when there is a ranger led tour, you can still enjoy a tour of the fort.

    Go to the visitor's center, and then start at sign one which says "Lets Walk"

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    Meet the People

    by Basaic Written May 6, 2010

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    Angela, Brooke, and I
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    It is always fun to meet the locals and your fellow travelers. Here are: Angela and Brooke part of the crew of the Fast Cat (and some guy in a VT Hat); Tony; Ranger Kelly; Shannon a volunteer at the park; and Nathalie a Russian girl working in New York and Aleks her Azeri friend and coworker.

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    The Lighthouse

    by Basaic Written May 6, 2010

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    Lighthouse

    They built a lighthouse on top of the fort, unfortunately it was too short and not bright enough so it was never really used for the intended purpose. A taller, brighter lighthouse was later built on nearby Loggerhead Key.

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    The Dungeon

    by Basaic Written May 6, 2010

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    Dungeon
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    This is the dungeon where the prisoners were held. Dr. Mudd was held here to but he had his own cell. There is still a lot of debate as to whether Mudd was a willing co-conspirator to the assassination of President Lincoln or was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. While he was here he worked again as a doctor and was very helpful during a number of medical emergencies.

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    Cannons

    by Basaic Written May 6, 2010

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    Parrott Cannon
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    Here are some of the cannons used on the fort. The first one is called a Parrot Rifle. It is grooved inside the barrel to add power, range and accuracy to the shell. These are the type of guns that made this type of fort obsolete. The next two photos are of 15-inch Rodman Guns.

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    Heating Cannonballs

    by Basaic Written May 6, 2010

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    Heating Cannonballs

    This building was used to heat the cannonballs. This was a new concept of warfare. When the cannonballs were heated enough they would not only damage the ship they hit but would set them afire. This began the end of the wooden ships. If you study any of the history of warfare, you will see this time and again; how some piece of technology will render some form of warfare obsolete. Military technology is not just about warfare, however, many useful innovations in everyday life occured because of military technology.

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    Memorial

    by Basaic Written May 6, 2010

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    Memorial for Brevet Major Smith

    Here is a memorial for Brevet Major Joseph Sim Smith and his son both of whom died at Fort Jefferson in 1867 of Yellow Fever. The son was only 3. Smith was the post surgeon so his loss was a major blow to the fort. The adverse impact was greatly lessened though because the prisoner Dr. Mudd stepped up and ably took over the duties.

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    Living Quarters

    by Basaic Written May 6, 2010

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    Living Quarters

    This is where the officer’s quarters and the commander’s quarters were. This is also where the rangers and the volunteers live. The rangers and the volunteers live on site for up to a month at a time due to the remoteness of the location.

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    Soldier's Barracks

    by Basaic Written May 6, 2010

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    Barracks
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    This is where the barrcaks for the soldiers used to be. The barracks were never actually finished and most of them lived in rooms inside the walls of the fort. They preferred these rooms anyway because the air circulation and the view was better.

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    The Sally Port

    by Basaic Written May 6, 2010

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    Sally Port

    These types of fort had solid, thick walls, and one small controlled entrance called a Sally Port. These entrances had narrow passages through the fort wall for easy defense. They were also frequently well ornamented.

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    Historic Fort Jefferson

    by Basaic Written May 6, 2010

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    Fort Jefferson
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    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.

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    Museum Displays

    by Basaic Written May 3, 2010

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    Display
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    There are several displays in the visitors center: Including an historical timeline; items from the fort and the people who lived there and even a neat display showing the turtles for which the islands were named. There is also a table with items you can touch but please be careful some of them are fragile.

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    Stop at the Visitors Center

    by Basaic Written May 3, 2010

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    Visitors Center
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    Normally, I recommend the Visitors Center as your first stop but that is not possible here. There are a number of things you must do first not the least of which is get here. Once you do, you exit the boat onto the dock then enter the fort. The Visitors Center is located just to the right of the entrance. Garden Key is small and facilities are limited so the Visitors Center is shoehorned into a small space inside the fort. Take heart however, it still has all the normal services, you can get brochures here along with information to help you enjoy your visit. There is also a small gift shop and some displays about the wildlife, the fort and its history.

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    Prison Cells

    by ahouse2003 Written Jun 20, 2008

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    Dr. Mudd's cell

    While on your historical tour of Fort Jefferson you will learn that it had also been used as a prison. One of its most famous residents was Dr. Samuel Mudd who, along with a few others, was convicted of conspiracy in the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. They were sent to Fort Jefferson, and it was maybe a blessing in disguise because Dr. Mudd provided much-needed medical care to residents after a yellow fever outbreak at the Fort in 1867. This is a picture of Dr. Mudd's cell.

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Dry Tortugas National Park Things to Do

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