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We took a seaplane to the Dry Tortugas

This is going to be a long post, with tons of photos. I'll just get that out there right now.

A couple days ago we learned that for not THAT much more than taking the ferry out to Dry Tortugas National Park (about 70 miles west of Key West) you could take a seaplane out there for a half day trip that includes snorkeling, hiking around Fort Jefferson, and the seaplane trip (definitely the main draw for Kevin and me). We called Key West Seaplane Charters hoping to find out they had availability for one of the 8am trips and they did. (The 8am trip is best because then most of your time on the island is just you and the six other people who flew over with you, and not a ferry-load of other tourists.)

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We left the Airstream at 7am and headed for the Key West International Airport. It had rained hard earlier in the morning, but it was clearing up nicely as we drove into Key West. We got our snorkeling gear and a small cooler with bottles of water from the office and boarded a 1958 turbo prop DeHavilland Otter.

There were six other passengers, plus Gary, our pilot, and Kevin got to ride right seat up with Gary. 

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Leaving Key West at 8am:

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We flew over a schooner that had run aground some time ago:

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This is a sunken World War II destroyer escort, the "Patricia," intentionally sunk by the U.S. Navy to use for bombing practice:

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And here's another shipwreck…a vessel called "Arbutus." This was a 70ft work vessel used by the famous treasure salver Mel Fisher's divers and it sank due to hull deterioration. This ship marks the northern edge of the treasure site where Mel Fisher found the treasures of the Spanish Galleons "Atocha" and "Margarita" — over a half billion dollars worth of gold and silver strewn across an eight-mile area. This is apparently still an active treasure site with regular finds of huge Spanish emeralds.

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From the air we were able to see dozens of giant sea turtles and a few nurse sharks.

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Here we are approaching the Dry Tortugas. This is Garden Key, the location of the enormous brick Fort Jefferson:

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As soon as we landed (on the water!!) I leaned up to Kevin and said "Honey, we need a float plane!!" It was SO cool to just taxi up to the beach and back it up James, right there on the sand. (Only, it's Gary there on the pontoon, not James.)

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We grabbed our stuff and put everything but the cameras down on a a bench by the beach and headed over to explore the fort while it was still not, well, not as hot as it would be an hour later.

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The fort, surrounded by water, with its own moat. Isn't that a little redundant?

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We climbed up the lighthouse tower and ended up on top of the wall that surrounds the fortress.

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Walking the perimeter:

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We headed back down and wandered through some of the inside areas including the cell where Dr. Samuel Mudd (co-conspirator in the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln) was imprisoned. 

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We did a pretty good job exploring the fort and decided it was time for some snorkeling. We picked a spot off of the north sand beach to start:

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We sat our towels and cameras and stuff on the moat wall and flippered up and headed out from this beach:

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Coral sand:

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We headed out and around some pilings to the east where our pilot Gary had told us we'd likely find good snorkeling. We did. We did find good snorkeling. Right off the bat we saw a giant stingray just making his way slowly along the sandy floor, lots of cool coral, huge schools of fish, yellowtail snapper, blue angel fish, tarpon, little stripey guys, more REALLY big tarpon (like, 4-5 feet long big) and some big barracuda (3-4 feet long). It was a blast. And you know when they show on National Geographic the enormous schools of fish moving all one way, then another, then back? Well we were swimming with 'em and they were doing that. I moved my arms and they'd go one way. Move 'em again and they'd turn. Thousands of them!

Here's Kevin just before we set out:

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We snorkeled for about an hour or so and then headed back toward the beach. I spotted two small purple jellyfish about 4 feet in front of us and quickly warned Kevin and we made our way around them. Guess there was one more I didn't see though because I immediately felt that disappointing burn on mostly my right forearm and a little on my left. Got me!

We dried off and headed back to the plane for another fantastic flight. Here we are just before taking off (from the beach!!) I got to ride right seat on the way back…no one else wanted to (except Kevin, again, of course). 

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We highly HIGHLY recommend taking this trip if you get down to Key West. They say not doing it is like going to Egypt and not seeing the pyramids. We have to agree. 

  • Betty Tanner

    Gorgeous pictures – what a wonderful trip. Was there anything inside the fort? Empty rooms? or large open space?

  • Russ Carpenter

    I’m so happy to receive your stories! Your photography and delightful writing style help me feel like I’m truly part of your adventures.

    My retirement years are approaching and it is my dream to do much what you’re doing. You’re my Lewis & Clark!

    Pictures of Gary and Laura, please!

    Russ Carpenter
    Reno, NV

  • Thanks, Russ…so glad you like the blog.
    We tend to only do minimal photos of us here because we want you to feel like you’re going on the trip…not like you’re looking at our family photos. 🙂 (There are some photos of us in our “About Us” section, however.)
    -Laura & Kevin