January 5, 2012

16 Million Bricks

What is the largest masonry structure in the Western Hemisphere, constructed of sixteen million bricks?  That would be Fort Jefferson in Dry Tortugas National Park.  That’s where Tim and I spent the afternoon after driving from Everglades National Park to Key West, Florida, along the Overseas Highway, one of the most unique scenic byways in the country.

The Florida Keys are a chain of islands surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the Gulf of Mexico on the other.  It’s a three-hour drive that is most spectacular when crossing the water on the numerous bridges that connect the islands.  The drive over the famous Seven Mile Bridge was the highlight.  Although a new bridge has replaced the historic bridge, the original is still standing to the west.

On the Seven Mile Bridge - The Historic Bridge Is on the Right
The Historic Seven Mile Bridge Arches
We arrived in Key West in time for a freshly-caught seafood lunch and then headed to the airport to board a seaplane for a journey to the Dry Tortugas.  Our seaplane adventure was our big splurge for the trip.  Our justification, as if we needed one, was that this was the fastest and most scenic way to get to the Dry Tortugas.  We were able to complete the trip in only four hours, as opposed to the entire day, which is how long the ferry takes.  Plus, a seaplane is exciting and great fun.

Pilots in Key West Wear Shorts and Fly Barefoot
Sarah on the Seaplane
Over Key West
Dry Tortugas National Park is one of the most inaccessible national parks in the country.  Located in the Gulf of Mexico, seventy miles due west of Key West, the islands were discovered by Ponce de Leon and named for the sea turtles that were so abundant there.

Seeing Fort Jefferson from the air for the first time was incredible.  It’s immense and occupies almost the entire island.  It was so cool to land on the water adjacent to the fort and step out onto the sandy shore.  Fort Jefferson was just as big on the ground as it appeared from the air.  Since the ferry was leaving as we arrived, we practically had the fort to ourselves.  We wandered in and out and climbed the circular stairs to the upper tier.  The views were gorgeous.

Approaching Fort Jefferson
Fort Jefferson Is Huge
What a Place to Land
Tim on the Edge of the Moat
On the Upper Tier Looking at the Lighthouse and the Interior of the Fort
The Cannonball Oven on the Left and the Primary Magazine on the Right
Fort Jefferson was built to control navigation to the Gulf of Mexico and protect Atlantic-bound Mississippi River trade.  Construction began in 1846 and continued for thirty years, but was never finished.  The fort served as a military prison during the Civil War.  Its most famous prisoner was Dr. Samuel Mudd, who was convicted in conspiring to assassinate President Abraham Lincoln.  Dr. Mudd’s cell is a place that everyone who visits wants to see.

The Doorway to Dr. Mudd's Cell
Tim and I marveled at the fortitude of the National Park Service employees who work and live at Fort Jefferson.  The park housing is actually in the fort, and about ten employees and their families live here.  It’s a beautiful place, but I’m not sure it would be my favorite place to live for any length of time.

Beautiful Brick Arches
Let's Hope that Fort Jefferson Can Withstand the Forces of Nature and Time
The flight back to Key West was just as beautiful, and the sun was beginning to set as we landed.  It was an amazing afternoon, and I would highly recommend a seaplane ride to anyone.

1 comment:

  1. I've done that drive to Key West and it is amazing. I didn't know anything about Ft. Jefferson tho. You are educating me. Why do you think they named it Ft. Jefferson? What a great idea to take the sea plane. Really gives you a different view of things! Glad you had a great day. LV