Monday, February 10, 2014

Tropical not-quite-paradise

Now that I've volunteered in all of one national park and one national historic site, I'm making it a point to see as many as I can - that includes the parks, monuments, historic sites, landmarks, and whatever else is out there. Valley of Fires, where I stayed a couple of nights in New Mexico, is a Bureau of Land Management property, and that counts too. Of course now, after I saw I don't know how many parks on my way to Arizona last year, now I'm deciding to get the stamps that all of them have. Many people buy the passport book, where there are pages for each of the regions around the country, and you can also buy sticker-like stamps for each of the locations, but I haven't jumped on that bandwagon. I just take my journal in and hunt out the rubber stamp station and mark my book. I know I'm the only one who cares about this; when I kick the bucket my kids will toss it in the trash, but it's a way of collecting something from each of the places I've been (since collecting anything else is a felony), and maybe a way of jogging my memory about that place. When I was at Andersonville, I talked to a visitor who had 70 parks stamped into his book.

I was surprised to learn that many parks/sites/monuments have more than one stamp. Andersonville had two: one for the prison site, one for the national cemetery. Big Bend, in Texas, had five: one for each of the visitor centers. That was the thing that kept me driving for 12 hours that day. I couldn't miss one stamp so I had to drive down all these miles-long spurs just to get a stamp. Crazy. What we do when we're obsessed.

Getting a stamp and seeing a Civil War site that I hadn't even known about before Andersonville was what took me to Fort Jefferson at Dry Tortugas National Park. Well, that and the prospect of good snorkeling, but really, it was the intellectual pursuit that counted more. Really.

The only way to get to Dry Tortugas is via a park-sanctioned ferry, the Yankee Freedom, or by float plane. When I compared the fares and saw the float plane was about 1000 times more expensive than the ferry, you can guess which way I traveled. It takes about 2 1/2 hours, breakfast and lunch is included in the fare, and it's a pretty pleasant way to go.

Fort Jefferson was begun in the 1800s to protect the lucrative shipping channel between the Gulf of Mexico, the western Caribbean, and the Atlantic Ocean. It is the largest all-masonry fort in the United States and was never completed because of supply problems (some materials were brought from as far away as New England) and because its weight was causing it to sink into the earth.

The tortugas part of the name comes from Ponce De León, who noted the large number of tortoises on the island. The dry part comes from the fact there is no fresh water in any of the keys. Even today, all water is brought in by the daily ferry. There are no services there either, no restaurants and no restrooms other than that on the ferry. The park allows overnight camping with a permit and campers have to haul everything in and out, but there are carts on the ferry that help to move their gear the short distance to the campground. I'd really like to camp there sometime. Just imagine the stars.

Fort Jefferson was used as a Union prison during the Civil War. I never know how to word it. The Union housed Confederate prisoners there. Probably its most famous inmate was Dr. Samuel Mudd.

This is the ferry. It makes one round trip a day.
Part of the fortification includes a moat. Look at the color of the water!

It's possible to climb to the top of the fort. I didn't. I was anxious to get in the water pursue the intellectual opportunities of studying history.

I imagine these are the stairs to the top of the fort. Atmospheric, aren't they?

Richer people than I arrived by plane. Once again, look at the color of the water.

If you were on cannon duty, guarding US maritime interests, this would have been the view out of your office window.

Approximately 4 million people have taken this shot, doorway after doorway and, unlike me, about 99% of them actually got it centered.

This pelican barely noticed me. He knew the ferry was leaving soon, taking all the pesky tourists with it.

Aren't these birds, whatever they are, fun? Yak, yak, yak.

This is a walkway on the interior of the site. The Park Service is pouring money like mad into preservation. There was a lot of work going on, and everything, including labor, has to be imported.

This is one of the snorkel sites. They're old pilings and fish were hanging around them like mad. For some crazy reason, you couldn't enter the water via a nice sandy beach that's just to the left of here, but had to walk way over to the right, get in the water by going across a broken shell (sharp) beach, and swim around a retaining wall, buffeted by waves, to get to the same place. It's the government.

Here's another park that seems to be an idyllic place to be stationed, but like Big Bend, no thanks. It's literally in the middle of nowhere. There's no driving even half an hour to get to the grocery store, rationed water, electricity by generator, no internet.... It's great for a day trip and for a couple nights' camping, but in general I like my regular creature comforts.

Thought of the day:
I'm not really a tropical paradise kind of person. (Matthew Fox)