75 miles into the Gulf of Mexico - Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas from the air.
Swimming/snorkeling beach and coral reefs at bottom right.

Two of the three ways to visit Fort Jefferson. Fast cats take a couple of hours at $120-150 a head and stays all day. The seaplane takes 45 minutes at $229 a head and stays half a day. We took the plane and really enjoyed it. The third way is to take you own private boat.

Seemingly endless arches of craftsmanship (16 million bricks) in constructing this fort 75 miles at sea. All guns, building supplies, food, water, etc had to be delivered by boat.

The moat completely surrounds the fort

Unlike some of the older forts you are allowed to explore most of Jefferson including walking right up to the edge of the top redoubt.

Two shipwrecks that we flew over on the trip to Fort Jefferson.

13 acre Ballast Key has only two houses on it and is the southernmost point of Florida other than a small sandbar that is usually underwater.

The pirates of Fort Taylor. You are cursed if you do not leave some booty in the open chest.

Soldier art at Fort Taylor

Inside Sloppy Joes. Live music and you could
almost feel Hemingway there.

Nancy trying to get the Macau to say something dirty.
Scooters were everywhere

We had a quick breakfast of fruit and coffee in the morning before heading to the airport in a slight drizzle. We hoped the rain wouldn’t spoil the morning trip, but once you book you have to go or lose you money. The six seater seaplane looked fairly new and safe. I’m not keen on flying, but small planes are no big problem. There was the pilot, Nancy and I, and another couple. We chose the early flight so we could have most of the time at the fort to ourselves.

After take-off the weather cleared and we headed west over beautiful green and blue waters passing over both inhabited and uninhabited islands at 500 feet. We were surprised that there wasn’t more boat traffic. The pilot took us over two ship wrecks, banking the plane steeply to give us a better view. After about 45 minutes we had a smooth landing on the water and taxied over to the sandy beach at Fort Jefferson.

The pilot said to meet back at the plane in two hours for the flight back to Key West . We spent about an hour on a self guided tour of the fort and then the next hour snorkeling on the shallow reef just to the south of the fort. We spotted lots of sea fans, sea urchins, sea grasses, and coral. There were lots of small fish and a couple of larger barracudas, snappers and grouper. Back on shore we walked the seawall and spotted several good size tarpon.

After climbing back into the plane the pilot powered off the sand, taxied out to the channel and then took off. This was our first flight in a seaplane and it was fun. We got more views of the ship wrecks on the way back and a great birds eye view of the Dry Tortugas Islands and Key West . Cost for this trip is $229 per adult , a $5 fee for the Fort, and a tip for the pilot (we gave him $20).

The weather had cleared so we walked down the street to a small Cuban restaurant at the corner of South Street and Simonton Street . I got a deluxe Cuban sandwich while Nancy opted for black beans, rice, and plantain. The sandwich was okay, but Nancy ’s food was first class and half the price of the lunch at El Meson de Pepe. The Cuban coffee was also better than expected.

We got back in tourist mode and visited Fort Taylor which dates to the Civil War. It is located on the southwestern tip of the island and used to be ¼ mile offshore. Channel dredging filled-in all the surrounding land as it is today. There is a beautiful beach and picnic area here also thanks to the dredging. This is a great place to watch the sunset away from the crowd at Mallory Square .

But this was our last chance to see the sunset show at Mallory Square . We arrived about 30 minutes before sunset and the docks were already alive with vendors, acrobats, and trained animals. Artists gather here selling everything from palm leaf hats to balloon animals. Nancy bought a unique wire dragon and was quite interested in a remarkable gymnast who belted-out 30 push-ups balanced in a handstand. There was also the mechanical man who appeared to be a statue standing next to his bicycle. When you put some money in his tin cup he would suddenly move in robot like motions and work on his bike.

Walking the nearby streets we happened on one of the parrot bars. There are several and I can’t recall the name of this one, but they had a talking macau out in front. Nancy keep trying to get him to say something, but he wasn’t in the mood after having to put-up with tourists all day.

On Duval Street we stopped and watched the local palm reader, Mahadeo. I have always wanted to see how accurate these psychics are so I had a reading. Surprisingly he was about 80% right in what he said about me and my past.

On the way to find dinner we made the obligatory stop for a beer at Sloppy Joes to honor Hemingway. We were in the mood for something different and the Old Town Mexican Café caught our eye. We had a great dolphin dish Mexican style in the quaint court yard.

Heading back to the B and B I was accosted by one of the female impersonators hawking passersby for their 9:00 drag show. Nancy wanted to hang around, but I was tired and we had a big day of riding coming so I declined. It looked interesting though with mental images of Birdcage and a gay Robin Williams flashing in my mind.

Key West has more activity per square inch than any place we have ever been. There is something for everyone packed into this 2 by 4 mile island. We really enjoyed the laid back atmosphere and absence of political correctness. This is an active community with a wide range of cultures and interests. This is a city that is alive. We are already planning a return to see what we missed. We forgot to visit the Key West Old Cemetery with stones reading I TOLD YOU I WAS SICK, GOOD CITIZEN FOR 65 OF HIS 108 YEARS, DEVOTTED FAN OF JULIO IGLESIUS and my favorite, AT LEAST I KNOW WHERE HE’S SLEEPING TONIGHT.

SUMMARY: Just a ride to the airport and back

TOTAL DISTANCE: 3 miles riding, another 10 miles of walking

TOTAL TIME: Dawn to night.

HIGHLIGHTS: The flight to Fort Jefferson and snorkeling there

Touring Fort Taylor

Seeing the show and sunset at Mallory Square

Good seafood for dinner again !!!

A hot dip in the pool to soothe the aches

Luxury liner at Key West docks. Fort Taylor can be seen at top center. It used to be 3/4 mile at sea. All the land around it today is fill.

The people of Key West are so friendly. This lovely lady invited me to accompany her in for the show, something about drag racing I think.

Panorama of Fort Jefferson inside the walls..

Panorama of Fort Taylor from outside the walls.

As the sun sets the crowds gather at Mallory Square for the daily exhibitions and venders. There are hawkers every twenty feet with dog shows, board games, balloon art, a Houdini impersonator, tumblers, and artisans of all types. We bought a nice wire dragon from the Wire Man and donated a few dollars to the mechanical bicycle repair man, both pictured above in the right column.
A1A TRIP 2005 - Fernandina Beach to Jensen Beach