Dry Tortugas National Park: Departing the Island

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All too soon, the day of our departure from Dry Tortugas National Park had arrived. It was the morning of November 16, 2016, and when we Chicagoans returned to camp from our walk to see the sunrise, the Detroiters were already up and seeing to breakfast. We began to load up our gear. Even though the ferry didn’t leave until 3pm, we were obliged to load our camping supplies onto the boat as soon as that morning’s passengers disembarked. We’d be transformed into day trippers for our remaining hours on Garden Key.

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We were almost out of charcoal, so we the coffee was tepid and anemic. Oh well.

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Brown Anole

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Sean was having “transition issues.” Truth be told, we all were.

The group of campers who had arrived the day before were interested in our campsites, so we said they could move in before the ferry arrived as long as we could keep our stuff there until it was time to load.

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Coconut Palm. Image: Sean M. Santos

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Coconut and Ghost Crab

After breakfast, some of us walked over to the swimming beach before the day’s passengers arrived. We ran into a Ghost Crab there.

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Loggerhead Key

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Suddenly there was a roar, and a Navy helicopter came into view, hovered, and then touched down on the helipad immediately adjacent to the swimming beach. They appeared to be picking someone up. Sean and I joined a few of the other campers in walking over to have a look even though the sound was deafening. After a couple of women took selfies with the pilots, they waved for us to come up for a photo too.

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So we did. Sean said that the pilot nearest him patted him on the belly after we all shook hands.

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The ferry arrived, and we carted our gear over. We had brought too much water and had five five-gallon jugs left. Better safe than sorry on a desert island. We ended up using the water throughout the remainder of our Florida Keys adventures.

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Ruddy Turnstones

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We had only been at Garden Key for two days, but even so we felt a bit lived in.

One of the day’s visitors was a gay(?) hipster with an unwarranted mustache who was wearing a singlet.

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Double-Crested Cormorant

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Loggerhead Key

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Loggerhead Key

We hung out on the beach for much of the rest of our time. Sean and I got a final snorkel in, including spotting a stingray and being surrounded by a school of hundreds of glistening, sparkling, silvery fish. It was a magical end to Sean’s first successful snorkeling trip.

Afterward, we turned in our rented (for free) gear to the ferry.

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Northern Harrier

A raptor soared overhead. I’m fairly certain from the bright white patch on its rump that it was a Northern Harrier. Dry Tortugas gets a lot of raptor species stopping over during their migrations in the spring and fall.

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By 1pm, we emerged from the water for the last time. We wanted to have some lunch and dry off before the ferry back to Key West. Time had billowed around us at Dry Tortugas. While the day trippers were trying to make the most of the final two of their five hours on the island, we relaxed, hung out, and wandered a bit to get a final photo or see something one last time.

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The Visitor Center in Fort Jefferson

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Even the low clouds along the horizon had vanished, and the day was hot and bright.

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And that was that. It was time to board the ferry, and soon we were underway.

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As we passed the swimming beach, someone else, some other camper not us waved goodbye ready to have the island to herself for the night.

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Image: Sean M. Santos

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Loggerhead Key

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Hospital Key

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And then our home for the last three days got smaller and smaller and vanished.

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Image: Adam Geffen

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Marquesas Keys

The seas were rougher on the way back. Noah was certainly affected, but so was Kam. Occasionally it felt like a roller coaster.

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Image/Treatment: Noah Powell

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By a quarter after five, Key West was glinting in the distance.

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As we arrived, the throngs had come down to Mallory Square to take in the sunset, just as we had three nights before.

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We disembarked, unloaded our gear, and drove back to Casa Amor for our next two nights. After we were settled back in, I phoned Michel, the owner, to let him know we were back safely and to thank him for his recommendations about where to sit on the ferry. I also called Brian at Nec-Flo sports to confirm our paddling reservation for Saturday at Biscayne National Park.

Afterward, we all went to dinner together at The Cafe. At dinner, we went in a circle and shared what we had liked most about Dry Tortugas:

Ion: Water

Nick: Solitude

Adam: History

Juan: Everyone enjoying it

Sean: The whole thing

Brandon: The moat wall

Kamrin: The people on the trip.

Kam’s answer, in particular, touched me because he said that he’d been a little nervous about not really knowing anyone who was going on the trip, but we’d all had a great time together.

And there was more, including another National Park, to come.

 

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