Dry Tortugas National Park – Florida

http://www.nps.gov/drto

Completed: November 11, 2013

Junior Ranger – Senior Friendly

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I don’t know if it was because of the remote location or the total experience, but I really enjoyed this Junior Ranger program. The booklet never mentions an age grouping, so I consider it to be Senior Friendly. The activities are fairly easy to complete. It can be done within an hour.

The only way to get to Fort Jefferson, as a part of Dry Tortugas National Park, is by boat or plane. There is a ferry from Key West that leaves in the morning, gives you about 4 hours at the fort before returning mid-afternoon. There is also a seaplane that has several departures during the day. The flight is about 40 minutes, flying low over the water for interesting viewing. The time on the island is about 2 1/2 hours. I took the seaplane, more expensive, but the viewing on the flight over was spectacular. Also when you take the early morning or afternoon flight you are on the island with very few people, campers and up to ten other plane passengers. I was on the 2 PM flight.

As soon as I arrived at the fort I went to the Visitor Center to get the Junior Ranger booklet. Spending the couple of hours on the island gives you plenty of time to find a lot of the items on the Scavenger Hunt Bingo. Both the ferry and plane provide snorkeling gear which allows you to explore the waters. I was able to see several colorful fish while snorkeling.

Hermit Crab
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This fort is enormous, considered the largest brick structure in the United States. It has a long history. I have always heard about it as it relates to the place Dr. Mudd was held captive after being convicted of aiding John Wilkes Booth in the assassination of President Lincoln. When Wilkes came to his house in the countryside after killing President Lincoln he set his broken leg, not knowing what had occurred hours before. He was pardoned by President Andrew Johnson in 1869 after being imprisoned at Fort Jefferson. While touring the fort two of cells where he was held are identified.

The tour of the fort to complete the Letter Home activity was fascinating. Besides being so large it also has three tiers. You are able to climb up to the third tier and walk the perimeter of the fort walls. The views out to several of the keys included in Dry Tortugas NP, plus the incredible water color surrounding the area is beautiful.

One of the special things was watching the Magnificent Frigatebird flying overhead. One of the keys, Bird Island, is a significant rookery for this bird. They are beautiful and so easy to see around the fort, especially up on the third tier. To get to the third tier you walk spiral staircases designed for military defenses.

When I finished the Junior Ranger activities I went to the park office and they radioed for a ranger to come meet me. Along with the ranger came his daughter, approximately ten years old. She had been helpful when I first arrived in locating the Junior Ranger booklet. In the picture below she “presented” me my Junior Ranger badge as her father prepared to give me the oath.

Presentation of the badge
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Taking the oath
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Fort Jefferson provides great human history and natural history. Difficult to get to, but well worth the effort! Booklet and badge
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