Florida’s Dry Tortugas National Park is a long way from nowhere in the Florida Keys. In fact, it’s the most remote U.S. national park in the continental states. It’s the last place piece of land before Cuba and it’s actually closer to Havana than Miami.
After a 45-minute morning flight cruising at only about 500 feet above the water, our DHC-3 DeHavilland Turbine Otter banked hard over the last Florida Key. The views of the picturesque coral atolls were stunning as we made a circular descent around Fort Jefferson, still the largest brick building in the Western hemisphere.
The Torgugas are called “Dry” because there are no natural sources of water on the island. The architects built huge natural cisterns under the brick walls to collect rainwater. Unfortunately, the heavy weight of the bricks and instability of the sand foundation eventually cracked the cisterns so that the salt water of the ocean rolled in. It essentially doomed the strategic worth of the fort. Every year due to the combined weight of the bricks and the rising sea levels, the island is sinking into the Gulf of Mexico. Go visit it now before it’s gone!
As the United States marks the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War this month, it’s worth noting that this was the only part of Florida that stayed in the Union’s hands during the war. During the war, Union warships used the harbor in their campaign to blockade Confederate shipping. During the Spanish-American War, the fort was a supply station and the last stop of the U.S.S. Maine before its fateful trip to Havana Harbor.