Dry Tortugas, the second in our 54 locations for Dance Across the USA. This island is located about 70 miles West of Key West, out in the middle of the ocean. Like Biscayne national park, this one is mostly underwater, with one 1% of this park being actual land.
To get to the Dry Tortugas, you must take a boat or a sea plane. We booked our passage on the one official company that has an agreement with the park system, the Yankee Freedom. This is a three hour boat ride from Key West, where we saw schools of flying fish, dolphins, sea turtles, and tarpon on the ride over. Once we arrived, we found our campsite and got everything ready.
Campsite? Oh, didn’t mention that part of it before. The ferry is only at Dry Tortugas from 10:30am until 2:45 pm, so right in the middle of the day where good lighting for photos is pretty non-existent (at least for outdoor photos). To be able to get here, we had to agree to a two night stay. In fact, it was only the kindness of the Dry Tortugas administration and the Yankee Freedom that allowed us to come at all – when we called to make a reservation two months in advance, everything was booked, and no slots were available. I explained the project and our goals, and they allowed us seven spots over capacity, when they could have easily said no. So big props to them both!
Camping here is what you call “primitive”. There is no electricity, no water (save for the ocean), a composting toilet that uses roaches as a big part of the composting process, and not a lot of shade, either. There is about a 100’ wide section of land between the moat from the fort and the ocean, with two trees. My tent was under one of them, and the table for our site was under the other.
Let me give a big shout out to the dancers who we selected to join us – Sara Franco, Anthony Velazquez, and Shannon Wichmann. While Shannon had camped previously, she had never roughed it quite this much. Sara and Anthony had never camped before, ever! They made it through with flying colors. While there WAS a bit of an adjustment to not having cell phone service (oh yeah, that doesn’t work here, either) they all got into our island life pretty quickly.
When we arrived, we made a beeline for the water, as we were not doing any photos until the afternoon. The snorkeling was amazing! The water was super clear, and there was a ton of sea life coming up to say hi. While we swam, we saw giant stingray, sea turtles, a salt water crocodile, parrot fish, gi-freaking-normous groupers, zebra fish, a nurse shark, and we found Dory! (The Palette Tang, the name of the fish used in Finding Nemo) Lots of other things, but you get the idea. The water was cool, which was a very welcome reprieve from the heat! While only 97 degrees, the sun and exposure made it feel more like 110º, so getting in the water was really more of a necessity.
While we were waiting for the sun to go down a bit, I had to check in with the Park Rangers to go over my photo permit. I met Dave and Andy, who were very interested in our project. Dave Simons, whose daughter is a dancer from Westside Dance in Pembroke Pines, offered to help in any way that he could. He went even farther and offered to take us in their “Safe Boat” over to to Loggerhead Key, an island in the park with an active lighthouse and marine research facilities. We absolutely took them up on their generous offer, and an hour before sunset we met to get our ride over. We piled into Safe Boat 25, along with some supplies for the researchers living on Loggerhead, and took off. This boat is what the Rangers use for rescues, citations, and anything else needing a rapid response. We shot on the beach until sunset, then came back to camp for dinner and some rest.
The next day was a full day of shooting - we shot at sunrise by the moat, inside the fort during the blistering heat of the day (where we also took an amazing nap), and at sunset on the roof of the fort overlooking the sea. Our last night brought s’mores, pulled chicken sandwiches, and an amazing night sky! I had to go out and get a couple shots of the Milky Way over the fort as well.
The next morning we got up, broke camp, and got loaded on the boat to go home. Once we landed, hugs were exchanged, and the Mighty Buford and I headed to Ft. Lauderdale for a night’s sleep, one last goodbye for my puppies, and then headed off to Alabama. So I leave you here, about to get on the road for the real away from home start of the trip. Check out the galley of teaser images from Dry Tortugas HERE. Stay tuned and follow along, as we dance Across the USA!