Dry Tortugas National Park Highpoint Trip Report

Date: December 19, 2012
Author: Fred Lobdell

There is a small slender 10 foot contour and a 10 foot spot elevation on the northwest shore of Loggerhead Key. These are the only such elevations shown for the entire park. Whether or not they are accurate is another matter, but for now they are the best we have to go on.

For logistical reasons the party size for the annual Christmas Bird Count in the Dry Tortugas is restricted to eight people. I started last year to try to get a place in the count party, and this year there was a space available. So on Sunday, Dec. 16 and Monday, the 17th, I drove south to Key West, doing one NP HP and two NM HPs en route.

I was met the morning of Tuesday, the 18th, at my motel by two of the party members, including the count compiler. We caravaned to the Coast Guard base on the northwest side of Key West but had to park in a free lot just outside the base as private vehicles are not allowed on the base. We were retrieved by a government van driven by another of the party members and taken to the dock from which the National Park Service boat was to depart at 9:30.

(These counts are considered "research" and are supported by the NPS. No fees are charged for any of the transportation or lodging involved.)

We arrived at Garden Key, site of Fort Jefferson and park HQ, around 2 p.m. (Fort Jefferson is supposedly the largest masonry structure in the Western Hemisphere. A sign informs one that 6 million bricks were used in its construction.) After unloading our gear and taking it up to our lodging in the fort, we spent the afternoon's balance birding Garden Key and Bush Key. (Bush Key is shown as a separate island but it is now attached to Garden Key, and Long Key is attached to Bush Key.)

The next morning (count day, Wednesday the 19th) five of us departed at 7 a.m. on a small NPS boat for the 15 minute ride to Loggerhead Key. After crossing the island on foot from east to west I headed north to do the NP HP. This is the site of a former marine biological research laboratory, run by the Carnegie Institute of Washington from 1903 to 1939, according to Wikipedia.

There is a monument and plaque honoring a director of the lab and the ruins of a small building. Just north of these structures is a thick growth of what I was told are sea grapes. I pushed my way into this very dense thicket enough to get past the first screen of leaves and see that the ground inside the thicket was quite flat and was not higher than the ground outside. The highest ground appeared to be near the building ruins mentioned above.

There are other areas on Loggerhead Key that appear to be almost as high, and it would be useful to have LiDAR data for this island. Until such data become available we will have to make do with the topographic map data.

To complete my journey, after birding Loggerhead we returned to Garden Key about 11 a.m. and our full crew of eight left at noon on the larger NPS boat for a tour of the waters and NP boundary buoys on which were perched quite a few birds.

The next morning we departed the park at 7 a.m. and arrived back at Key West around 11:15. By noon I was on US 1 headed north out of Key West.