Just before dawn on Tuesday, November 15, 2016, a bit of light rain fell on Garden Key in Dry Tortugas National Park. It was barely enough to warrant putting the rainflies on our tents, but it caused us to stir a bit. By the time the sun rose just about 7am, most of us were awake and ready for a quiet, relaxing day on the island.
By late Monday morning, November 14, 2016, our group of eight was settled into our campsites in the small campground on Garden Key at Dry Tortugas National Park. Garden Key is about 1.8 million square feet, although its size was hugely expanded (from an estimated 350,000 square feet) during the construction of Fort Jefferson in the nineteenth century. Regardless, it is a very small desert island with the remains of a huge masonry fort. There was nothing claustrophobic about being on Garden Key, but for a few days our world would contract from the bigness of living in major cities and being constantly connected. We would be living on a tiny bit of land barely rising out of the sea and largely cut off from the outside world.
Sean, Adam, and I arrived back at Concordia with enough daylight left for a swim and snorkel. Phil joined us, and we headed down the path to Salt Pond Bay.
When we got to the beach, Adam and I strapped on our gear and began swimming along the route we’d followed that morning, hoping that good luck would strike a second time along the rocks on the northwestern side of the bay. We spotted fish and plenty of long-spined sea urchins, but no turtles. We moved out into the deeper waters toward the center of the bay. I spotted something far below us and thought maybe it was a stingray, bur really it was a conch.
We decided to move back toward the shore where it was shallower and the sea grass beds thicker, and then head across the bay to the rocky shore on the other side. Sean and Phil were following our progress from near the shore. We were moving slowly along, about halfway across Salt Pond, when I spotted a stingray.
Sunday morning, March 10, dawned overcast. It was, looking back, the beginning of probably the single best day in and around a National Park I’ve had so far.
Adam and I had read in St. John Off the Beaten Track that Brown Bay (see map) was a secluded, often-empty north shore beach. It was also listed on the Park’s guide to snorkeling, which we were keen finally to do in earnest. So we decided that we would all spend Saturday morning at Brown Bay, enjoying the beach and the water. Friday afternoon, we’d reserved rental snorkels, masks, and fins from Concordia. We’d also packed our bags and lunches.
Saturday dawned clear, sunny, and warm. Soon we were underway on the 25-minute drive from Concordia to the parking area for Brown Bay Trail.