Junior Rangering on the Dry Tortugas – Dry Tortugas National Park – Dry Tortugas, Florida – 09/13/2011

Earning a Junior Ranger Badge in the Dry Tortugas was not only an honor because of its uniquely remote location, but it was an incredible experience to be hanging out in such a gorgeous National Park all by ourselves, long after the boat leaves with everyone else. But, most importantly, Ranger Riley was an absolute joy to work with while we were here. He was most attentive to the kids; and he engaged them in so many details of the fort and the island that we would not have realized by ourselves. Ranger Riley really was the cherry on top…

A Few Random Day Three Shots – Dry Tortugas National Park – Dry Tortugas, Florida – 09/13/2011

After three days on a remote island in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico, 70 miles from civilization, my camera batteries all died. So, unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of photos from Day Three. But, suffice it to say, more grand adventures were had. More beautiful memories were made.

Day Two in the Dry Tortugas – Dry Tortugas National Park – Dry Tortugas, Florida – 09/12/2011

We’ll just group most of Day Two’s Adventures into one post for now, but I might come back later and break them up a little more specifically. A little more snorkeling to finish out the afternoon… We explored Fort Jefferson again once when we had the place to ourselves for the evening, spending some time in the cell of Dr. Samuel Mudd, where he was imprisoned for his suspected role in the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. A walk around the outside of the fort to view marine life in and around the moat walls, such as sea stars, anemones,…

Gone Fishin'! – Dry Tortugas National Park – Dry Tortugas, Florida – 09/12/2011

Spending our days frolicking in the clear waters and exploring the marinelife was definitely the collectively preferred way to enjoy our time here! If you are brave enough to venture out, lots of unique corals and bright, colorful fish can be viewed around the submerged areas of the fort walls. But, you don’t even have to venture too far from shore to enjoy countless species of fish of all sizes, and other aquatic life! Observing several different levels of the marine food chain in action was fascinating. All those poor little fish, swimming in their school for safety in numbers,…

Waking Up in Paradise! – Day Break on the Dry Tortugas – Dry Tortugas National Park- Dry Tortugas, Florida – 09/12/2011

Our first night of camping in the books, as we wake to our own peaceful solitude; with calm waters and billowing clouds as far as the eye can see! Wake up, Sleepy Heads! Day Two in the Dry Tortugas awaits! Adventures beckon us! And we shall answer with enthusiasm!

…The Full Moon Shall Rise – Dry Tortugas National Park – Dry Tortugas, Florida – 09/11/2011

When all the elements align, you know you are experiencing MAGIC! On top of everything else, the full moon over our own personal paradise was icing on the already wonderful cake!

As the Sun Sets in Paradise… – Dry Tortugas National Park – Dry Tortugas, Florida – 09/11/2011

Such glorious sunsets in this perfect paradise. Where the sun melts into the Gulf Water Horizon… We find joy. Togetherness. Where priceless family moments, Melt into treasured family memories.

A Whole Fort to Ourselves! – Fort Jefferson After the Crowds Leave – Dry Tortugas National Park – Dry Tortugas, Florida – 09/11/2011

After the ferry boat packs up the Day Visitors and embarks upon its journey back to Key West, campers are the only ones left on the island! And for our fabulous luck, we were the ONLY ones camping the entire duration of our stay! So, once we were on our own, the REAL fun began! We spent the evening exploring our own private playground, Fort Jefferson! Truly, this is an experience like no other. To have an entire island to yourself! An absolute DREAM!

Camping on the Dry Tortugas – Dry Tortugas National Park – Dry Tortugas, Florida – 09/11/2011

Ahhh… A trip to the Dry Tortugas was one of THE top things on my Bucket List for many years of my life… And here we are! Pitching a tent! Because we’re staying as long as we can! And we’ve got the entire island to ourselves! And that last photo? That’s the view from our campsite, Fort Jefferson, in all it’s sunny splendor… Paradise, indeed. Bucket List, CHECK!

Snorkeling in the Dry Tortugas – Dry Tortugas National Park, Dry Tortugas, Florida – 09/11/2011

Snorkeling in these perfect, warm, crystalline waters was an experience like no other! The kids had a blast splashing, playing, and enjoying the vast marine ecosystems beneath their toes! Hands on Marine Biology, for the win! You CAN bring your own snorkeling gear if you like, or you can use the gear provided by the Yankee Freedom staff!

Day One: A Little Exploration – Dry Tortugas National Park – Dry Tortugas, Florida – 09/11/2011

We didn’t really get settled into camp until after the ferry boat left the island for the evening with all of the Day Visitors. So, we spent the first part of our own day doing a little random exploring. Playing in the sand, checking out some marinelife, meandering about the island… More albums, to come, though! Keep clicking through! Jellyfish, seaplanes, crabs, lizards, sand, boats, forts… All the makings of paradise! Well, except, maybe, the jellyfish. Eeek! The American Flag at half-mast in honor of the 10th Anniversary of September 11. Our thoughts are with America. Then, now, ALWAYS. We…

Yankee Freedom Ferry Ride to Fort Jefferson – Dry Tortugas National Park – Dry Tortugas, Florida – 09/11/2011

Exploring the Dry Tortugas National Park spent many years in one of the highest spots on my Bucket List! And we finally decided to make it a reality! The first step of your Dry Tortugas adventure, is getting there! One option is a Seaplane. The most popular option is the Yankee Freedom Ferry Ride! The Yankee Freedom high speed catamaran leaves out of Key West, and takes you the 70 miles to Fort Jefferson in high class surroundings! The boat remains docked at Fort Jefferson, and you can utilize its services throughout the day. If you are just up for…

Key Deer – Key Deer National Wildlife Refuge – Big Pine Key, Florida – 09/09/2011

Although Key Deer live on about 25 different islands in the Florida Keys, they are most heavily concentrated in Big Pine Key and No Name Key, in the Lower Keys. In the 1950’s only a few dozen animals remained, and the Key Deer National Wildlife Refuge was eventually established to protect their declining numbers. Today, almost a thousand deer are out there! And on Big Pine Key, especially, there are so many you’d never know the species was once so dangerously close to extinction. Be careful, though! Follow all speed limits through the area. They are there for a reason!…

Night Sounds of the Swamp – Everglades National Park – Homestead, Florida – 09/03/2011

As the sun begins to lower in the sky, the swamps come alive! Frogs, insects, birds… And who knows what else! All filling the air with song! And alligators, calling to one another, with deep bellowing grunts! Everglades National Park

Sunset in the Swamp – Everglades National Park – Homestead, Florida – 09/03/2011

Gorgeous skies, from pinks and purples, to deep blues, and ultimately blacks… Storm clouds and lightning bolts… And stars… Oh, and mosquitoes as big as birds! Yikes! The Everglades National Park

Manatees in Flamingo – Everglades National Park – Flamingo, Florida – 09/03/2011

Flamingo is the Southern Terminus for the Everglades National Park. In the bays surrounding the Southernmost tip of the Florida Mainland Peninsula, you can find tons of playful Manatees! It is also one of the only places you can find American Crocodiles. If you are lucky! We were not so fortunate to see any… But, manatees are AWESOME. And so was all the other wildlife and vegetation we encountered along the way. So, taking the road all the way down to Flamingo is HIGHLY recommended!

A Day in the Everglades – Everglades National Park – Homestead, Florida – 09/03/2011

The Everglades National Park boasts an unimaginable quantity of wildlife! Turkey vultures, black vultures, birds of prey, shore birds, song birds and more! As well as snakes, anoles, alligators, and the list goes on! We even saw the coolest snails! And, wow, those Golden Orb Spiders are a sight to behold… Unless, of course, you are terrified of spiders! And, in that case, my apologies!

Earning The South Florida Junior Ranger Trifecta – Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center at Everglades National Park – Homestead, Florida – 09/03/2011

If you complete Junior Ranger Badge Programs at Big Cypress National Preserve, Biscayne National Park, and Everglades National Park, you get full access to bragging rights that you have earned the South Florida Junior Ranger Trifecta! And we definitely worked hard to earn ours!

Biscayne National Park Junior Rangers – Biscayne National Park – Homestead, Florida – 09/03/2011

Biscayne National Park was #2 out of 3 on our South Florida Trifecta Mission! We had a lot of fun interacting with the specimens on the touch tables, as well as walking the boardwalks outside. There is a LOT more to do at Biscayne if you have your own boat! But we still enjoyed seeing Pipefish and other unique aquatic species as we learned about the South Florida Coastal Reefs. Earning our Junior Ranger Badges here was an awesome experience!

Hiking the Trails of Biscayne National Park – Dante Fascell Visitor Center at Biscayne National Park – Homestead, Florida – 09/03/2011

While the bulk of resources protected by Biscayne National Park do take a boat to appreciate, such as coral reefs, islands, dive sites, and more, you can certainly get a lot out of hiking the trails behind the Dante Fascell Visitor Center in Homestead! From spider webs and flowers, to shorebirds, crabs, pipefish, and maybe even a seahorse! We really enjoyed our time here, and the rangers were super cool and showed us a lot of specimens inside when we were working on our Junior Ranger Badges!

Junior Rangering at Big Cypress Swamp Welcome Center – Big Cypress National Preserve – Ochopee, Florida – 09/02/2011

The first park for the South Florida Junior Ranger Trifecta… Big Cypress National Preserve in Ochopee, Florida and beyond. This NPS unit preserves freshwater wetlands across the Southern tip of Florida, and the important ecosystems that depend on the health of these environments to survive. When coming from the West Coast of Florida, out of Naples, across the Tamiami Trail, and into West Miami, you will traverse the Big Cypress National Preserve. There are two NPS Visitor Centers along that route. We enjoyed exploring the Westernmost facility, the Big Cypress Swamp Welcome Center. We earned our badges engaging with the…