Paradise Lost and…..Found

A mind not to be changed by place or time.
The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a heav’n of hell, a hell of heav’n.  / John Milton/Paradise Lost

The National Park System encompasses 417 national park sites in the United States. They span across more than 84 million acres in each state and extend into the territories, including parks in Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and Guam.

Dry Tortugas on a mapUntil a few years ago, I had never heard of Dry Tortugas National Park, an old fortress named after President Jefferson. The initial construction of the fort began in 1825, mostly to construct a lighthouse.  Plans to make this a remote military installation were initiated  in 1846 but, even after 30 years was never officially completed. Then used as prison until 1874, Dr. Samuel Mudd, famous for being the doctor who treated John Wilkes Booth was imprisoned here until early 1869.

Tower reconstruction after hurricane.
Tower reconstruction after hurricane.

Besides daily visitors that snorkel and visit the fort, Dry Tortugas is reputated as the top research facility for studying various ecosystems and was the first location to diagnose the coral bleaching epidemic that  has reached all oceans including the Great Barrier reef.

The majority of visitors to Ft. Jefferson arrive from taking a day tour via the designated concessionaire Yankee Freedom ferry based in Key West. For some folks seeking a tad more adventure like me, there are 10 primitive camping sites that require an advance reservation.  My trip reserved the last week of June required making reservations in November the year prior.

Reading multiple blogs about Dry Tortugas, bringing a kayak over to tour the other neighboring Keys peaked my interest and at the same time I booked my travel with Yankee Freedom, I also reserved a space for my kayak (kayak space is limited).

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. / Mark Twain

Wheels-up flying Southwest from Las Vegas to Ft. Lauderdale required a 5:30am departure landing in Florida at 4pm.  Alamo Rent-A-Car was a breeze and it was time to endure the painful 45mph and 55mph strict speed limits driving down the Keys in hopes of arriving in Key West by 9pm. A spectacular sunset around the 7-Mile bridge teased my anticipation of an unfiltered adventure out in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico.

Campers on Dry Tortugas are required to check in with Yankee Freedom around 6am hauling your camping supplies and plenty of fresh water in wheelbarrows onto the boat.  I met with Tracy to get debriefed on my kayak rental that included a waterproof radio to communicate with the Coast Guard as necessary, PFD, drybag, and other accessories.  Once the lines were cast off around 7:45am we began the 3 hour, 70 mile commute to Ft. Jefferson.Dry Tortugas National Park located in the Gulf of Mexico

Mentally referring to the various blogs I had read, consistently it was recommended that IMMEDIATELY after Ranger Rick gives his debriefing for campers on the rock, you quickly-quickly-quickly make your way to the camping area and find your best spot.   It turns out there were 4 groups of campers arriving so that meant at least 4 groups were departing so I bypassed any social graces and hauled-ass and found a prime, shaded spot to setup my tent.

Let me tell you – IT WAS HOT already at 11am.  Probably 95º with 88% humidity.  I was ready to jump in the ocean.  In the distance I could see the old lighthouse on Loggerhead Key which would be my kayak destination on the following day.  With the blazing heat, the task looked daunting. After a quick walking tour of Ft. Jefferson (the shade of the old hallways was welcomed), I jumped in the water.  Most of the coral has built up around the Fort’s moat perimeter and it made for easy, shallow snorkeling.  Water was a perfect temperature for swimming.  The underwater visibility was not as good as it could have been but that can change day-to-day based on the Gulf Stream.

Loggerhead Key Lighthouse at Sunset
Loggerhead Key lighthouse

As the sun started to slip away over the horizon with a promise of cooler temperatures, most campers came out to position themselves for a spectacular sunset. The sandflies and other bugs were sort of driving me crazy but you just kept moving and swatting.

The morning shade of my campsite was welcomed on the following day as I could visually see the lighthouse on Loggerhead Key beckon me. After some oatmeal for breakfast, filling my water canister, I radioed in my kayaking plans on Channel 16. ” RADIO CHECK, RADIO CHECK, RADIO CHECK.  Campsite #5 departing for Loggerhead Key via kayak.  ETR of 1200 hours”.  Getting out about 1/4 mile from the fort, there was a moderate current.  The kayak was a solid seafaring kayak but without a skeg so you had to pay attention to your tracking.  The initial 15 minutes was fun.  Bright, sunny, hot, windless day with no one out on boats or kayaks.  Just me and the goal of landing shore 3.1 miles away.  I have paddled enough on the Colorado River that 3 miles should not really be too much of an effort.  But, with the combination of all said factors, at mile two I was already swearing that Loggerhead Key was not getting any closer.  I had heard to land on the opposite side first (I guess, if you are planning to snorkel Little Africa), but I would not recommend it.  Park Rangers do intermittently spend overnight here but the island seemed deserted to me.  So, not much to do and I was already anticipating a slugfest of a paddle on my return trip.

Loggerhead Key Lighthouse on the horizon.Not gonna lie.  The return trip was a bitch.  About mile 5 (cumulative), I could feel the effects of the baking sun and no breeze.  I think if you were paddling with someone else you could have fun commiserating about the challenge but there was NO ONE around and you just had to grunt it out. It took me approximately 70 minutes to paddle to Loggerhead Key and 100+ minutes to return back to Ft. Jefferson.  Despite the hot temperatures and bugs, I was able to crawl into my tent for an hour nap.  After lunch I headed back over to the Fort and found a nice shaded area by a window portal which funneled a slight breeze.  As I hung out there for a couple of hours, Park Rangers and other visitors alike would comment that this was probably the hottest day of the year thus far. I was content reflecting on the success of my kayaking adventure but I was also fantasizing about a hotel room with a/c and a hot shower. After one more evening snorkel dive, I faded into the night looking forward to the Yankee Freedom arriving the next day.

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If I am traveling almost 3000 miles from Las Vegas to Key West, I must certainly take advantage of the other world-class water adventures that southern Florida has to offer.  As with most trips I plan, I utilize Google’s My Maps and plot out points of interest ahead of time to ensure my time is most productive.  HERE IS MY FLORIDA MAP

In short form, I was successful in visiting the following:

  • Bahia Honda State Park
  • Robbie’s of Islamadora
  • The movie set location for the Netflix series “Bloodline” – The resort is called The Moorings…
  • John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
  • Miami / Miami Beach / Coconut Grove / Little Havana
  • Marco Island / The Dome Houses
  • Ft. Lauderdale beach / International Swimming Museum


Bahia Honda, meaning deep bay in Spanish is close to the west end of the Seven Mile Bridge and founded in 1961.

Bahia Honda Snorkel Tour
Bahia Honda Snorkel Tour

The 2.5-mile (4.0 km) natural, white sand beach was rated the #1 beach in 1992 in the United States by “Dr. Beach” Stephen Leatherman (the first Florida beach to be so honored), making it popular for swimming. A nature trail near the park’s oceanside beach skirts a tidal lagoon before passing through a coastal hardwood hammock. Bicycling and inline skating can be done on the park’s 3.5-mile (5.6 km) paved road, and there are several fishing and picnicking spots in the area. The Sand and Sea Nature Center features displays about local sea and shore life, including corals, shells, crabs, sea urchins, drift seeds, sea sponges and sea turtles.

Kayaks and snorkeling gear can be rented at the park, and boat trips for snorkeling on the reef are available. The park has a marina with boat slips available for overnight rental. Campsites (primitive and full hook-up) and vacation cabins are available, although reservations for the winter months can be very difficult to get. The park is also a part of the Great Florida Birding Trail.

I was on a timeline so I did not get a chance to snorkel in the actual park and opted for a 3 hour boat tour that provided a larger access to coral reefs and fish. Some of the park was still closed due to hurricane damage.


Mahi Mahi sandwich at Robbie's
Mahi Mahi sandwich at Robbie’s

Robbie’s get’s five-stars for their marketing efforts.  I started following them on Facebook and they entice visitors to feed the “wild” tarpon from their docks. Because of the namesake, I was hoping for top-notch swag and other items but I was less impressed when I got there.  It is definitely worth stopping and I had a great Mahi-Mahi sammie at the restaurant but, glad I did not spend more than an hour here.


The Moorings private beachAfter working as a chauffeur in southern California during college, I rarely get “star-struck”. As I was finalizing my plans last year to visit Dry Tortugas, I got hooked on the show Bloodline which is based in and around Marathon and Islamorada, Florida. I spoke to many locals that binge-watched the show and one rumor was that part of a hopeful Season 4 was continued financing from the Florida Tourism Board which did not happen.  I did find “The Moorings” and upon seeing multiple NO TRESPASSING signs, I visited the front office to see if it was ok to grab a couple of snaps.  It really is/was the perfect beach!


This is a MUST-SEE when visiting the Keys of Florida.  So much to do here but my visit was going to be consumed by a 5 hour $40 snorkel boat tour in hopes of seeing  the Cristo Degli Abiss aka Christ of the Abyss statue to add to my underwater museum interest that began with my trip to Cancun. My underwater camera housing makes it somewhat difficult to view which camera mode I am in thus my Abyss photos did not really render as I had hoped.  Regardless, this was a great afternoon! To read more about the statue, READ HERE.

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Visiting Miami for the 1st time was lower on my list of things to-do but Saturday morning brought torrential rain so Plan B was to head up to Miami from my motel base camp in Homestead, FL.  You never really know just looking on a map, but my decision to base-camp for a few days to access the upper Keys and Florida panned out really well. I had made advanced reservations with the local Travelodge and that was another huge score!  The folks that own/run this Travelodge could teach many in the hotel industry how to really take care of customers.  I cannot speak highly enough of them and the economical lodging experience provided.  Here is my review on TripAdvisor

An hour later, my Altima rental-car had me arriving into Miami Beach and I quickly noticed the double-decker tour busses and determined this would be my most effective option to get a feel for Miami.  A 3-hour tour cost $30 and it was well worth it.  Even the quick rain downpour was no big deal.  We toured South Beach, Coconut Grove, walked around Little Havana and returned to downtown Miami.  After the bus ride I drove over to the Perez Art Museum Miami that was showing an exhibit called The World’s Game: Futbol and Contemporary Art ~ A really great exhibit and overall museum experience.  The parking can get expensive quickly so you might consider finding cheaper parking and taking the free tram to the museum.

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Romano Dome HouseHad you ever heard of the “Dome Houses”?  I hadn’t either. The casual observer might think they look like a leftover sci-fi movie set. My research indicated that Marco Island had beautiful beaches AND the proverbial Cape Romano Dome House. Heading west on State Highway 41, I crossed the bridge outside of Naples around 11am and quickly discerned that these beaches are not intended for random visitors.  In fact, this looks to be another mecca for the 3%’ers and the home ownership (high rise condos) restrict any nearby beach access unless you are a property owner.

Dome Houses - Marcos IslandMy primary mission was to rent a boat or jet-ski and and Google provided me a connection with Mauro Morello, owner of Splittin Waves.  After about a 3 minutes conversation on the phone and a 4 minutes drive to Caxambas Park, I met up with Mauro.  Super cool guy and top-notch machines! He provided a professional debriefing of safety, how to operate the machine and the best way to exit the no-wake zone and head south to the Dome home.  The Ski-DOO had 1500cc and I probably used only about 412 of those.  LOL  Super fast machines and with my camera housing just laying on the footboard I proceeded with caution.  This was a great adventure and the history of the Romano Dome House is worth reading! LINK 1   LINK 2   LINK 3

Ft. Lauderdale

An early morning trip to Ft. Lauderdale beach added the final bookend to a fun trip and I had a few hours to kill before returning my rental car and jumping on a 2pm plane back to Vegas. I happen to park across the street from the International Swimming Hall of Fame with a born on date of 1962.  On the same site location as the various pools, this was a jewel.  $8 buys you a ticket into at least an hour of history, photography, museum artifacts and a reminder that swimming as a sport and hobby has roots that go back 100’s of years. I would highly recommend this museum!

Any one would think that in this state of complicated good fortune I was past running any more hazards—and so, indeed, I had been, if other circumstances had concurred; but I was inured to a wandering life. Robison Crusoe

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I have been shooting for $$ since 2000 opening my shop with a Nikon D1.  I am primarily interested in shooting adventure lifestyle and travel with a host of my  day-to-day clients being within the industrial sector.

Many of my editorial stock photos have been published in all major news outlets, with my primary focus is distributing my images on a client-by-client basis to ensure their branding is unique and compelling.

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