Last year I discovered the National Park Arts Foundation artist residency on Loggerhead Key. It was too late to get my application ready by the deadline – decided to apply in 2016. Two artists have to LIVE in the lighthouse cottage on Loggerhead Key for 30 days. Pack in all your food and pack out all your garbage. It’s off the grid but there is solar power and water. Zero expenses are paid / no stipend. Most of my friends thought I was crazy. Whatever………
So Richard Auger and I had a photography proposal that would benefit the foundation and the park – but we were DENIED. We didn’t care! We agreed we would go anyways prior to application. Richard wanted to focus on split photography and I was going to focus on macro corals.
When I called Yankee Freedom they told me there was no availability. When Richard called a few days later they gave him a date within the next 2 weeks plus 2 kayaks transported. We quickly got everything together including photo gear + 3 days of food and water for primitive camping. He picked the kayaks and I up in St. Pete, and we drove south.
We camped on Dry Tortugas for 3 nights – in the middle of summer July heat. Everyday the tourists started coming starting at 9 on seaplanes and at 11 am for 200 ‘cockroaches’ as Richard called them by the end. At 2:30 it gets real quiet and comfortable – when the ferry leaves. They tell everyone on the ferry that touching the corals will kill them but they do not say that your sunscreen kills them as well. I wore a long sleeve Columbia shirt, hat, and hiking shorts snorkeling. You really don’t have any choice but to wear at least SOME sunscreen even if you’re fully clothed. What really made me mad was one day I saw a man and his son standing on the brain corals. I said ‘HEY, are you standing on the brain corals?!’ The dad said ‘I am not TRYING to stand on anything’ and the son says ‘WE HAVE FINS ON! They said TOUCH! It’s ok!’ I said no it wasn’t (took a picture ^^^), and they swam away.
One of the days we kayaked the 3 miles across open ocean to Loggerhead Key. There was the guy who lived there and a college intern. We snorkeled Little Africa. It was absolutely stunning – magical. I would never encourage anyone to go there. I only encourage people to stop polluting the world and ruining these places we know still exist. Tell the grocery bagger ‘no bags please’ if it is something you can carry to your car! Stop drinking bottled water at home! Don’t litter! Cut down on fertilizing your lawn! It was super hard work getting there and back. Good luck to anyone brave enough.
The last day Richard decided he was going to sleep out in the open on his cot. I didn’t care to have my rain flap on to block the air flow. Around 2 am it rained and we got up like crazy people and started throwing wet cases in the tents, putting up the flaps, and jumped in soaking wet. Ten minutes of rain = carnage. Then around 4 am 13 Cubans showed up in a fishing boat with sack floaters filled with plastic coke bottles. Apparently these islands are a great spot for Cubans to become US citizens via dry foot. It’s not really guarded. In the morning the rangers put latex gloves on, pushed it out, drove it around, and parked it. It was pretty disgusting. There was diarrhea all over it. They hid the Cubans in the fort to be picked up the next day by National Guard.
Being off the grid is a GREAT experience every once in awhile. No phone, no internet, means no email, people calling, facebook, messages, texts from your mom – we actually had Richard’s satellite phone so we did get to call my boyfriend Kyle and his girlfriend Michelle. Or text them our GPS as a ‘hey – we’re alive’ message. There is no running water there. No big deal. The boat is there from 11 to 2:30 with an all you can eat buffet. Then the rangers are there 24/7 and have fully furnished apartments with ice machines, tv and acs so it’s really not AS primitive as it SOUNDS. It was great! We didn’t really WANT to go home. Those emerald blue waters. Living on a coral reef out of a story book. Maybe we will be the ones telling stories to kids when when we are old. ‘When I was young – corals still existed’.