Hello everyone, it’s time for my weekly look back at the places I’ve visited over the last few days and what I’ve learned along the way. Welcome to all of my new subscribers who have come on board this week, it’s great to have you along for the ride. If you're seeing this in my newsletter in your inbox, click through on any of the stories you see to check out my photos and read the whole story on my website. Again, thank you and welcome. To all of my loyal readers, welcome back for another installment, it is always great to see you here and always appreciated when you stop by. This week’s newsletter is a little longer than usual because last week’s didn’t go out. It’s automated, so it should have, but it just didn’t. My apologies for it not coming last week, but that means you get a double dose this week! Also for those who like a map to follow along with or find anything of importance in this post, click the link HERE.
It’s been another great week out here on the road. The wisteria is in bloom which always makes me smile and always tells me spring has arrived. All kinds of flowers are starting to bloom everywhere in Louisiana, and the real spring festival season has arrived. Fun, excitement, and pollen are all in the air. This week, I left lovely Natchitoches and made my way slowly up to Shreveport for a weekend of festivals and good times. From there, I made my way all the way across northern Louisiana to the Mississippi River and south to the town of Tallulah where I am writing this from today.
After I finished writing last week’s This Week post, I headed out to see Fort St. Jean Baptiste State Historic Site just south of downtown Natchitoches. This is a reproduction of the original fort which the French used from 1716-1762 to protect their border with Spanish Texas. After France’s defeat in the French and Indian War, they ceded the region to Spain to keep it from falling into British hands. Since the fort was then no longer on the border of the territory, it fell into disuse and slowly deteriorated back into the landscape. The fort has been reproduced for interpretive purposes a few hundred yards from its original site. It’s not big, but gives you an idea of what life was like on the French frontier in the 18th century.
When I had finished wandering around the fort, I headed down to the Cane River to do some writing for my next podcast. It was a beautiful place to sit and write by the water as the daylight faded and the air cooled down. When it was too dark to write anymore, I headed out to Grayson’s Barbecue in Clarence, not far from Natchitoches, for some dinner. This place is truly a hole-in-the-wall local spot, but their smoked ham was really excellent. I dropped by Antoon’s Bar at the recommendation of my friend Will for a quick drink and then called it an early night. I had a lot on the agenda for the following day.
I got up early on Thursday and headed out of town, after a wonderful few days in Natchitoches. I was sad to leave as I really enjoyed it there, but it was time to move on. It was such a nice and sunny day that I drove back out to the Oakland Plantation in Cane River Creole National Historic Site to snap a few more photos under clear skies. I’m glad I did because I was really pleased with how they turned out. From there I drove out to Los Adaes State Historic Site near Robeline. Originally a Spanish mission and later a fort, Los Adaes sat right on the border of the Spanish colony of Tejas, squaring off against the French stationed at Fort St. Jean Baptiste. In reality, they had friendly relations, traded often and even intermarried. Spanish priests would often travel to the French fort to hold mass or perform baptisms or weddings. From 1729-1773, Los Adaes served as the colonial capitol of Tejas before it was moved south to San Antonio, and thus sits at the very end of the Royal Road, El Camino Real. Today, it is just an empty field with a few signs to mark where archaeological digs suggest certain buildings once stood. It is still a fascinating and incredibly peaceful and quiet place to visit, and I really enjoyed chatting with the park ranger there.
Leaving Los Adaes, I went for a brief visit to the Adai Caddo Indian Nation located nearby. They had a small but interesting cultural center on the reservation which I enjoyed poking around. Apparently the Adai Caddo were particularly well known for their excellent bows which they traded far and wide. From there I headed out through the town of Many and up to Mansfield State Historic Site near the town of Mansfield, Louisiana. This was another fascinating place to visit in my opinion. It interpreted the Civil War battle which took place there, which was the largest battle west of the Mississippi River and the last major Confederate victory of the war. The small museum was thorough and incredibly well done. Most Civil War sites struggle to find a balanced opinion without letting personal feelings get involved, but this one did a great job at doing just that. It told the story not just through a retelling of the facts, but also through personal stories and letters from soldiers on both sides and locals who lived through it. There was even a display on black and Latino soldiers and a particularly fascinating one on two women who had served in the battle, passing as men to enlist in the Union army. While one, it seemed, was just passing to try and earn some money and serve in the war, the other lived his life as a man only being “outed” at the end of his life when he experienced medical issues. You won’t find a whole lot of stories of transsexual Civil War soldiers out there, and it was cool to read one in this museum.
I got there a little late in the day, so had to rush through the museum a bit. I wanted to leave before closing time, because I know how frustrating it can be for the people who work there when someone won’t leave and it’s time to go home. As I was leaving, I started talking with the two park rangers at the site, and we ended up talking for the next hour about all kinds of things. It is wonderful when I get the opportunity to really nerd out on some history with people who can not only understand what I’m talking about, but offer their own take on the situation as well. These gentlemen were really interesting and I learned a lot from our discussion. We could have probably stood there and talked for another couple of hours, but I thought I should let them get on their way. I really had a great time with them and thank them for sharing their own time with me.
Leaving Mansfield I headed up to Shreveport and got in just before dark. It had been a few days since I had gotten a shower, so I hit the gym, cleaned up and then stepped out for a quick drink at The Bar Chord, a nice little music club south of town. Unfortunately there was no music going that night, but it was still a pleasant place to have a drink and relax and think about all of the history I had learned that day.
Friday I hit the library for a few hours and then made my way downtown to have a look around the Ratchet City. It seems that most of the city has been given over to the casino industry, and most of the action focuses on the four casinos that line both sides of the Red River. I’m never really impressed by casinos, but I understand the temptation when someone shows up with a pile of cash and a promise to rejuvenate an area and provide a ton of jobs. I sincerely hope that Shreveport is making some good money off of that deal, and it intends on revitalizing the rest of the downtown area which is much needed. There are some great little places around, but still a lot of empty storefronts and crumbling buildings. The first thing they could fix is the street parking situation. It is “metered” parking, but there are no meters and you have to pay through an app. As a first-time and perhaps one-time visitor, I don’t want to download an app, so I called the phone number instead. Already frustrated at how long the process was taking to just park for an hour, I was told that registration would cost me $5 and then I would have to pay for parking. I hung up and left my van on the street and risked the ticket (which I did not get). Granted the meters are only enforced until 5 p.m., and not on the weekends, but this is still an absurd system in a town trying to promote tourism.
After a wander around the downtown area, I headed out to Betty Virginia Park just outside of downtown for the Third Annual Crawfest. This was a wonderful event with live music, crawfish, beer and games for the kids. There were a lot of people there and it was a really nice atmosphere. I had a heaping helping of mudbugs, and a couple of cold beers and then just sat and enjoyed the music in the cool dusk air. Louisiana is particularly good at festivals, and there seems to be one pretty much every weekend within driving distance of wherever you are. I have always loved this about the state, and you should definitely be sure you check out THIS page on the Lousiana Travel website to see what’s happening during your visit.
Saturday I headed across the river to Shreveport’s twin city of Bossier City. That side of the river has its two casinos and an outlet mall, and a few restaurants and shops. I know this can be a big draw for people, and to each their own, but outlets and chain restaurants just don’t do it for me. I prefer local and low key. There were a few local places in the outlet mall, but not enough to hold my interest. I took some cool photos across the Red River and then made my way back across the bridge and down to Festival Plaza for the Northwest Louisiana Battle of the Gumbo Gladiators Cook-Off. This was another great local event, with over 40 teams battling it out with their best gumbo recipes. Entrance was free, and gumbo samples were only $2 a piece with the proceeds going to benefit the Volunteers for Youth Justice. I had about 8 samples and that was all I could handle, but all of them were excellent. I liked how everyone’s was the same but different and it was cool to try them side-by-side and try and guess the special ingredients. I always think a good gumbo is like a good bourbon - you don’t get the full flavor on your first taste, it’s the second taste where it all comes together. In addition to amazing gumbo, there was beer and live music making this another wonderful local festival. To see all of my photos from this festival, see my full post HERE.
After a lot of gumbo and a couple of beers, I headed down the road for a little local flavor at Red River Brewery. This was a cool place with a real community feel to it. There was local art on display, some local art being produced in the glass-blowing studio on-site, a butcher shop and a food stall as well. The people working there were really friendly, and their schwarzbier was excellent. I liked the outdoor seating area too, even though it was mostly a view of the highway overpasses. My belly full of beer and gumbo, I decided to take a little afternoon nap, which was a really good idea.
When I woke up, I went for a couple of beers at the Noble Savage Tavern on Texas Street which is a great spot. The bartender was really friendly and remembered everyone’s name at the bar. It was a warm and inviting tavern with a good overall vibe to it, and apparently they have live music most nights. The music wasn’t going to start until late, and I wanted to wander around a bit, but I will definitely stop here next time I’m in town. I popped into Sand Bar for a beer and wasn’t impressed when the bouncer asked for my passport. One would think it should be pretty common knowledge that the District of Columbia is the “DC” in Washington D.C., our nation’s capitol, not British Columbia or Columbia. We both got a laugh out of it though. This place had a lot of pool tables and games and stuff like that and seemed like it was probably a fun place when it filled up. From there I dropped down to Sam’s Town Casino for a few rounds of blackjack. Luck was not on my side that night though, so I didn’t play for long. At that point it was about time to call it a night anyway.
Sunday I hit the gym in the morning and then went for lunch at Strawn’s Eat Shop, a local institution since 1944. This place was amazing, and ran like a well-oiled machine. It was basically just Southern comfort food, but service was quick and friendly and I really enjoyed my meal. The real magic happened after lunch though, with their famous ice box strawberry pie. Every once in a very long while, you may try something that is not only the best you’ve ever had, but which you simply can’t imagine how it could be any better. That was my experience with this pie. It was full of real strawberries, sweet but not too sweet, on a wonderful crust and covered with just the perfect cream topping. I’m not kidding when I say this: it wasn’t just the best strawberry pie I’ve ever had, but it may have been the best slice of pie I’ve ever had period. It would be worth a trip to Shreveport just for this pie. Put it on your list!
From there I headed back to the library to catch up on a few things and edit some photos and then headed out of town (check out my Shreveport photos HERE). I went west to Minden and then north to Homer before heading back down to Ruston for the night. It was nice to see some of the small towns in the north, even if they were pretty empty and quiet. I hadn’t been to the movies in a while, so I caught one in Ruston before calling it a night.
Monday I spent the morning in downtown Ruston, which is quite pleasant, before heading out to Lake D’arbonne State Park for the day. It was a beautiful day out and I enjoyed sitting on the fishing pier and getting some writing done and soaking in some springtime rays. I took a nice late afternoon walk around some of the short trails in the park and then headed off to Monroe for the evening.
I was pleasantly surprised when I got to Monroe to find a really beautiful and photogenic city. I spent several hours walking and driving around and taking photos of some of the lovely buildings and cityscapes I found there. I will definitely get those photos edited this week so you can see what I mean. It was another beautiful, cool, clear evening with some great clouds in the sky and it made for some great shots. When the sun was gone, I was on my way out of downtown and saw a mass of cars parked around a place called Riverside Coney Island, so I parked and got out to take a closer look. It turned out they were having their weekly Monday Night Crawfish Boil complete with live music. I grabbed a seat and got in on the action with a couple of pounds of delicious mudbugs. It was a pleasant surprise to be sure.
Tuesday I went back downtown for a bit and took a few more photos, and then crossed the bride into West Monroe to poke around there for a while. Satisfied that I had had a pretty good look around, I took off for Poverty Point.
Poverty Point is a State Historic Site, a National Monument, a Smithsonian affiliate and a UNESCO World Heritage Site hidden deep in the country in far northeast Louisiana. The site takes its name from a modern plantation which used to be be located there, but it commemorates an ancient city which was built on the site starting in 1700 B.C. There isn’t much to see of it these days, as it declined now about 3000 years ago, so you definitely need to use your imagination to appreciate the site. The small museum has an amazing collection of artifacts though, from arrowheads to beads and carved figurines. I thought the fishing net weights were really interesting as well. Shells and certain kinds of rocks used to make some of these artifacts show that they were trading with cultures pretty far from the site. The central attraction, though, is Mound A, a massive man-made hill across from the Visitor’s Center. Mound A is 72 feet high, 710 feet wide and 660 feet long. It was one of the last mounds built on the site, dating back to around 1300 B.C. and was by far the biggest. Archaeologists have suggested it may have been an effigy mound in the shape of a bird, used to convey an image of power to visitors. If it was built one basket-full of dirt at a time as the archaeology suggests, it would have taken 15.5 MILLION baskets of dirt to complete. That is quite an undertaking. You can climb Mound A, which I did, and it is certainly something to see. Not much is known about the people who once lived at Poverty Point beyond what we can guess from the tools and ornaments found there, but it is clear that these were not savages banging rocks together and howling at the moon. It helped that it was another beautiful day when I visited, but I really got a lot out of my visit and found the whole thing fascinating.
Leaving Poverty Point in late afternoon, I headed east all the way to the Mississippi River. It is always great to see the Mississippi, as I’ve crossed it and recrossed it many times along the way. I’ve driven down this section before, but on the Mississippi side. The Louisiana side was pretty similar to that, and certainly felt like the Mississippi Delta. Once and still major cotton country, this area has definitely seen better days. Poverty is pretty rampant with people living in shanties and hundred year old sharecroppers’ cabins. There are some neat old cities along the way, but they are full of empty storefronts. I enjoyed taking some rural photos as the sun went down, and met some really friendly people when I stopped though. The lady in the grocery store told me she liked melting cheese on her honey bun which sounds delicious. I made my way through Tullulah and down through Mound to Delta right on the river. I hadn’t planned on eating out last night, but I drove past a place called the World Bar, and I just had to stop. It is one of those middle-of-nowhere places which somehow has a parking lot full of cars and you need to see what’s going on inside kind of places. I’m glad I stopped. It was definitely a hole-in-the-wall, but I got one of the best steaks I’ve had in a long time, and at a very reasonable price. The people there were friendly and I would definitely recommend this place if you are ever in the area. It’s right across the river from Vicksburg, Mississippi.
My belly full of steak, I called it an early night. I wanted to be up nice and early to get this done and still have some time to go out and enjoy the day. From here, I’m headed a little further south along the river and then cutting back west to Alexandria. From there I’m dropping back south into Cajun Country for the weekend and then I’ll head back east to see some of what the North Shore has to offer. Then I’m going to dip back into New Orleans for a day or two before heading off towards Alabama. By this time next week though, I’ll probably be out near Baton Rouge, but you just never know.
I hope your spring is starting off well wherever you are and that you get some time to get out and enjoy it. I know I will be. Until next week then, thanks for reading and we’ll see you right back here same time, same place.