Spring seems to have sprung here in Louisiana this week with temperatures reaching the low eighties with a wonderful breeze to cool everything off. People were out mowing their lawns in the nice weather, and the smell of freshly cut grass enhanced that notion in my mind. Louisiana strawberries are coming into season, and Daylight Savings Time has extended my days a little bit, making everything feel less rushed. It has been a wonderful winter here in the South, but it is nice to see some of these indicators that the season is changing.
After Mardi Gras and months and months on the road, I took a little break for a few days. I was staying with my friend Luke and I had a lot of work to catch up on, so I just stayed in for most of Thursday and Friday. I got back to the gym and started eating salads again.
On Thursday, I finished up Episode 16 of my podcast and was happy with the way it turned out. As always, I’m behind with it, but it takes a look at the history of the eastern half of Florida. It starts with the story of Jacksonville based band Lynyrd Skynyrd and their meteoric rise to stardom, which helped create the genre of Southern Rock. It then goes into the history of Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas, a tiny outpost at the very end of America with a fascinating story behind it. Then I tell the story of the Plumage Wars, a battle between bird feather hunters and environmentalists at the turn of the last century which resulted in the formation of our National Wildlife Refuge System. Next is the story of Sydney Poitier, Hollywood’s first black leading man. Finally is the tragic story of the Groveland Four, four young black men who were accused of a crime they didn’t commit, and how their trial unfolded. The podcast also features the wonderful music of Florida Singer-Songwriter Laney Jones. Be sure you check it out HERE, or by searching “American Anthology” wherever you get your podcasts.
Happy to have finished up that episode, I treated myself to a wonderful dinner at Jacques Imo’s, a great little uptown haunt which is always busy. I managed to find a seat at the bar and get a wonderful piece of drum for my dinner. From there, I headed down to Le Bon Temps to see the Soul Rebels in their regular Thursday night show. I’m getting too old for these shows that start at 11, but I made an exception this time. I’m glad I did because it’s been forever since I was there and I really enjoyed it.
Friday I laid low all day, trying to catch up on editing some Mardi Gras photos and get some posts up on my blog. I did get out for a few beers at Snake and Jake’s though, which is always a good time.
Saturday I was up early to hit the gym and do a little shopping. In the afternoon, I headed to the wedding of an old friend at NOLA Brewery. It was a wonderful wedding and I was so happy to be able to attend. I got to see some old friends I haven’t seen in a long time and catch up on what they’re up to. The wedding itself was short, the beer was excellent and whoever they got to cater it did an amazing job. After the wedding we went to the Buddha Belly Bar and partied well into the night.
In fact, we partied too far into the night, making Sunday morning less than stellar. I had planned on taking off from New Orleans some time on Sunday, but by noon I realized that was probably not going to happen. I spent the day hanging out at Luke’s place and recovering, watching Bar Rescue on TV and drinking lots of water.
Monday, however, I did finally get out of New Orleans. New Orleans is such a safe and familiar harbor that I always find it difficult to leave. I’ve spent some really good (and some really difficult) times there. This was a good stay which allowed me to catch up with some friends, enjoy Mardi Gras, spend time with family and finish up some projects I’ve needed to get done. But it was way past time to go by the time I finally rolled out of the Crescent City, destination: Grand Isle.
Route 1 took me from Houma down through the bayous of Jefferson County, paralleling the Bayou Lafourche to its terminus in the Gulf of Mexico. This is definitely a wet part of the country, full of bayous and lakes, and the water is pretty high for this time of year. There is some concern from the locals because there is a lot of snow up north which hasn’t started melting yet, and you can see the swollen waterways edging up the banks. It was a neat ride, though, with lots of tugboats and shrimping and fishing boats along the way. I stopped often to take photos of these old vessels on an absolutely beautiful, sunny afternoon. I also spotted a tree full of roseate spoonbills along the way which was amazing.
I made my way first out to Port Fourchon, Louisiana’s southernmost port and a big jumping-off point for much of the state’s massive offshore oil industry. It was big and industrial, but I still managed to find a few beautiful old homes and boats to photograph.
From there I headed out to Grand Isle, the “Cajun Riviera”. An Isle it may be, but “grand” may be a bit of an overstatement. Dark, hard packed sand butted up to brown, cloudy water, but it was still a beach and it’s always good to be at the beach. Lots of rental properties and a handful of bars and restaurants were around, but not much else. It was pleasant enough, but if I were coming from New Orleans, I would definitely head east to the beach instead. Out on the end of Grand Isle is tiny Grand Isle State Park, a cute little park with a small campground and a fishing pier. One of the best parts of the park is that you can set up your tent right on the beach, something you can do less and less these days around the country. I jumped at the opportunity to sleep with the sounds of the ocean and hurried to get my tent up before sunset. I spent an hour or two in my van trying to get some more work done, and then made my way back to the beach for the night.
It turned out to be a windy night, with the nylon on my tent whipping around and making plenty of noise. Add to that the nearby industry, and then beach groomers which came out an hour before dawn and drove right by us loud and bright, and it was not the most restful night I’ve ever had. It was still nice to wake up on the beach though. After the sun came up, I crawled into my van and slept another hour, one of the benefits to being self-employed.
When I got up, I headed back up Route 1 to Houma, grabbed lunch and went for a stroll around town. It was cute enough, but there wasn’t much to it. I took a few photos, hit the gym for an hour and then made my way out of town.
I took a long, leisurely, late afternoon drive down the 182 to Morgan City. It was a beautiful, sunny afternoon and the road was an amazing cross-section of the state. For all of the first stretch, it ran parallel to Bayou Black, a beautiful old waterway. These bayous were the main means of transport in early Louisiana, so many of the old towns and farms in the south of the state are found along their routes . The road traveled past schools and churches, large plantation houses and plywood shacks of the very poor. There were lots of birds to look at and even a snapping turtle crossing the street slowly and deliberately. Around Amelia, it crossed the massive and industrial Avoca Island Cutoff, and seeing an old and huge paddle-wheeler from the bridge, I had to detour to check it out. It turned out to be the massive Amelia Belle Casino with two floors of gaming and a very inexpensive buffet. I was disappointed there was no outdoor access to any of the decks, but I guess they don’t need any jumpers. I lost $10 at Keno and then got back on the road. As the 182 approached Morgan City, oil industry plants started appearing, and the strip-clubs and casinos that go along with them. The road dropped me into downtown Morgan City, which had a waterfront reminiscent of an older time along the Atchafalaya River. While sadly not much was going on downtown, it was still neat to drive through.
I crossed the river, and saw a tiny little seafood shack with a lot of cars around it, a promising sign on a Tuesday night if ever there was one. I stopped in to Bayou Lagniappe for a cup of gumbo and a half a shrimp poboy and both were really good. My belly full of delicious Cajun food, I headed on to Walmart for the night. I have been staying with friends for the last few weeks, which has been amazing, but pulling back into a Walmart parking lot was like coming home in a way. After 16 months on the road with 90% of that time sleeping at Walmart, it’s become familiar and welcoming. You never know what will happen in the night when you’re “boondocking”, but Walmart is usually a pretty safe and quiet bet and I sleep well when I’m there.
Today I got up and headed back downtown in Morgan City. I started the day with a walk along the flood wall, and realized just how high the river is. You could see the waterfront park’s ground was completely submerged with just the tops of the benches and trashcans visible above the waterline. It certainly was an excellent argument for the flood wall being there. After wandering around downtown for a bit, I made my way out to the International Petroleum Museum, also known as Mr. Charlie or simply “The Rig”. The Rig was the first movable, and therefore the first reusable, oil rig in the country. Among today’s deep water rigs, it’s pretty obsolete, so it’s open for tours, training and the occasional TV or movie appearance. Admission ($8) included a guided tour which takes you through the rig and the entire process of drilling and extracting oil. It was fascinating, and is definitely an important part of Louisiana industry. When I asked our guide why, with Louisiana producing so much oil, there was still so much abject poverty in the state he told me it was a good question. He likened it to the casinos which were supposed to fund the state’s education system but have left Louisiana still at the bottom of the ladder in education, a situation I understand all too well as a former Louisiana teacher.
After my tour, I stopped into the tiny but highly rated Rita Mae’s for a bowl of gumbo. I’ve been to this spot before, but it has always been too busy to get in. My gumbo was so good I definitely understand why. From there, I hopped back on the 182 out of town. Today it took me through farm country, past antebellum homes and some wonderful small towns, including lovely Historic Franklin. This stretch follows Bayou Teche, one of the most important of Louisiana’s bayous, as is evidenced by some of the magnificent homes on its banks.
I probably should have stayed on the 182 on to New Iberia, but I decided on the 83 instead, a not-so-interesting road, but still better than the highway. I looped around and then dropped down to Avery Island to tour the factory of one of Louisiana’s best known products: Tabasco. Every bottle of Tabasco in the world, which is now available in over 180 countries, comes from tiny Avery Island. The self-guided tour was pretty interesting, taking you through the process of creating Tabasco Sauce in the museum and then visiting the greenhouses, barreling and bottling facilities. In the little store you could also try all of their products including Tabasco soda and ice cream (blah to both in my opinion). It is certainly worth a look if you are in the area, and at $5 it’s pretty reasonable.
From there, I made my way here to New Iberia to finish up some work and edit some photos and get this week’s post done. I’ll be here for the night, and then head west in the morning. I’m looping south tomorrow and then will probably make my way up to Lake Charles by Friday. Depending on whether I think it’s as wonderful as Lucinda Williams’ friend did, I may stick around for a day or two before heading north from there. I’ll be making my way up the west of the state to Natchitoches and Shreveport and really looking forward to both as I’ve only passed through the region before. I’m not sure where I’ll be by this time next week, but it’ll be somewhere up there. It looks like the weather will clear up, which is always good, and it should be another week ahead. It’s great to be back on the road where I belong. Although Mardi Gras has me a bit worn out on the party front, it is St. Patrick’s Day this weekend, so there may be a wee drop of Guinness in the plan as well. Either way, I’ll be enjoying the longer days and warmer weather and, as always, trying to make the best of my time. I hope you’re all putting the extra hour to good use as well, and I look forward to seeing you right back here next week. Thanks, as always, for reading and have a great week out there y’all.
P.S. Here’s a LINK to the map of this week’s journey.