If you’ve been following along with this blog, you know I have visited some truly stunning small towns along the way. I don’t think any of them can compare, however, to beautiful Natchitoches, Louisiana. While you probably won’t be able to pronounce the name, you can’t help but be drawn in by this beautiful old colonial town on the banks of the Cane River. Originally established as a trading post by French explorers, the town gets its name from the Natchitoches Indians who lived in the area and traded with the colonists. The town was officially established in 1714 and would pass from the French to the Spanish and finally to the United States after the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. Natchitoches has all of these cultures on display through its architecture and cuisine. I was especially impressed that the town has its own full time horticulturist who creates and cares for the wonderful flower displays which are placed all over the historic district. I love flowers and these really add to the charm and beauty of the town. Everyone I met during my stay was friendly and helpful and proud of their little corner of the state. Natchitoches is home to some charming B&B’s, delightful restaurants and beautiful places to walk and sit and enjoy the atmosphere. If you ever find yourself looking for an escape from the grind of the city, Natchitoches will definitely take you back a different era and a simpler pace of life. In my very humble opinion, it is the prettiest small town in the South.
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These photos come from the Creole plantations located along the Cane River in northeastern Louisiana. Even reading that sentence back makes me smile as it sounds as remarkably Southern as it is. The word “Creole” is a complicated one, as it has evolved over time. Technically it means something which comes from the new world but with old world roots. People born in Louisiana of Spanish and French decent were referred to as “Creoles”. The word also encompassed architecture and food born in the region but using traditional knowledge. Today, it tends to mean people of mixed heritage including those of European, African and Native American descent. Regardless, these early settlers to the region began mostly as subsistence farmers and over time grew into large plantation owners. As cotton became king in the south, many of these plantations got on board, purchasing hundreds of enslaved people to do their manual labor. The plantations grew and thrived. After the Civil War and the the 13th Amendment to the Constitution freed the slaves, many stayed on as sharecroppers and tenant farmers, as the plantation and cotton were the only things they had ever known. Some of these plantations remained in business into my lifetime owned and worked by generation after generation of people from the same families.
The first photos in this collection come from the Magnolia Plantation, a part of Cane River Creole National Historical Park. Once owned by the LeComte Family, this large plantation was worked by 275 enslaved people in its heyday. While the Big House is still owned by the family and is closed to visitation, the overseer’s house, plantation store, blacksmith shop, cotton gin building and slave cabins are all open to the public as part of the park. I especially enjoyed learning about the “pigeonnier”, a pigeon coup in which their droppings were used as fertilizer and baby pigeons were sometimes eaten as a delicacy. Today only 8 of the original 71 slave cabins remain, but were occupied by plantation workers until 1970. This plantation is fascinating to wander around and learn about the people who lived there…
Happy Spring from Natchitoches, Louisiana. I’m writing this on the 20th, so it is officially spring, and it feels like it here in the South. Flowers are blooming, the sun is shining, and with the longer days, it is a great time to be outside. I’ve been trying to make some headway this week, traveling to the far southwest of Louisiana and then up the west side of the state. It’s been a great week of beaches, plantations and really cool small towns. I’ve had some great Creole food and met some wonderful people. It has been another amazing week on the road in America.
After I wrote last week’s post, I had a quiet night in New Iberia, but ventured downtown in the morning to see what I could see. I was really glad I did. The downtown area is in the midst of a comeback with many of the storefronts occupied and it had a great vibe to it. It’s a cute little area, and I hope they keep working on bringing it back. I started my day with a visit to the wonderful Bayou Teche Museum right in the heart of downtown. The museum focused on the bayou which runs through the middle of New Iberia and connects points further north to the Atchfalaya River. It was a major thoroughfare in early Louisiana and was the impetus for the settlement of the area. At this point, I’ve been in a lot of small town museums, and this one was particularly well done. There were enough artifacts to be thorough but not cluttered, and enough interactivity to keep from being boring. I really enjoyed learning more about the rural jazz of the region and the ride down the “elevator” into the salt mine made me smile. There was an excellent film on the history of the region as well. The ladies working there were wonderful and happy to talk about their town…
I’ve always been intrigued by Grand Isle. When I lived in New Orleans a decade ago, I always wanted to make the 2 hour drive down Route 1 along Bayou Lafourche and check it out, but other things always took my attention elsewhere. I was very happy to finally make the trip. While Grand Isle itself was pleasant enough, it really was the drive that captured my attention and my lens. The fishing and shrimping boats, tugs and bait shops along the way were intensely photogenic and I really loved trying to capture them. They are emblems of hard work and a hard life along the bayous of southeast Louisiana, but also a proud people and a strong maritime tradition. The state is forever linked to the Gulf of Mexico which it borders and the seafood and oil it provides, both in massive quantities. I loved the drive down, through Golden Meadow and Leeville, Port Fourchon and finally Grand Isle. This is a ride which will live in my memory for a long time. I hope you enjoy these photos from the road to Grand Isle.
There are a LOT of photos in this post. Mardi Gras parades in Louisiana are some of the most vivid, colorful, vibrant, sensory overloading events in the whole world. The colors, the costumes, the floats, the music and the excitement are all overwhelming. They are joyful and happy events marking the biggest celebration of the year in the state. Photographing them is a true joy, and all of these photos make me extremely happy. In these photos I want to show you the floats, the riders, the spectators, the bands and walking groups that make up the Mardi Gras parades. There are also a few of my favorite kind of Mardi Gras shot - trying to capture beads in mid-air between thrower and catcher. There are six parades featured in this post. The first is the Krewe of Slidellians from Slidell, Louisiana. The following night parade is from the Krewe of Rio in Lafayette. The next daytime parades were the Krewe of Carrolton followed by the Krewe of King Arthur on the same day taken from Lee Circle in New Orleans. There are two photos from the Krewe of Nyx nighttime parade in New Orleans, and finally are a few from the huge Spanish Town parade in Baton Rouge, the pinkest event I’ve ever witnessed. I know there are probably too many photos for one post here, but it was hard to cut it down to just the ones I included. I hope you enjoy them and I hope you can feel the excitement and happiness I tried to capture here. More than anything, I hope they make you smile.
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 laid low on Thursday and Friday. I got back to the gym and started eating salads again. I did edit a lot of Mardi Gras photos though, with more to come, and created a few posts about my New Orleans experiences.
It was wonderful to be back in Louisiana for the end of the Mardi Gras season this year. I got out to see parades in several different towns, and then made my way back to New Orleans for Fat Tuesday itself. It’s a wonderful time of year to be in Louisiana, and for those who have never been, it is so much more than the booze fueled tourist mess you’ve seen on COPS and Girls Gone Wild. It’s full of food and fun and family, parades throwing beads and stuffed animals to kids sitting atop ladders, good vibes and a chance to let your hair down and relax. I needed to let my hair down and relax a bit this time around, and Mardi Gras has been just the cure to the February blues I needed.
I started my Mardi Gras this year with a quiet walk through the French Quarter just after 8 a.m. I was surprised at how few people were out and how quiet it was. The street cleaners were just finishing up on Bourbon Street which gleamed in the morning sun. Jackson Square was empty and there were plenty of open seats at Cafe du Monde. I always love walking around the French Quarter early in the morning, but it was amazing to see it cleaned up and waiting for the revelers to come out and play…
It was amazing to be back in Louisiana for Mardi Gras this year. I got to catch parades in Lafayette, Baton Rouge, Slidell and New Orleans, and spent Fat Tuesday in the Big Easy with friends. One of the best parts of Mardi Gras are the wonderful costumes people wear. Much like Halloween, you can go as absolutely anything for Mardi Gras, and people do. My favorites are always the really colorful and intricate costumes, especially those that are handmade and obviously took a long time to create. I spent much of the day wandering around the French Quarter, Marigny and Bywater neighborhoods trying to catch the spirit of the day through people’s costumes. I hope you enjoy these photos of my favorite Mardi Gras costumes from 2019 in Louisiana.
It has been a whole week of Mardi Gras celebrations here in Louisiana, culminating in the big day itself, Fat Tuesday, on Tuesday, March 5th. It’s been an amazing week full of fun, friends, food, music, parades and all that jazz. It’s also the kind of week that you’re sad to see end, but know your body sees differently. It was great to be back in Louisiana for Mardi Gras this year as the last time I was here for Mardi Gras was 2015.
After I wrote last week, I did not, in fact get out of New Orleans. It is way too easy for me to get stuck here, and that is exactly what happened. But in a good way, for sure. Wednesday night after I finished up last week’s post, I went out to see the Nyx parade which was a lot of fun. One of my friends was riding in it, so she dropped me a hand decorated purse, the prized throw from that parade.
Thursday I recorded my podcast, which will be done and published by this time next week. After that, I relaxed for the rest of the morning and early afternoon. It was nice to just relax at my friend Luke’s house and watch TV and take a nap. I don’t get a lot of days like that out here on the road, and I knew a big weekend was coming, so I took advantage of it. I did make it out to the Muses parade in the evening though, which is always a lot of fun.
The history of the Mardi Gras Indians is shrouded in mystery. They have been parading through the streets of New Orleans for well over a hundred years in elaborate, hand-made costumes which take the entire year to create. It’s believed that the Mardi Gras Indian Tribes came to be because most African American New Oreanians didn’t feel they had a place in traditional New Orleans’ Mardi Gras parades. Each Tribe represents a specific neighborhood, and spends thousands of hours creating their costumes which will generally only be worn on Mardi Gras Day and St. Joseph’s Day. The Tribe will emerge early on Mardi Gras morning and take to the streets, marching to meet other Tribes and engage in ritualistic battles and compare costumes. Since the Big Chief of the Tribe determines the route their march will take, they aren’t known or advertised so you have to be lucky to come across them. I felt very lucky to see this Tribe, representing the 9th Ward, on Mardi Gras Day and follow them up St. Bernard St. for a ways. Their costumes put all other Mardi Gras costumes to shame, and their history and tradition is some of the most mysterious and fascinating in all of New Orleans’ folklore. The best time to see the Mardi Gras Indians, though, is during their St. Joseph’s Day Parade. On that day, many of the Tribes descend on A.L. Davis Park to march through the streets one last time in their regalia before they start designing next year’s costumes. I hope you enjoy these photos of the Mardi Gras Indians.
It’s been a pretty local but wonderful week here in Louisiana. My folks were here most of the week, so we’ve been out exploring together. It was wonderful to spend some time with them, but they sure did wear me out! While most of our time was spent in New Orleans, we did get out into Acadiana (Cajun Country) for two great nights as well.
It is always great to be back in New Orleans. I lived here for two full years from 2007-2009, trying to help the city recover from Hurricane Katrina. I taught 8th Grade math at Francis Gregory Elementary School in one of the most challenging but rewarding chapters of my life. I made some really good friends and forged a lifelong bond with the Crescent City. The culture, music, people and food get inside of you, and I always feel drawn back here.
While my folks were in town, I stayed at my friend Walker’s house. Walker is a New Orleans native, and started teaching when I did back in 2007. He’s changed schools a couple of times, but is still teaching here. Back when I lived in New Orleans, we both lived in the French Quarter, and got to hang out a lot together. He often invited me along to events I would have never known about on my own, so I am very grateful to him for helping me navigate the city during my time here. It’s always great to see him and catch up on all the New Orleans gossip and get a first-hand account of what he school system is up to. I was really busy with my folks, so we didn’t get to hang out a lot, but it was definitely good to see him.
And just like that, Florida is behind me. I had a wonderful 6 week stay in the Sunshine State and really learned a lot about it. It is a huge state, so I had to plan out my journey and make some decisions early on, and the biggest decision I made was to cut out the big cities. While I did stop in Orlando and Miami to catch up with people, I generally spent my time in smaller towns and state and national parks. This gave me an interesting look at the state and a new perspective and appreciation for all it has to offer. While I plan on writing more of my thoughts on Florida this coming week, suffice it to say I enjoyed myself. I spent the last few days in Florida in the panhandle, and then made a mad dash across Alabama and Mississippi to Louisiana. It’s almost time for Mardi Gras, and it is great to be back in New Orleans.
After we parted ways last week, I did indeed head on to Destin. I’ve always liked Destin with it’s fine white sand beaches and beautiful warm blue water. We used to escape to Destin from New Orleans when we needed an escape. It’s not the cheapest place to be, but there are some good restaurants, plenty of amenities and beautiful sunset views. I didn’t do much in Destin other than enjoy some long walks along the beach, put my toes in the water and do some writing for my podcast, but I sure enjoyed the two days I was there…