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…
When I arrived in Shreveport, my first impression was that I had found Biff Tannen’s alternate future from Back to the Future II. Massive casinos line both sides of the Red River and the Hustler Club is prominently placed nearby. The streets were empty and the rest of town appeared to be falling apart, except for the outet mall across the river which seemed to be the place to go.. As I looked closer though, I started to find Shreveport’s hidden gems. The Noble Savage Tavern on Texas Street, for example, where great local food, drinks and music are only made better by the excellent staff. Or at Strawn’s Eat Shop out on King’s Highway, where I got the best slice of pie I’ve ever had in my life (their strawberry ice box pie). Then I started spotting some of the lovely murals and public art projects around town and I started to come around on the place. Finally I went to two wonderful local festivals where I ate well, heard some great music and met many of the wonderful people that live there. Shreveport took a major hit when Standard Oil left town in the eighties, but seems to me on the upswing. There are some beautiful old buildings around town, though many are in desperate need of repair. There is much to love about the Ratchet City, but much like a great blues song you need to look a little deeper to see what makes it special. I hope you enjoy these photos from my visit to Shreveport.
This past weekend I really enjoyed attending the Battle of the Gumbo Gladiators cook-off while I was in Shreveport. The festival, which was held downtown at Festival Plaza, featured over 40 teams vying for the title of Ultimate Gumbo Gladiator. Each team had to prepare at least 8 gallons of gumbo on-site and they were required to make their roux from scratch. There were four categories to compete in: Seafood, Chicken and Sausage, Lagniappe (any gumbo not falling into the other two categories), and the People’s Choice gumbo which received the most votes from the attendees. This event was really fun and well organized and I certainly got my fill of great gumbo while I was there. I was sorry I only got to try about 20% of the different gumbos, but there is only so much you can eat. This event went to benefit the Volunteers for Youth Justice which helps young people in crisis. It’s always a real pleasure to attend these local events as I travel, and this was a particularly good one. Thank you, Shreveport, for your hospitality and for some amazing gumbo. I hope you enjoy these photos of the Gumbo Gladiators…
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.
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.