Creole Nature Trail – Part 2

One of the most scenic drives in Louisiana is the Creole Nature Trail in the southwestern edge of the state. We did the western half of it in 2013, but decided to do the eastern portion of it a few weeks ago. It was Christmas Day so many of the stops were not open.

Abbeville, LA

As we left Lafayette, we headed south on Highway 167 to Abbeville, La – a small town in Vermillion parish. The main claim to fame is the Palmetto Island State Park, but we didn’t have time to visit. The highway led us through the town square and around the Vermillion Parish courthouse. It’s my favorite style of archictecture, much like the style of famed architect A. Hays Town. It was no suprise when I later learned that Mr. Town built the Greek-Revival building in 1953.

Vermillion Parish Courthouse

 

DSC_0020

The Louisiana State Bird (the Pelican) dressed as Santa across from the courthouse

DSC_0016

Abbeville had beautiful churches. This is 100 year-old St. Mary Magdeline Church.

Leaving Abbeville was a bit confusing. We saw a sign for a detour but didn’t realize it was meant for us. Sure enough – about three miles south of Abbeville, the bridge was closed and we had to turn back, go through Abbeville and go down the alternate route on the other side of the bayou for a few miles. Once, we were back on LA 82, we explored the eastern spur of the Creole Nature Trail.

DSC_0022

The first part of the route was pretty much like the picture above – flat. Without the electric wires, you would think you were on the edge of the earth. In reality – we were as the Gulf of Mexico was just a few miles south of us. We passed rice fields, as well as the Rockerfeller Wildlife Refuge – a 74,000 acre area devoted to alligator research. As we crossed into Cameron Parish, we looked at the Creole Nature Trail app and were able to listen to the audio guide explaining the sites we were passing. The area was flat, but then large groups of trees, called chenieres, started appearing. As we drove into the unincorporated community of Grand Cheniere, we learned that these are unique to the Cajun coast. The word comes from the Acadian word, Chene – meaning oak. And that’s what they were, groups of live oak trees that appeared sporadically along the highway.

DSC_0023

DSC_0025

DSC_0029

As we entered the community of Oak Grove, we could take the more popular route of the Creole Nature Trail north up to Lake Charles – passing the Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge, but we chose to hug the coast the entire way. The first stop was Rutherford Beach.

DSC_0033

The road to Rutherford Beach. A mile later, we saw a group of people fishing.

 

The Gulf of Mexico in Louisiana

The Gulf of Mexico in Louisiana – Rutherford Beach

DSC_0040

DSC_0038

Hurray for portable bathrooms as there was not much in the way of facilities.

Hurray for portable bathrooms as there was not much in the way of facilities.

 

We stayed on the spur to go to the town of Cameron. I had always heard of this town and how it had been destroyed by Hurricane Audrey in the late 1950’s. Recently, both Hurrican Rita and Ike ravaged the town – the latter leveling 90% of the homes. Today, it has a population of only 406.

Cameron Parish Courthouse

Another view of the Cameron Parish Courthouse

Leaving Cameron, we realized that we had to cross the Calcasieu Ship Channel – and there was no bridge! Thankfully, ferry service ran every half hour even on holidays. For the small sum of $1 a car, we boarded the ferry. Unfortunately, passengers weren’t allowed out of the vehicles so we couldn’t get better pictures.

Crossing the Calcasieu Ship Channel

 

The channel connects Lake Charles to the Gulf of Mexico

The channel connects Lake Charles to the Gulf of Mexico

I can’t say it was the prettiest part of the trip, but it is Louisiana and most of the economy is due to oil. The ferry ride took no more than seven minutes and we were on our way. Once we got to Holly Beach, we saw the turn-off for the other part of the Creole Trail on La 27. Back in 2013, we had driven the western spur from Port Arthur, Tx to Holly Beach and then north on La 27 through the Sabine National Wildlife Refuge including the Wetlands Walkway, up through Hackberry and then to Lake Charles.

As we continued on the western spur towards Port Arthur, we agreed that the trail is extremely scenic. It’s a part of Louisiana I had never seen – expecially the cactus that appeard on the side of the road.

Cactus in Louisiana. Who knew?

Cactus in Louisiana. Who knew?

DSC_0068

 

 


Mardi Gras Mambo

“Throw me something mister!”

A float from Krewe of Iris Parade

A float from Krewe of Iris Parade

We took the kids to their first Mardi Gras in the Big Easy.

Kids? Mardi Gras? Do those two even go together?

010287ce07de56ac06ffc1c99525e7940c50745ecb

It can, depending on which parades and where you go to see them.

When I went to my first Mardi Gras parade as an LSU grad student, I was amazed at how family-friendly the daytime parades could be. Everyone back home kept asking me incrediously, “You went to Mardi Gras? Wasn’t it crazy – full of debauchery and strippers?” Unfortunately, that’s a typical reaction, not only for Northwestern Louisiana, but pretty much the rest of the country.

019f2e8d9fcfc1b7558258bf8ccbb18a4d4b4b5043

The Krewe of Iris is the only all-female Krewe.

We went to the daytime parades of Iris and Tucks, which are held the Saturday before the actual Mardi Gras day. The weekend parades just before Fat Tuesday have always been my favorite and since it coincided with President’s Day holiday this year, we decided it was time to go back.

These parades start in Uptown and travel down St. Charles Avenue – far away from the French Quarter. We stood on St. Charles near the intersection of Constantinople. We were about two blocks from Sacred Heart Academy whose annual fundraiser sells food and offers their portable bathroom facilities for $5 a wristband or $1 per bathroom visit; a bargain if you ask me.

010540091d009f9e0061a4781cecc868c7ab5ba385

The Krewe of Iris parade started at 11 am, so we arrived about 10 am to find a spot. Tents, grills and tarps marked spaces for large groups along the neutral ground Рthe median area in the middle of St. Charles.  On the other side, chairs and people lined up but there was much more space. Some residents temporarily fenced in their front yards to the sidewalk to keep parade-goers out and to reserve their own space for only their invited guests.

 

Ladders with a decorated box on top – for kids to sit in – lined both sides of the street. Dads and sons threw footballs in the street. We were in a residential area filled with families.

Notice all the kids behind us

Notice all the kids behind us on specially decorated ladders.

Before the parade. Notice the beads stuck in the tree from the previous night's parade.

Before the parade. Notice the beads stuck in the tree from the previous night’s parade.

Further up towards St. Charles and Napoleon, college kids from nearby Tulane and Loyola, crowded the area. People wore colorful costumes, tutus, wigs. My children dared me to don a gold sequin jacket somebody had given me as a gift. Where else besides and LSU game can I wear it?

After the first parade, a small walking parade came through before the Tucks parade.

IMG_0744

Part of the walking parade between Iris and Tucks

 

IMG_0739

One of our friends was part of the walking parade.

 

Part of the walking parade featured this group scooting around on recliners to Frant Sinatra music.

Part of the walking parade featured this group scooting around on recliners to Frank Sinatra music.

The Krewe of Tucks is known for its irreverence and toilet humor. Throws include toilet paper, beads with a latrine, small toilet plungers, as well as the typical colorful beads, cups, stuffed animals and frisbees. It was still tame.

IMG_0747

A float from Tucks Parade

We opted not to go to the night-time parade of Endymion – only because the kids were tired. Leaving New Orleans, we could see cars pouring into the city. We remembered that the night parades are more crowded and usually rowdier – especially those like Endymion that go closer to downtown. We made the right decision and called it a day.

IMG_0741

A great day!