A Year on the Road

On August 25 we hit an anniversary – one year of traveling with our RV on the road!   We reached this date while staying at Boston Minuteman Campground, located in Massachusetts.   I thought it was interesting that Massachusetts was our 25th state to visit, so we are now halfway through our goal of visiting all the states.  To clarify, we won’t be able to visit them all – Hawaii is out of reach and at this time we don’t have the desire to make the long trek to Alaska, but the remaining 23 seem to be doable.  It has been quite a year – we have stayed in 49 different campgrounds, visited many historical sites, museums, National Parks, State Parks, towns, cities and attractions.  Below is another picture of our anniversary site, with perhaps the tallest and densest trees we have camped under!

During this past year we visited the Black Hills and Badlands of South Dakota, listened to folk music in Arkansas and Cajun music in Louisiana.   We saw the swamps and bayous of the South and antebellum mansions in Mississippi.   In Alabama we camped right next to the waters of Mobile Bay and enjoyed the turquoise ocean and white sands of the Florida Panhandle.   We walked the historic streets and sat in the squares of Savannah, Georgia.  While in South Carolina we visited the only tea plantation in America and discovered lots of history in the narrow streets of Charleston.  While traveling through Virginia we saw the homes of former presidents and the first colony at Jamestown.  We explored Philadelphia with family and camped in the Amish country of Pennsylvania.  In Maine we visited a new National Park and on scenic drives admired miles of rocky coastline.   We discovered beautiful waterfalls in New Hampshire’s White Mountains and traveled up to the tallest mountain in the Northeast.   These are just a few of the many highlights during a year of exploring and learning much about this wonderful country we are blessed to call home.   In the picture below, we got a warm welcome when arriving to our park near Mobile, Alabama.

I was thinking recently how different each state is as they each have their own look, “feel” and culture.   I can just tell I am in a different state and not because of the welcome sign on the road.  They really have their own uniqueness and that is one of the things that makes exploring such an adventure.  There is always that anticipation of what the next state will be like and what we will find there.   During our year of travel, a few of the states we had visited before, but most were new to us and there has been much to appreciate in every state we have been.   Some touched a special place in my heart and I found myself a little sad when leaving.  But I always reminded myself that there would be more memorable and special places to come and this has truly happened.   It can be hard to leave a great place behind, but without moving on, we would not have explored 25 remarkable states.  Below is a picture of the park we stayed at in Louisiana, one of our favorite states and the place where we experienced a surprise snow storm in December.

So, traveling and sightseeing aside, how has it been living in a 21-foot trailer?   It can certainly be a challenge.   The lack of space for all our things is probably the biggest challenge but there are others.   The ability to move around freely inside and spread out is tough.   Our comfort is compromised, my days of lounging on the couch like I did at home while watching a movie or reading a book are a thing of the past.   Trying to prepare food and cook in a small kitchen area can at times elicit some groans from me as I struggle to manage the ingredients I am cutting up or finding space for a dish or pot.   Since our refrigerator is small we can only fit limited amounts of food so grocery shopping has to be more frequent.   When trying to find something in our long, deep food pantry, I often have to take stuff out and stack it on our bed, as I reach my arm into the dark space trying to feel for that can or box.

Above is a picture of a scene that awaited us when we arrived in Vermont, another challenge we have dealt with from time to time.   Although we try to secure everything when moving the trailer from one campsite to another, a few times we have found frozen food items on the floor or even one time a cabbage that somehow popped out from the refrigerator and ended up near our bed.   On one stop we found our large glass mixing bowl in pieces on the stovetop.   The shattered dishes pictured above we discovered after arriving in Vermont.   I didn’t expect Corelle Ware to break into so many tiny pieces.  We do use paper plates and bowls from time to time, but for some things dishes are better.

For the most part we have tried to stay at least a week or more every where we have been, but that time goes by so fast and it seems before we know it, it is time to pack up and move on to the next spot.   The life of a nomad is certainly an interesting one.   There are always new places and situations to become accustomed to.   We have been fortunate to find quiet and pleasant neighbors at every place we have stayed.   It has been nice to talk to other travelers and find out about their experiences, where they have come from and where they are traveling next.  Some have had some good tips on places to camp or attractions to visit.   It is always great to share expertise on the road!   We have met a few full time travelers, but most are seasonal who are only RVing for part of the year or taking a short vacation from their home.  The RV park owners and staff have also been kind and helpful and have never lost our reservations!  I have to admit that as we drove to each new location, I would wonder if this would be the time that we would be told, “Sorry, we don’t have a spot for you!”   We were blessed with few issues along the way that have hampered our progress.   Below is a picture from our last campground in Maine which featured a lovely area to sit and walk along the waterfront.

Where do we go from here?   Although I had good intentions, my blog has continued to be so behind, because I always have much I want to write about making it hard to keep up.   Although we left Maine the first part of August, I still have more to write about our time in that wonderful state.   We have since had shorter stays in New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts and our current spot in Rhode Island.   We will be visiting Connecticut next and then start making our way to the Appalachian and Blue Ridge Mountain states of West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and North Carolina.   We plan to visit those states through the rest of September, October and into early November.   We will then begin our trek back to California where we look forward to spending the holiday season.   Below is a sunset picture at our campground in New Hampshire.

We thank you for taking the time this past year to check out the blog and for the comments you have made.  It can get lonely on the road so it is much appreciated to hear from you!

The Banks of the Mississippi and Cotton Picking

In mid December we left the Lafayette area and traveled northeast to Riverview Park in Vidalia, Louisiana.  Our circuitous route took us over the Mississippi River on one of the most beautiful bridges of our trip, the Audubon Bridge (above) which opened in 2011.  Not too long after crossing the bridge we entered the state of Mississippi, the first time either of us have traveled in this state.  Of course we stopped at a very nice State Welcome Center for more brochures!   Although not advertised, you can stay overnight in your RV at Mississippi Welcome Centers.  They even had a 24 hour security guard with an office on site at the Center we visited.

When we reached the city of Natchez we crossed the river again back into Louisiana and soon arrived to our new camping spot on the banks of the Mississippi.  I was excited to be staying so close to the Mississippi!  My last time seeing this river was when I took a Road Scholar road and boat tour of the upper Mississippi several years ago.  I was also excited to be camping right across the river from Natchez, a historic city I have been wanting to visit for several years.   From our trailer we could easily access a paved trail that ran 1-1/2 miles along the river.  It was a great place for exercise and to watch the river traffic.

We frequently saw tugs pushing barges with their heavy loads.  There were also smaller craft having fun boating the river.  The path went under the bridge that carried traffic over to the state of Mississippi and Natchez.

While walking along we were able to read signs and learn more about the river and the city of Vidalia.  In 1927 the Great Mississippi River Flood inundated the town turning the streets into waterways with many residents evacuated by ferry to Natchez which is built on a hill. The Great Flood was one of the nation’s worst natural disasters and submerged more than 26,000 miles of land in seven states.  At least two months passed before the floodwater completely subsided.  This flood brought attention to the need for a better system of control with levees and floodways.  Below Mark looks out over the river with a view of Natchez on the opposite bank.

“Vidalia, a City on the Move” is now the slogan here.  In 1938 Vidalia was literally moved one mile inland due to flooding issues.  More than 100 buildings were either relocated or demolished and rebuilt in the new Vidalia.   Where this trail now stands, streets and buildings were once located.

Sunsets are one of my favorite things about RVing and we saw some pretty good ones along the Mississippi River.  This was my favorite sunset as the rosy sky was reflected in the water.

One evening while walking the path I took this picture.  I loved the golden reflection of the bridge in the water.

From our site we often heard the sounds of barges moving up or down the river.  If the sound was particularly loud, it usually meant a very large vessel.  Sometimes in the evenings we would hurry from the trailer to the riverbank to see what kind of barge was passing.   Our favorite sighting though, was when the Mississippi Queen Paddle-wheeler, one of the largest on the river today passed by heading down to New Orleans.   Mark caught a picture but it is difficult photographing a moving boat at night!

The day after we arrived I visited Frogmore, an 1800 acre working cotton plantation in Ferriday Louisiana founded in 1815.  This historic plantation has an antebellum house, general store, slave/sharecropper quarters, a church and an original cotton ginning operation.  Cotton is still grown on the plantation and processed in a modern plant down the road.  This is the only historic cotton plantation still operating in the south.

The tour began with a program in the church.  Dressed in period style, we had two singers performing songs typically sung by slave and sharecropping families in the south. The songs were interspersed with narration from Lynette, one of the owners of the property who gave information on slave history, culture, plantation life and sharecropping.  Our small audience was encouraged to sing along and play tambourines.

After leaving the church we toured the slave and sharecropper quarters.  The great thing about this place is that the buildings are originals and not recreations.  Below is a picture of one of the slave quarters.  They were designed to house two families which is the reason for the two doorways and windows.

There are a number of buildings here, but only a few are set up with period furnishings to view such as the one below which shows a typical sharecropper home.

Slaves were furnished with one or two sets of clothing.  Children wore long shirts with no pants.  Below is a picture of typical dress for women and children.

One of my favorite stories from this tour was about the hoecakes.  During breaks in the cotton fields slaves would make a fire.  Using their hoe, they placed a corn cake on the blade and put it in the ashes to bake.

Cotton is harvested in the fall before the danger of frost, so when I visited in mid December the fields were already cleared.  The plantation keeps one large patch of cotton growing so that visitors can experience picking cotton.

Our guide put on one of the long cotton sacks to show us how it was worn over the shoulder and invited us to try one on if we wished.   A slave was expected to pick about 200 pounds of cotton a day on average.  As their sacks filled they were emptied into baskets.

Picking cotton can be rough on the hands if you touch the cotton boll or protective hard case that surrounds the fluffy fibers.  Children make good cotton pickers because their small hands fit more easily between the bolls and the fibers.  I love touching the soft cotton.  Below is a picture of a boll with sharp pointy edges.

At the end of the day, the cotton picked from each slave is weighed at the overseers cabin to assess productivity.

Below is a picture of an overseers cabin with typical period furnishings.

We toured the historic cotton gin which still stands on the property and houses the original machinery from the 1800’s.

In 1793 Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin which greatly improved the cotton growing industry.  Before the gin, cotton seeds had to be separated from the fiber by hand.  Whitney’s hand cranked model (below) separated the cotton seeds using a wooden cylinder surrounded by rows of slender spikes.

This gin also has steam powered machines used to process larger quantities of cotton from beginning to baling.  Our tour guide Lynette showed us how each were once used.

After the cotton was cleaned it was compressed by a machine into bales.  The cotton bales at Frogmore were taken across the road to a bayou to be transported by boat.

In the 1930’s over 2,200 former slaves were interviewed as part of the Federal Writer’s Project, a division of the Works Progress Administration.  The purpose of the project was to record memories of slaves before they passed on and the opportunities were lost.  Guidelines were issued for interviewing and recording answers.  Books were compiled for each state.  I bought the Louisiana edition which had been edited by Frogmore’s owner at the general store.

This book includes 42 interviews of former slaves in Louisiana.  During interviews, most of the slaves were in their 80’s or 90’s with some over 100.  There were slaves that did not know their exact age as it had never been recorded.  This was a remarkable book to read and the memories that they retained after so many years was pretty incredible.  Their stories differed as slaves had a variety of experiences depending on where they lived, worked and the treatment they received from their masters, mistresses and overseers.

Visiting this plantation was a great prelude to our visits later in Natchez.   At one time, Natchez was one of the wealthiest cities in America boasting large homes and mansions built by plantation owners.

Thanks again for reading!   I will be doing more posts soon about exploring Natchez.  For the next post though I will talk about our travel plans for the coming four months as well as a look back at our first four months.

A Scenic Byway, Rip Van Winkle, Ginger Cakes and Racing Planes

Traveling scenic byways are a great way to see some of the best of a state.  In Louisiana, the Old Spanish Trail goes through Cajun country passing lovely small towns, bayous, sugarcane fields and old plantation homes.  We traveled sections of this byway on a few different days.  One of the first towns we visited was St. Martinville, settled in 1765 and one of Louisiana’s oldest cities.  The town became noteworthy after Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote the famous poem “Evangeline” in 1897.  The poem is about two Acadian exiles and lovers forced from their home in Nova Scotia and then separated.   The Evangeline Oak became the site of the meeting place of these lovers after many years.  Although the story is fictional, it illuminated the plight of the Acadians who were forced to leave their homeland in Canada and find other places to live.

The town has a beautiful church, St. Martin de Tours Catholic Church founded by a group of Acadian exiles.  The current structure was built in 1836.  Early property owners had to pay an annual rent to this congregation, a type of feudal system.

I find the cemeteries in Louisiana to be interesting.  Grave plots are above ground due to the high water table as seen in the St. Martinville graveyard above.

Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site preserves the grounds of a former cattle ranch and sugar plantation.  The Olivier Plantation home built in 1815 was owned by a wealthy Creole family.   Creoles are French descendants or of mixed European and African descent.  Because of their mixed heritage, the home reflects Creole, Caribbean and French influences.  A common practice was to have the kitchen in a separate building from the main residence to lessen the heat and food odors in the home.  It would be neat to have a plantation like this and live among big oaks like these below.

The park has an Acadian farmstead with longhorn cattle and gardens.  Loofah vines were growing all over the porch railings of this adorable furnished cabin from the early 19th century.  Years ago I once thought of growing loofah in my backyard garden and drying the sponges.  Seeing them here made me wish I had given it a try.

In another Acadian cabin on the property the roof is steeply pitched.  I learned that while living in Canada, the Acadians built their roofs in this style to keep the snow off.  They continued the style even after moving to this much warmer climate.  It was common for the cabins to have a ladder on the front porch leading to a loft for additional sleeping, usually younger males.

The Rip Van Winkle Gardens and Jefferson Mansion are a highlight when visiting southern Louisiana.  Mr. Jefferson was a renowned stage and silent film actor who played Rip Van Winkle, a character from the short story by Washington Irving.  Set in the Catskills mountains of New York, Rip was the fellow who fell asleep and woke up 20 years later finding the world had changed.   I decided to read the story since I had heard of Rip Van Winkle but couldn’t remember the details.

The mansion was built in 1870 as a winter retreat for Mr. Jefferson and is in a beautiful setting on a small hill surrounded by oaks, lawns and gardens.  Below I am standing by the Cleveland Oak which was named for President Grover Cleveland who liked to take naps under this 350 year old oak tree when he came to visit Jefferson.

While I toured the house with a guide, Mark took advantage of relaxing in a rocker on the large front porch.

The house and gardens located on an ancient salt deposit next to Lake Peigneur have an interesting history.  In 1980, an oil company accidentally drilled into the salt mine under the lake creating a hole and gigantic whirlpool so powerful that it sucked all the waters of the lake into the salt caverns.  A very large portion of the gardens also disappeared.  The gardens were restored but the property size was reduced from an original 65 acres to 25!  A home on the property was also destroyed and today you can still see the home’s chimney sticking up in the lake as a reminder of the disaster.

Probably the prettiest place we have eaten on our trip is Cafe Jefferson which has a wonderful view to the outside of the oaks, gardens and Lake Peigneur.  The food was delicious as well.  We enjoyed gumbo, eggplant with seafood casserole and bread pudding for dessert.  Below was our view.

The sub tropical gardens are designed with Asian inspired statuary.  The many plants include Camellias, bamboo, palms and hibiscus with peacocks roaming the area.

I really enjoyed seeing the banana plants as they brought back fond memories of my more tropical trips.  If I ever lived in a warm, frost free environment I am sure I would plant a banana plant or two!

On another day we hit the scenic byway again for further exploring.  This time we began with a visit to Le Jeune’s Bakery in the small town of Jeannerette.  I have already talked about Jeannerette in a previous post since the rice mill and sugar factory we visited are located there.  Le Jeune’s is known for their French bread which they have been baking since 1884.  The bakery has been in the same family for five generations using the same recipes.  The bakery lets people know when the bread is ready by turning on a red light above the store front.  In the picture below you can see the red light next to the sign.

When we visited, the bakery in front looked closed up.  We walked around to the side and found an entrance into a work room, not the typical bakery shop entrance we were expecting.  As we stood around awkwardly waiting for someone to help us the lone baker eventually came out to see what we wanted.  In addition to the French bread ginger cakes are popular.  Luckily there was a rack of fresh out of the oven ginger cakes cooling right there and we got two warm ones to go.

As I got into the truck clutching a loaf of warm French bread and ginger cakes, a woman appeared out of nowhere and tapped on the passenger window.  She said she saw me taking a picture of the front of the bakery and was the owner.  She asked if I would come back in, sign the guest book and let her show me around.  I went inside and she gave me a tour of the old fashioned office and baking area with flour mixing machines, tables and ovens, including the original oven (below) that is no longer used.

She talked about how rare it was to find a bakery baking original French bread here in Louisiana.  I asked about the ginger cakes and she said she couldn’t recall their origin, we have just “always made them.”  Mark came in from the truck munching on his ginger cake and said, “the ginger cakes are amazing, you better get more, four more!”  We left with a few more and continued our drive.

We headed to another interesting and unusual museum – the Wedell Williams Aviation and Cypress Sawmill Museum located in Patterson.  The museum covers Louisiana aviation pioneers Jimmie Wedell and Harry Williams who formed an air service and were also involved in air racing.  The museum has a number of small planes.   The golden age of air racing was during the early 1930’s.  In 1933, Jimmie broke the world speed record becoming the first pilot to exceed 300 mph.  The picture above is the plane that he flew.  Unfortunately he died of a plane crash in 1934.   Since it was during the Great Depression, the pilots served as heroes with the promise of an exciting new industry.

The museum has a great venue (above) where you can watch on several big screens the 1932 Cleveland National Air Races.

The other half of the museum (above) details cypress logging in Louisiana which was a major industry in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s until the trees were almost wiped out.  It is estimated that many trees over 1,000 and even 2,000 years old were cut down.  Cypress wood is much desired because of its durability and resistance to rot and insects.  The museum has a number of historic machines used in the logging industry.  Although I have little mechanical understanding (none Mark says) it was interesting to learn about how the trees were cut and transported on the waterways.  Below is a picture of a typical cypress log harvested in the early 1900’s and estimated to be 300 years old.

The Bateau boat pictured below was very versatile on the swamps and bayous.  Besides transportation, they were used for moss picking, fishing and to round up cypress timber for the steamboats to tow to the sawmills.

Although there have been friendly people in most places we have traveled, the people in Louisiana really stand out.  People like the owner of Le Jeune Bakery were so interested to share their culture and history and find out about our own travels.  We found friendly people that worked at our RV park, rangers and docents at parks and museums and people attending the music venues.  We even met one very friendly couple at the popular Mama’s Chicken while Mark was ordering deep fried Oreos.  We wound up visiting until the restaurant was closing.  We found Louisianans to be cheerful, fun loving and easy to talk to.  Some of the best people we have encountered so far!

Thanks for traveling on a scenic byway with us.  Are there any favorite byways you have traveled on?  We would love to hear from you!

Baton Rouge – Exploring Louisiana’s Capital

Staying in the Lafayette area was a great central location to see a variety of places.  Baton Rouge was only about an hour away and I didn’t want to miss seeing the capital city and the capitol building.

Our first stop in Baton Rouge was the old state capitol.  The building is 160 years old and built in the gothic style to look like a castle.  It housed the Louisiana State Legislature until the current capitol was built in 1932.  The building is now the Museum of Political History.  Although the museum has some interesting exhibits, I thought the best part was how beautiful the interior is.  I loved the spiral staircase and colorful stained glass dome.

The second floor had several meeting rooms that were decorated very nicely for Christmas.  The gothic architecture was wonderful here.

The museum has an interesting exhibit on Huey Long, the controversial Louisiana governor from 1928 – 1932 and later a senator.  He worked to modernize the state by building roads, bridges and providing better education to children.  His platform was “Share the Wealth” and he saw himself as the champion of the common man.   Interestingly, he was seen as a colorful figure and to some even a dictator because of his extreme methods.

We next visited the current state capitol building which was completed in 14 months at a cost of $5,000,000.  This building was the dream of Governor Long who pushed to have it built during an unusual time – the Great Depression.  Unfortunately he was murdered in this building three years later in 1935.  He is buried on the capitol grounds and his statue faces the capitol.  Below is a picture of me in front of the impressive tombstone and statue.

This state capitol is the tallest at 450 feet and to me it has a more modern  appearance than most of the other capitols I have visited.  The capitol of Nebraska which we visited several months ago has a similar modern style with tall tower.  Visitors can go to the 27th floor for views of the city and the Mississippi River.  There are 48 steps outside leading up to the first floor representing the 48 states that existed in the 1930’s when the Capitol was built.  Hawaii and Alaska were added later and share the top step.  It was neat to see this impressive building, but it didn’t grab me the way some of the others I have visited.

Memorial Hall on the main floor is a stunning room and was beautifully decorated for Christmas with a number of Christmas trees.  Eleven flags that have flown over all or parts of Louisiana hang from the balcony.  I learned that this building has served as a movie set on many occasions.

In a hallway outside the Governor’s office Huey Long was shot while serving as senator.  A bulls-eye marks the spot on the floor and a display case shows memorabilia from the incident including news articles and photos.  Investigations in 1935 and 1992 determined that he was shot by Dr. Carl Weiss who was believed to be against Mr. Long. The pistol that was used to shoot him is on display in the old State Capitol.  There has been much debate over the years as to how Huey was murdered and some believe that Dr. Weiss was not the murderer, but that one of Huey’s bodyguards accidentally shot him while Huey and Dr. Weiss were arguing.

A bullet hole is still visible in a marble column (below) and there are patches on the wall where bullets hit.

After seeing the capitol building, we went to the nearby Capitol Park Museum which is the Louisiana State Museum.  In the picture below, the capitol is reflected in the museum’s pool.

This museum is large and even after two hours I still didn’t have time to see much of the upper floor.  The museum showcases the major highlights of Louisiana:  Early explorers, battles, the Mississippi River, important industries like oil, agricultural products, musicians, authors, Mardi Gras costumes, sports and civil rights to name some of the exhibits.

Above is a picture of an original Civil War era submarine that was discovered in 1878 near New Orleans.  The origins and identity of the sub remain a mystery.  Only a few Civil War submarines have ever been recovered so this one is special.  This was one of our favorite exhibits.  The sub seemed so small and confining I can’t imagine the claustrophobia!  Some of the museum’s exhibits were full size like the two row sugarcane harvester, below.

Another full size exhibit is this 50-foot wooden shrimp trawler, significant since shrimping is a vital part of the state’s seafood industry and important to Louisiana’s Cajun culture.

The museum had some somber exhibits on slavery, an unfortunate reality of life at that time due to many cotton and sugar plantations.   Below is a picture of two actual jail doors used on slave pens at a plantation.

We finished up our day along the Mississippi River which runs by the city.  There is a walk way along the river to admire the views.  It was a great place to watch the river barges, bridge and sunset.   Below, Mark sits and takes in the view.

Thanks for checking in with us!

Enjoying Louisiana’s Beautiful Outdoors

I went on my first swamp tour almost five years ago at Honey Island near New Orleans.   I thought the swamp was so interesting and the boat ride lots of fun.  I loved seeing the cypress trees growing right in the dark water and all the hanging moss and dark mysterious places.   The alligators and wild pigs were lured to the boat with hot dogs and marshmallows on sticks so we were able to see them close up.  For our recent trip I was really looking forward to spending more time exploring Louisiana’s scenic places, especially the swamps.  Above is a picture of my trip with Champagne’s Cajun Swamp Tours on Lake Martin.

We spent a few peaceful hours boating around the swampy lake, weaving in and out of the trees and seeing so much beautiful scenery.  This tour was even more lovely than my first one at Honey Island.   In many places the water was carpeted with duckweed, a light green plant that covers the swamp and is rich in nutrients.  There was lots of Spanish moss hanging from the cypress trees.  This is not a true moss but an epiphyte that takes nutrients from the air and debris that collects on the trees or plants.   Historically moss was an important “crop” for settlers in Louisiana.  They gathered it in low bottomed boats and after drying, used it to stuff mattresses and pillows.  It was also mixed with mud and used in building homes.

Our friendly guide told us stories about the swamp.   One of the more interesting facts I recall is that insect repellant is not needed here because the Tupelo Gum trees secrete toxins into the water that mosquitos hate.  I researched further to see if this was in fact the case and found mixed opinions.    Mosquitos are a common pest while exploring in Louisiana and Mark and I had to fight them off a few times while walking around swampy areas.  Since it was late fall and cooler, the mosquitos are probably less active than spring and summer.  Someone jokingly stated, the mosquito is the state bird of Lousiana.

We saw more alligators on this trip than I was expecting since alligators tend to be less visible in the cooler months.  Most of the ones we saw were resting on fallen logs but some were also swimming about.  I got some good close ups with my long lens.  No marshmallows or hot dogs were used to lure these gators which is certainly healthier for them and they didn’t have to perform any silly antics like leaping out of the water for a treat.

The American alligator is the largest reptile in North America.  Most alligators average between eight and twelve feet long but a few have been found to reach 15 feet or more.  An alligator was reportedly found measuring 19 feet and weighing over 2,000 pounds, but this was many, many years ago and no photograph was taken for verification.

I read on the Smithsonian page that an alligator’s teeth are replaced when they wear down and that an alligator can go through 3,000 teeth in a lifetime.  The alligator lives about 50 years in the wild.  After they are four feet long, they are safe from predators except humans and occasionally other alligators.

We saw a variety of bird life including my favorite the Anhinga – an unusual and attractive looking bird with a long neck that I first saw in South Texas years ago during a birding trip.  Perhaps when my parents, Bob and Judy read this they will remember how we used to joke, “Beware the evil eye of the Anhinga.”  This was one of the birds I was looking forward to seeing and I got some good views of them.

The Bald Cypress is the state tree of Louisiana and is very common in swamps and bayous.  Although this tree is a part of the evergreen family, it loses its needles in the fall giving it a “bald”appearance, hence the name. I thought the cypress needles with their rusty fall colors were quite pretty.

Lake Martin is a hunter’s paradise for ducks and geese during hunting season and we boated around a few of the hunting blinds.  They were designed so that hunters could boat into a “carport” and easily climb into the blind.   There were many decoys around the blinds.  (Sorry for my crooked picture)

We visited several state parks during our stay in Louisiana.  Our first visit was to Chicot Lake State Park and the Louisiana Arboretum.  The Arboretum was a great place for a hike to learn about the many trees that can be found in this state.

I was amazed by the variety of trees such as maples, sycamores, beeches, magnolias and hickories.  Way too many trees for me to identity and remember.  Luckily some of them were signed for identification.  It was here that I finally saw a bird I have been wanting to see for years – the red-headed woodpecker!

An interesting discovery for a Californian is that the Bald Cypress is related to the Redwood family of trees.  I find this fascinating because the trees grow in totally different habitats and don’t look that much alike, especially the trunks.  A cypress tree is often surrounded by nobby protrusions sprouting from the ground called “knees,” see above.   Their exact function is unknown but one scientific theory is that they assist in anchoring or supporting the tree in soft, muddy soil and reduce erosion.

After hiking around we drove to get a look at Lake Chicot which is popular for canoeing, fishing and camping.  Since the lake has a mostly marshy shoreline and interior, access is limited except by boat.  We drove to one area where the road crosses over the lake.  In picture below, Mark watches the late afternoon light on the trees.

In the picture below, I tried to capture the beautiful reflections of the bald cypress at sunset.

Another day Mark and I visited Palmetto Island State Park, a place I really wanted to see because I love these little palms.  I first saw the dwarf palmetto in southeastern Georgia near the Okefenokee Swamp during another trip.  It was an interesting sight to see so many dwarf palms growing under tall pine trees.  Actually, I love palms of any size or type.

We had the park almost to ourselves the day we visited.  We only ran into one other friendly couple from Arkansas.  We enjoyed exploring a few of the trails through the forest.

One of the trails became a little too primitive for us, so when it looked like we might need a machete to continue, we decided to turn back.   In the picture below, Mark fights his way through, ha, ha.

Our favorite wildlife sighting was this very large Golden Silk Orb-Weaver (Nephilia) also known as a banana spider that had created a web stretching across the trail and was right in the middle of it.  Mark almost walked into it but caught himself just in time.  These spiders are noted for the impressive webs they weave and are found in warmer regions of the world.  It is probably the biggest web and spider we have ever seen.

Not sure how anxious I would be to launch one of those canoes in the picture below.

After our visit to Palmetto Island we drove to Cypremort Point State Park on the Gulf.  It was Mark’s first time to see the Gulf of Mexico.  This is one of only three locations on the Louisiana Gulf that can be reached by car.

The park consists of a half mile stretch of man made beach with a picnic area and opportunities for water sports and fishing.  The water was dark with a muddy look so not sure how inviting it is for swimming.  The views though were nice and we enjoyed the sunset.

In the picture below I am at the pier watching the boats come in for the night.

Thanks for following us and we hope you had a special holiday season!

Sugar, Hot Sauce and Rice

The sugar cane harvest was in full swing when we arrived in Louisiana.  I have always enjoyed learning about how things are grown and produced. Growing sugar cane was something I knew little about.  We first saw fields of sugar cane as we drove the last mile or so to our RV park.  In the weeks ahead as we toured the area, I was amazed at how many sugar cane fields there are in southern Louisiana.

I learned that Louisiana is the second top producer of sugar in the United States after Florida.  Sugar cane has been grown in Louisiana for over 200 years and became the state’s first lucrative cash crop in the 1790’s when a process was developed for successfully granulating sugar.

Processing sugar was first done in kettles like the the one pictured above from the 1800’s.  After the juice was squeezed from the canes, it was boiled in open kettles, removing the water and leaving the syrup.  Additional boiling caused the syrup to crystallize.  People now like to display these old kettles as decoration.

Some where I read that sugar cane fields are burned during harvesting.  I really wanted to see a sugarcane field on fire!   When Mark and I would drive around we sometimes saw dark smoke in the sky, possibly signaling a cane field being burned.  One day we took off in the direction of some smoke but this proved futile.  As we drove it seeemed the smoke was further away, rather than closer!  We laughed that we felt like “tornado chasers” except we were chasing cane field smoke, rather silly I guess.   After some discussion with the locals, I learned that not all cane fields are burned and if they are, it is usually to burn up the leaves that are left when the cane stalks are machine stripped.  In the picture above we found some fields that were being harvested and burned.

One day while visiting a nearby town we saw a sugarcane mill in the distance and headed down a dead end road to get closer.  We ended up at the back of the mill and I tried to see what was going on but a fenced area and bayou were in my way.

We drove closer to the plant and stopped at a field to watch the black smoke billowing out in huge clouds.   The empty cane field in front of us had dark mud that was bubbling up to the surface in many places.  I showed some pictures I took of the mud to some locals to see if they knew what it was but the bubbling mud remained a mystery.  A few people thought it was the pulpy remains after the cane is squeezed of juice (called bagasse) that had been put back in the soil.   We also found out from the locals that the black clouds coming from the sugar cane mill were not smoke but steam!  Below is a picture of cane stalks waiting to be processed across the street from the sugar mill.

Another day while driving a scenic byway we came upon a mill in the town of Jeanerette.   We were able to watch from our car as the stalks were taken from a large pile to a machine that was probably washing them In preparation for crushing and extracting the juice.

It was interesting to have a closer view of a sugar mill in action.  When we visited a local museum after seeing this mill, the docent told us that tours used to be given at the mill but they stopped them due to safety concerns.

At the Jeanerette Museum we learned more about the sugar industry and watched a film showing us the process from beginning to end.  The film was informative but we were reminded that it was put out by the sugar industry when at the end we were told that sugar was a healthy and wholesome product that was not the cause of diseases including diabetes.

I so enjoy a good factory tour and on many trips I have searched out if there are any tours in the areas we will be visiting.  It seems to me though, that factory tours are on the decrease.   In the California Central Valley where we lived for many years there were a few tours like the Hershey Factory in Oakdale and the Sunmaid Raisin Plant in Selma that at one time had great tours, but no longer.  Some trips have had several factory tour opportunities in one city or area.   A number of years ago, my sister Barbara and I were passing through the Henderson/Las Vegas area with several of our kids and toured Ocean Spray Cranberry, Favorite Brands Marshmallow and Ethel M. Chocolates.  I can still remember drinking as many varieties of cranberry juice as we wanted at the end of the Ocean Spray tour.  Except for Ethel M. Chocolates, the other two tours stopped many years ago.

The Tabasco company located on Avery Island has a great tour.  Edmund McIlhenny developed the recipe for the original red pepper sauce in 1868 and the same recipe is used today after being passed down from generation to generation in the same family.  The Tabasco tour gives you a good look at the process from the growing of the peppers to the bottling of the sauce.  Avery Island, although not a true island is in a unique area surrounded by marshes and bayous and on top of a huge salt dome.  The salt mined here is used in making the pepper mash which has only three ingredients:  peppers, vinegar and salt.

The tour starts at the visitor center where you buy tickets and then do a self guided walk through the different stages of production.  In the barrel warehouse you view the oak barrels that were previously used for Jack Daniel’s Whiskey.  Red pepper mash is mixed with salt and aged for up to three years in the barrels.  A thick layer of salt is placed on top to protect the mash.

After the mash is aged, it is strained to remove skins and seeds and the resulting liquid is mixed with vinegar and stirred occasionally in large closed vats for a month until ready to be bottled.

In the last processing room we saw different sized bottles of sauce going through bottling and labeling.   A sign tells you how many bottles have been processed that day and also where the bottled sauce will be sent.  The day we were there sauce was being bottled for shipment to Germany.

The final exhibit room held some interesting facts and history about Tabasco Sauce.   The huge bottles were fun to see.  Mr. McIlhenny first packaged the sauce in discarded long-necked cologne bottles, the only bottles he found readily available in the post Civil War South.  This style of bottle continues to this day since it works well for sprinkling the pepper sauce.

Perhaps the highlight for many visitors is the gift shop and tasting room.  There is an amazing variety of Tabasco related products for sale.  Visitors can taste every kind of Tabasco sauce available as well as other products such as salsas and even cola.  Mark tried the Scorpion sauce reportedly made with “the most piquant pepper in the world.”  Based on his reaction I don’t think he would dispute that claim.

The most unique sample I tried was the Tabasco flavored ice cream.  There were two varieties – the green pepper and raspberry chipotle.  Tabasco flavored ice cream is an acquired taste – the peppery heat with cold is a little strange.

Avery Island is also the home of Jungle Gardens, a large and beautiful nature sanctuary.  Created by Mr. McIlhenny, it includes a driving tour where you can see a Chinese garden, groves of bamboo, palms, plants and flowers including many camellia bushes.  There are ponds and marshes with alligators, turtles and other wildlife.  The centerpiece of the gardens is the bird rookery where thousands of snowy egrets return to nest each spring.

My favorites here were the massive oaks dripping with moss that were in abundance as we drove through the gardens.

Rice is an important crop in Louisiana and is the 3rd state in production after  Arkansas and California.  What I found interesting is that the rice fields are used not only for growing rice, but also for producing crawfish.

The rice is grown in a water filled field from March to July and then the crawfish are seeded into the rice field in June.  The field is drained and the rice harvested in July/August.  When the rice is being harvested, the crawfish have dug themselves into the ground where they are safe.  The rice fields are then reflooded again and it becomes a crawfish pond as the crawfish emerge and are subsequently caught in special traps.  Crawfish are harvested in specially designed boats that we saw out in the fields a few times.  The harvest time can vary but can start as early as November in a warm year and go through the spring.  Above is a picture of a rice field with the red topped traps in place.  Below is a picture of a crawfish trap I found at a museum.

In the small town of Jeanerette is the oldest rice mill in the United States.  The Conrad Rice Mill was built in 1912 and has continued to operate since the beginning.  I took a tour of the mill where I was shown some of the old machines that are still used in processing and bagging rice.

Next door to the mill is the Konriko Company Store that sells rice related products from the mill as well as other local food items and souvenirs.  The store features a different rice each day that visitors can sample.  We bought several different boxes of brown rice to try and recently cooked up one of them – it was quite good.

Thanks for checking in and best wishes for the new year to come!

How about all of you?  Have any of you visited or toured an interesting factory?  Would love to hear about your experiences and/or recommendations.

Love That Cajun Music

One of the best things about our stay in Cajun Louisiana was the music.  Music and dancing is a big part of the lives of the people here.  There are all kinds of places to listen to good Cajun music – restaurants, bars, dance halls, clubs, cultural centers and theaters.   We could have spent months exploring all the possibilities.  There were more quiet venues such as restaurants like Prejean’s in Lafayette that features a Cajun band nightly to a rowdy anything goes bar on the levee next to a bayou.  Several locals recommended a Zydeco Breakfast.  There were two, a place called Buck and Johnny’s on Saturday mornings offering breakfast while you listen to a Zydeco band and dance.  The other one is Fred’s Bar, open on Saturday mornings in the small town of Mamou and serving up only alcohol with the music.  I found out about Fred’s too late for us to plan to go – but Mark and I are not early risers and these places fill up with people early in the morning.

We started out our exploration of Cajun music one Saturday morning by going to Savoy’s music shop in the town of Eunice.  On Saturday mornings for the past 40 years, this shop has hosted a jam session with local musicians and anyone else who shows up.  The morning we visited, there was a lady guitarist from Quebec and a male accordionist from England.  People that don’t play and just want to come listen are welcome as well.  I am glad that we did a little research on how to find this place.   People on the internet advised to just look for a line of cars parked on the highway outside of town.  Sure enough the cars were our only clue as there was no sign.  Someone told us later that it accidentally burned down while Mr. Savoy was burning refuse from the last big storm.  Above is a picture of me at the entrance which is obscured by foliage with no sign or identification any where.

Mr. Marc Savoy (pronounced Sav-wah) has been playing and making accordions all of his life.  His family is also very involved in music.  The shop is well worn, but that made it all the more atmospheric and there were chairs to sit on as well as great music.  What a fun way to start the day!  Different people came and went with their instruments and often there would be a dozen or more people playing along.  Occasionally someone would sing along in French.  I got a kick out of wandering around reading the many interesting notes Mr. Savoy has placed on bulletin boards.  This is maybe my favorite.  He is known to be a colorful character.

After the jam ended, we headed into Eunice and stopped at the Acadien Prairie Cultural Center run by the National Park Service.  They have exhibits on Cajun history and culture as well as music each Saturday afternoon.  The local band was great.  Mark and I figure that many of the musicians have grown up playing much of their lives.  The gentleman on the far right sang some and played rhythm on a metal triangle which we learned was a basic part of early Cajun music.  There was actually a sign at Savoy’s jam session that allowed only one triangle player at a time.

The Cajun Hall of Fame in Eunice is a small building that showcases the best of Cajun musicians – there were just over 100 inductees.  There are photographs and other memorabilia packed into the small space.  The lady running the museum was friendly, showed us around and helped Mark pick out his first Cajun CD.

Just down the street from the hall of fame is the Liberty Theater where we attended a Cajun music show that night.   The Liberty opened in 1924 and almost every Saturday night the theater has live music.   It is home to the Rendez-Vous de Cajun radio show which is broadcast live on Saturday nights with the announcements made in French.   The band that night was Jackie Callier, Ivy Dugas and the Cajun Cousins who turned out to be one of our favorites.  Couples danced in front of the stage while the music played.  People at the show were quite friendly and interested where we and others were from.  During the show they announced:  “We have visitors from England and California on the dance floor tonight.”  The English couple were definitely dancing and pretty good at it – but Mark and Beth remained sidelined – haven’t taken up dancing yet and probably wouldn’t be too good at it.  It was a fun day immersing ourselves in Cajun music at three different venues.

The next day, we headed back to Vermillionville where we had previously learned about the history and culture of the Cajuns.  Each Sunday afternoon they have a Zydeco band with dancing in the auditorium.  We got there early and there were few people until the band started playing.  Then it seemed people came out from nowhere and hit the dance floor.  The auditorium became rather crowded with all ages from very young to very old dancing.   The featured band was “Lil Wayne and Same Ol 2 Step.”  I love the peppiness  of Zydeco music and watching the people dance and having a great time.  Here in Cajun country, music and dance is definitely intertwined and a big part of the culture.

The cute little guy in the picture below strummed his guitar steadily for several hours throughout the show.

The next Sunday we decided to visit La Poussiere, a dance hall in Breaux Bridge that has been open since 1955 and features music each Sunday afternoon.  We were welcomed by very friendly owners who were happy to have out of town visitors!  While we were there, other people also came up to visit with us including two of the band members’ wives.  Mark figured out that this was the same band, Jackie Callier, Ivy Dugas and the Cajun Cousins that we had heard at Liberty Theater.   They play here each Sunday.

We were curious about the meaning of La Poussiere.  We found out that the first dance hall had a floor that was loose and allowed dust to filter up between the boards and create a dust cloud in the room.  Patrons lovingly referred to the Hall as La Poussiere which means “The Dust” and the name stuck.  When a new larger building was constructed across the street, eighty percent of the original building’s floor came too, but none of the dust coming up the floor boards during dances.   The owners of La Poussiere are proud of their dance hall as there are not many of them like this left.   A number of tables surround the dance floor and there is a bar, but no food is served here.

An elderly gentleman who could dance like a twenty something invited me to dance and said he was a great teacher.  I managed to get around the dance floor a few times without falling all over my feet!   So began our Sunday afternoon ritual the month we stayed in the Lafayette area.  Twice we went to Vermillionville to hear Zydeco music and twice to La Poussiere to hear Cajun swing music.  Below is a picture of the Zydeco band of Leroy Thomas.

The two different styles of music were a contrast from each other.  It was La Poussiere and the traditional style that won our hearts.  The people there were so friendly and the music so relaxing and enjoyable.  The two band members’ wives gave us a CD from the group before our last afternoon was over – a remembrance of our time listening to Jackie Callier, Ivy Dugas and the Cajun Cousins.

The accordion is the most popular Cajun instrument and Martin Accordions are known as the best.  We visited the Martin shop in Lafayette to see where they make them.

Junior Martin’s daughter, Pennye Huval gave us a tour and showed us some of the accordions.   The two of them also played a few songs for us.  Do you see the crawfish on the bellows of the accordion?  This is a Martin signature.   The Martin family performs shows regularly for tour groups.

The accordions are beautiful, handmade instruments and Mark was really wanting to get one, but alas, practicalities intervened.  I’m still not sure we won’t end up with one – sales tax is very high in Louisiana and you save hundreds of dollars by having one shipped out of the state.  Today we left Louisiana and are now in Mississippi?

Our last show before our month at Lafayette ended was back at Liberty Theater with the popular group of Steve Riley and the Mamou Play Boys presenting a Cajun Christmas show.  The show also featured children playing and singing including Mr. Riley with his two young sons.  It seemed that in many of the shows we attended, children played along which would definitely be important in keeping Cajun and Zydeco music alive through the generations.

We wish you all a very happy holiday season and new year to come.  See you next time!   Thanks to the Huber clan for taking a look!

Louisiana Has Some Good Eats

Mark and I were amazed as we pored over the menu at Veronica’s, a favorite local restaurant in Carencro that specializes in daily plate lunch specials.  It was our second day in Louisiana and some of the menu items we had never heard of before:  Smothered Okra, Catfish Courtboullion, Crawfish Ettouffee, Shrimp Creole, carrot soufflé.  On this visit Mark decided to have the smothered okra which was smoked sausage, chicken and okra in a brown gravy over rice, picture below.  The price was reasonable at $9.00 for a plate lunch.

We ate at Veronica’s twice during our stay and it was a busy place, frequented by locals.  The second visit Mark had the chicken fried steak and I had the stuffed baked chicken with mashed potatoes, carrot soufflé and macaroni and cheese.  Veronica is the main cook at this restaurant and her family helps her out serving the food.  Ordering is done cafeteria style at the counter where you choose your entree with two or three sides and they dish it up for you right from the steam table.

We found another great plate lunch spot called Creole Kitchen in Lafayette itself.

Located in a neighborhood of small older homes, this tiny eatery was close to running out of food by the time we arrived.  I had fricassee chicken with rice and gravy,  black eyed peas, greens and a corn muffin.  It was delicious and the price only $8.00.  It looks to me like rice and gravy is more popular for plate lunches than mashed potatoes and gravy.  It could be because this is a rice growing region.

Louisiana prides itself on great food and some foods are pretty special to them with frequent advertisement on buildings, signs or billboards.  Probably no food gets more advertisement or notoriety than crawfish.  People here are crazy about it and eagerly await crawfish season which usually begins around the first of the year and goes through the spring.  They are served different ways, boiled in the shell or in dishes with one of the more popular being crawfish étouffée.  The nearby town of Breaux Bridge calls itself the “Crawfish Capital of the World” and hosts a yearly crawfish festival in the spring.  Crawfish étouffée was first created in Breaux Bridge.  Below is a picture of a restaurant that we never visted but I loved the signs out front.

While staying in this area I had crawfish étouffée a couple of times, twice at buffets and once at Prejean’s, one of the most well known restaurants in the area.  I thought the creamy spicy dish with small pieces of crawfish tail was quite good.   Crawfish are so small I am not sure they are worth the trouble since it takes time to pull off the heads and shell them.  Perhaps I would feel different if I had them just boiled and not in a sauce.  I am a real novice when it comes to understanding crawfish eating.  Prejean’s serves the étouffée with a crawfish pie, see picture below.

Gumbo is one of the most popular foods down here, it’s served everywhere.  I had gumbo a few times at different restaurants and at first wondered where was the okra, the tomatoes and rice already mixed in the soup.  The main feature in gumbo I had eaten out west was okra.   Actually the word gumbo comes from the African word for okra.  But here in Southern Louisiana, gumbo consists of chicken, sausage or seafood in a dark brown gravy called “roux.”  There is usually no okra or visible vegetables.  Below is a picture of the gumbo we had during our first day traveling through the state.

One day Mark and I went to the Prairie Acadien Center, run by the National Park Service in the small town of Eunice.  Each Saturday they have live music as well as a food demonstration and the day we were there, they were cooking up gumbo.  Our chef was a local carpenter by trade who loved to cook and came often to the center for the demonstrations.

The chicken, sausage and turkey neck gumbo was simmering in the pot when the demonstration started and although our chef did spend a few minutes describing ingredients that went into the soup, he soon veered off to stories about alligators and nutria, a large rodent similar to a muskrat.  We found out that since nutria have overpopulated the land and are a nuisance, there is a bounty of $5.00 at the Sheriff’s Department for every tail brought in.  In the audience was a family of six from Singapore who were living temporarily in Texas.  Another park ranger and our chef had one of the girls in the family stand up to show that the largest alligators had a jaw capacity that could swallow a person this size.  Not sure what our visiting family thought, but the conversation became quite entertaining although we were learning more about local wildlife than cooking gumbo.

Meanwhile, as Chef Paul talked wildlife and local customs, the more on task lady ranger checked out the gumbo and did not appear satisfied with the results.  She said it did not have enough roux and stirred more in from a jar.  For those that might not know, roux is made by cooking oil or fat and flour together on low heat until it browns.  This is what thickens the gumbo and gives it a richer flavor.  She explained that no one made their own roux any more since it takes approximately one and a half hours to cook it to a dark brown.  I took a picture (above) at a grocery store of locally made roux recommended by Paul.   For some reason, a jar with a mixture of cooked oil and flour does not seem appealing to me, something I would have to get used to if I was cooking Louisiana gumbo like a native.

Mark and I were curious to try Boudin, a very popular staple here.  Boudin is a type of sausage made with pork, rice and seasonings.  The day after Thanksgiving we stopped at Billy’s, a popular shop with a fast moving line almost out the door.  Boudin, Boudin Balls and pork cracklins are the primary things sold here.   When making boudin balls sausage is taken out of the casing, breaded and then deep fried to a golden brown.  We tried several kinds including crawfish, pork and pepper jack cheese.  We also got a small order of cracklins or fried pork rinds, another popular food.  We thought the boudin balls were pretty good, but probably not the kind of thing we could eat a lot of.  Mark liked the cracklins better than I did.  Below is a picture of the case containing boudin balls and cracklins.

Po’Boys seemed to me to be the most popular sandwich item in Louisiana Cajun country.  They are usually made with either catfish or shrimp, but I also saw oyster Po’Boys.  Seafood is very popular in Louisiana and shrimping is big business in the gulf.  I had several shrimp Po’ boys which are simply fried shrimp on a French or hoagie roll with lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise.   My favorite Po’ Boy was the Kickin’ Shrimp with grilled onions, bacon, cheese and jalapeño mayo, (except no mayo for me, not a fan of the stuff).   Below is a picture of Anchors Up Grill located right on the gulf coast, proud home of the Kickin’ Shrimp Po’boy.

Speaking of shrimp, one of my favorite meals while staying in the Lafayette area was the Nola Shrimp and Grits at Bon Temps restaurant.   The jumbo shrimp were served with the heads on which was new to me.  They came with what the menu called a New Orleans style BBQ sauce that did not taste to me of BBQ but was rich and delicious.  The jalapeño and cheese grits were a great complement.

The dessert of choice in this part of the country seems to be bread pudding, often served with a liquor sauce.  The best we had was at a fantastic BBQ cafe in the Baton Rouge area, called Cou-Yons.  Everything was great here including the bread pudding with Jack Daniel’s whiskey sauce.  We were surprised how much whiskey was in the sauce, what a kick!

Southern Louisiana has many eating establishments and not just restaurants, cafes or fast food joints but little hole in the wall places – some were just little sheds or shacks off the side of the road offering a variety of Cajun fare.  Reminded me of the taco trucks in California.   The picture below was next to a long dirt driveway with a tiny wooden building at the end.

One food that I wanted to try at a restaurant but never got the chance was alligator.  At a local butcher shop we found some frozen alligator, but decided not to try cooking it at the trailer.  Maybe next time!

Louisiana definitely has some good eats.  We have certainly been well fed in this state!

Next time I will talk about the wonderful Cajun music unique to this area.

Welcome to Louisiana

When first planning our route, I knew I wanted us to stay for a month in southern Louisiana’s Cajun Country and arrive some time in November.   After falling in love with New Orleans during my visit almost five years ago,  I knew I would have to return to explore more of the state.  At the time I am writing this we have now been in Louisiana for over a month and have moved further north to another RV park near the Mississippi River.  In my next blogs I plan to spend some time writing about our impressions and experiences while in Cajun country.

When entering a new state I love checking out the State Welcome Centers.  They are usually a wealth of information providing lots of free maps,  brochures and pamphlets as well as helpful and personal travel advice.  When we were traveling from Arkansas into Louisiana I found that the Welcome Centers were not on our route.  We were able to locate one in the middle of the state that was out of the way, but we decided was worth the detour.  We were hurrying to get to our RV park before it closed at 6:00 p.m., but just couldn’t pass up a Welcome Center!

Since I love researching places to go and things to see, I really enjoy getting as much paperwork as possible about where we will be traveling.  At the table area in our trailer, I am often surrounded by brochures and maps.  Although I can find most things on the internet, it is always nice to have a paper copy in front of me.  Above is a picture of some of my stash from the Louisiana Welcome Center.

From the beginning, we really liked our RV park in the little town of Carencro near Lafayette.   It is located out in the country and away from any highways or major roads.   It was our first campground stay with no road noise.   The residents were also very quiet – we hardly ever heard anything from them.  In fact, I told Mark a few times that I wished more of the people staying there were out and about so we could visit and get to know them!   We learned that many of the occupants are working, so that explains their absence.  The price was just right too – they have a great monthly rate and it averaged to be about $17.00 per day with full hookups.  We were lucky to be right across from the bathroom and laundry room.  Some of the places we have stayed didn’t have laundry facilities which meant a trip to the local laundromat.  My favorite part of the RV park though was the small swamp located on the property which was just beautiful.  I was delighted to have it close by to visit.

Speaking of swamps, one of my favorite things in southern Louisiana and Cajun country is all the water.  There are many swamps, small lakes and bayous.  Bayous are slow moving rivers.  Many towns here are along them.  We had a bayou across the street from our park.  Below is a picture showing a fishing pole at the ready.  Someone had built narrow decking along the bank with seating and cute signs.

In Lafayette we learned all about the Cajuns who came here from Acadia in Eastern Canada after being expelled by the British in 1755.  Of French descent, they were forcibly removed from their homes and had to look for new places to live.  Some settled in the Carribean, some in New England and others went back to France.  Eventually some made their way to Louisiana where they built new lives but kept their distinct culture including their language.  Many people in this part of Louisiana speak Cajun French and signs are often in both English and French.  The National Park Service has a site called the Acadian Cultural  Center with exhibits, photographs and a film about the history of the refugees from Acadia.

Vermillionville in Lafayette is a living history museum that shows the lifestyles of the Acadian, Native American and Creole peoples that lived in this area from 1765 – 1890.  The Creoles were inhabitants of Louisiana during the time periods of French and Spanish rule.

Vermillionville is a great place to learn about these different cultures and of course is on a bayou.  We visited here a few times to see the village and listen to the Zydeco music that is offered on Sunday afternoons in the auditorium.  There are seven historic homes on the property. Below is a picture of the oldest building in Vermillionville from 1790, a large Acadian plantation home.  The owner of the home was a successful cattle rancher.

Several people in period costume demonstrate their craft in the village.  One of the best demonstrations was on spinning and weaving.

Before this visit I had never heard of brown cotton.  I learned that at first brown cotton was the only cotton available and used to make clothes and blankets.  White cotton was eventually grown and considered a superior product.  The Village has a brown cotton patch, so I was able to see it in the field and learn how it is grown and harvested.

The Village has a few musicians playing period instruments including one with a guitar and another with an accordion.  The first day we visited the accordionist played a few songs for us on the porch of one of the homes.

Below is the beautiful little Acadian Catholic chapel built in the late 1700’s.  The Catholic Church was the only recognized church in Louisiana during the periods of Spanish and French rule.

Lafayette also has the Acadian Village, another center similiar to Vermillionville with historic buildings and exhibits.  During December, they have the Noel Acadien, a celebration of the holiday season with the village decorated with thousands of lights reflected in its bayou.

The glowing alligators set in the bayou were one of our favorite light installations.


Stay tuned – next time we will sample some wonderful Cajun food!

The long lens.

Only one more day tomorrow in southern Louisiana!  The time is just flying.  Today we took a drive over to Lake Charles then down along the coast.  As it promised some possible birding I took along my (kind of) new long lens.

Beth is really the birder.  I can tell if something is a bird or not more times than not, but my knowledge doesn’t go much further than that.  I do like to take pictures though and birds make a fun challenging subject.  Small birds in the trees are tough.

We saw some pretty cool stuff today so I thought I’d put up a few pictures.

We still don’t have any editing software going so these pics are right out of the camera.  No edits, no crops.

This one I am pretty sure is not a bird, but I get a kick out of seeing them.  There weren’t many around Modesto.

Two shots for this guy.

And finally, still my favorite, a picture of Beth taking a picture. The rare Northern California Wanderer.

Thanks for looking and stay tuned for the next episode in Beth’s Epic tale of exploration.

Welcome Tammy! Glad to see you here.