Have you ever wanted to sell everything you own and just "take off?" Travel the country's back roads, paddle down a meandering stream, experience breath-taking mountain views, walk among 100-year old trees, and just marvel at America's beauty? That is the dream that my partner, Betsy, and I decided to make a reality. This blog describes our adventure. The food we eat, people we meet, sights we see, and the enjoyment we find in traveling.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Atchafalaya Basin, Louisiana

Beautiful bald cypress-tupelo swamp
starting to leaf out.

Today we drove through south Louisiana on our way to Texas.  While the drive across I-10 in Louisiana is straight and flat (bridges excluded, of course), the road is a reflection of the natural beauty and cultural diversity of south Louisiana.  Nowhere is that more glaring than the Atchafalaya Basin – an area that caries the designation of Natural Heritage Area by the National Park Service.  The billboards have 10-foot high crawfish, restaurants are named Prejean’s and Boudreaux’s, casinos are named “Rice Palace,”  bass boats are screaming down the waterways, herons and egrets dot the bright green landscape, and cypress majestically grace the swamp.   The long bridges across the basin remind you that this landscape was carved by water and dominated both by its fury and gentleness.  If you like the show “Swamp People” then come to the Atchafalaya Basin.  Here people hunt alligators not for the entertainment of millions of Americans but for their livelihood.  There are accents and colloquialisms that I still don’t understand even after living in Louisiana for 16 years. 

We stopped at the welcome center for a quick break from driving and dog walk but were pleasantly surprised when we went inside.  In addition to the typical welcome center paraphernalia of pamphlets and maps, there are interesting exhibits and a 3-minute film.  A talking alligator snapping turtle welcomes you and invites you into the movie while a wry talks about life in the swamp.    

Everyone's favorite - the American alligator.
The welcome center is built in the typical
"Acadian" style architectural design.

Exhibits at the welcome center display typical plants and animals of the area - a raccoon, alligator snapping
turtle, Louisiana irises, ferns, and bald cypress knees.
This is a great representation of a typical kitchen pantry.  Stocked full of hot sauce, creole
seasoning, fish fry batter, a jar of roux, and creole mustard.  If you like to cook that John Folse cookbook seen
in the picture is fantastic and very informational.
The boat in this display is called a "piroque."  It is a shallow draft, flat bottom, wooden canoe used
to navigate the shallow wetlands of Louisiana.  These are still very much used today.
Southern leopard frog.
The basin reaches an impressive 600,000 acres of swamp, marsh, bottomland hardwood, lakes, rivers, bayous defined by nature and the man-made levees that hold it all in.  The impressive Atchafalaya Basin has been coined the “nation’s largest swamp.”   Keep in mind, the Mississippi River has created seven different deltas in its lifetime and has switched back and forth across the state.  Thus the reason the land in south Louisiana is so rich, fertile, and wet.  Current hydrology of the Mississippi River indicates that it wants to meander to the Gulf through the Atchafalaya Basin; however, infrastructure and human development prevents this.  Thirty percent of the Mississippi River is diverted into the basin via the Morgana Spillway which continues to make this one of the most biologically productive ecosystems in the country.

Cypress trees.
Mudbug before going into the pot.
If your stomach is crying out for crawfish, or you’re just looking for a culinary adventure, then look no farther than this area.  It is the number one producer of “mudbugs.”  Crawfish and rice are farmed together – a  symbiotic double cropping venture that satisfies the south Louisiana soul.  After the rice is harvested, fields are flooded and crawfish feed on the decaying muddy rice stubble (agriculturally known as detritus – dead, decaying material).  Now this Cajun delicacy is ready for harvest and you know why they are called mud bugs.  Sounds yummy, huh?  Lots of beer to go with it!
Bye, bye Louisiana.
We are off to explore Texas.

Spirit is very brave when the alligator is bronze and not moving.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for that brief intro to LA -- it's a state we've not been to yet, but hope to get to once we're on the road fulltime.


We love hearing from you, so please drop us a comment