When we last left off, you had just spent a few days in Mandeville, Louisiana, on the banks of Lake Pontchartrain. What follows is a whole different animal, a trip to the edge of the United States, where prehistory meets the Gulf of Mexico.
Getting there from Baton Rouge involves a trip down Interstate 10, into Lafayette, past LSU-Lafayette, turning south towards Abbeville and into a landscape of rice paddies, country stores and two lane roads. Then you hit the water.
It sneaks up on you. Most people fail to notice it until all of a sudden, tra-la-la, you look to the left and see dozens, maybe hundreds (but probably dozens), of steel-hulled shrimp boats – more than I have ever seen in one place.
But once you notice the water, it becomes pretty impossible to see anything else besides that and the marsh grass. Waiting on the dock next to the shrimp boats and the heliport – more on that later – I found myself staring stupidly out at this expanse wondering just what kind of landscape lay on the other side of the canals.
In truth – miles upon miles of waterways. Hundreds of square miles of wetlands. In every direction. A bad place to get marooned.
We had a 45 minute ride on a small barge out to the wildlife sanctuary, down the oil company canals, which cut an efficient yet devastating path through the wetlands, and across Vermilion Bay before being swallowed into the marsh.
You see nothing manmade save for oil and gas infrastructure, a few working fish camps and helicopters passing regularly overhead, carrying men and supplies to the oil rigs offshore.
Yet once out in the marsh, the wildlife steals the show. Rafts of thousands of ducks. Roseate spoonbills. Brown and White Pelicans. Racoons in trees. Alligators stalking every corner of the waterways.
At one point, a flock of 350,000 geese passed overhead and landed in a section of burnt marsh – funneling down like a huge avian tornado.
And ah, the mosquitoes. They come early and stay late. They settle in masses on your pants, turning them black, just looking for an opening. If, like me, you make the rookie mistake of wearing a tee-shirt, you WILL spend half your day swatting and bathing in Off! bug spray. When the breeze kicks up they go away (who knows where), but it’s only a trick. The moment the breeze dies down and you stop moving for a second – just a second – they come back. Still, putting up with the little terrors is well worth the view.
Go far enough south and – though the marsh seems to stretch forever – you hit the woodline, a humid, mosquito ridden mass of live oaks, old cattle ranches and dilapidated cabins, before running smack into the Gulf of Mexico.
Geologists call this area the Louisiana Chenier Plain – a dressed-up term for a long strand of beach ridges that happen to offer prime habitat for migratory birds, seashells and trash, lots of it.
If the breathtaking expanse of beauty of the marsh leaves you speechless, so will the sheer amount of STUFF washed up on these beaches. In one day I saw countless hardhats, hundreds of feet of rope, a refrigerator, a dead porpoise and a television. Dead porpoise aside, it looked like every item on New Orleans’ Craigslist exploded and wound up on the beach. Oddly enough, it was kind of pretty, in a post-apocalyptic, last people on Earth save for the zombies, let’s use the hardhats and televisions to build a new society kind of way.
Enough now. Less words, more pictures!