We were determined to time our northern progression by the presence of flowers along the roadside. Leaving Alligator waiting Beaumont, in mid-February we headed East and found ourselves on a beautifully empty road on a sunny morning close to the Gulf of Mexico. We were treated to wildlife - hundreds of birds and a few alligators - along with a ferry ride and numerous houses up on stilts to survive a hurricane storm surge. Eighty percent of homes in the Cameron area were leveled after Hurricane Rita, the second devastating storm of 2005. We marvelled at the many empty building pads, but were cheered by the hundreds of homes sitting high atop stilts or mounds of earth.
Here is oil country - on land and out in the Gulf. Standing on the shore at the water's edge we counted 38 offshore rigs - We counted 38 oil rigs below the horizon, a distance of perhaps 3 miles. How many thousands more rigs cover the patch of Gulf where oil is found! Many shore businesses support the offshore oil industry, House on stilts and we found the oil industry everywhere we went. These businesses were visited by trucks on land, boats at sea, and helicopters in the air to bring their goods and services to the rigs. If you should see a boat with three giant telephone poles sticking up in the air at the points of a triangle, that's a boat to go out to the rigs and the poles reach up high in the air to where the platform is. (At least that's our guess.)
The other business of South Louisiana is seafood, chiefly shrimp and oysters (crawfish and alligators are properly land food.) We saw fishing boats in a variety of sizes along all the bayous.
Whereas most commercial tourist sites don't open until 10 or 11, The National Park Service keeps our kind of hours. At the Jean LaFitte historic site in Lafayette we started early with a video documentary about the expulsion of the Acadians from Nova Scotia. The story was definitely told from the Acadian point of view - Pirogue on bayou the British were anxious to resettle the farms and brutally drove the Acadians away; but of course the French-speaking Acadians did not volunteer for the British militia, an ordinary duty of citizens. The Evangeline story is relied on heavily for myths both ancient and modern, and only a fraction of the expelled Acadians were reunited in Louisiana. But there's no denying that modern Cajun culture has provided a great economic stimulus for South Louisiana. Between Mardi Gras and Cajun cooking, South Louisiana has achieved nationwide prominence, but drive-through Daiquiri Shops are strictly a local phenomenon.
Over the course of a few days we drove most of the Bayou Teche Scenic Byway, which passes through the towns first settled by the Acadians. We even saw a pirogue in the water, and enjoyed the best seafood gumbo of Sculpture "Karma" our trip in St. Martinsville, served with a mound of rice, potato salad and a piece of bread. The bus boy was an ancient and shrivelled toothless man who had never left the area, and hoped we would come back.
A high point in New Orleans is the little known but excellent Museum of Art, located on beautiful grounds in the large City Park. New since our last visit is the Sculpture Garden, which is probably the best collection of outdoor sculpture in a lovely garden that we have seen. Our favorite sculpture is named Karma, and is a recently installed work. Here is a link to Karma. We are glad we waited until long after Katrina, because the museum suffered much damage and is still recovering 8 years later. We especially liked the old man by Jan Lievens, a Dutch painter who was a close friend and studio partner of Rembrandt's, and who for many years was considered the better artist. Jan Lievens painting
We proved that it is possible to enjoy New Orleans without stopping in the French Quarter: we drove down St Charles and appreciated the trees dripping with Mardi Gras beads, we rode the free ferry across the wide Mississippi, and generally drove throughout the city. We didn't see the evidence of the big drop in New Orleans population until days later when we got to a greatly enlarged Baton Rouge.
We had seen the National World War I Museum in Kansas City, and wanted to compare the National World War Working barge on Mississippi II Museum in downtown New Orleans. The latter was big and brassy and pricey, still undergoing a rapid expansion into several buildings, with mountains of support from the military industrial complex (and private donors). We suppose this is the wave of future museums - the many multimedia and interactive exhibits competed for the visitor's attention with more than a little overlap, so you were bombarded with speaking voices as you walked around. Our verdict: it's better thought of as entertainment than education. World War II demands lots of reading. Still, for today's children, this is really, really long ago, so it's important to exhibit the intensity of the war years.
We have long been fascinated with the "end of the road," and one day we took Louisiana State Highway 23 which follows the Mississippi River south of New Orleans, until we came to the sign reading, "You have reached the southernmost point in Louisiana." Once there were some plantations and lots of citrus groves; today few are left. In order to see the river you must drive up on the levee, but then you see that every inch of the Mississippi is valuable. Ships and barges are docked on The end of the road both sides of the river, and large bulk cargo operations are carried out. Here and there you spot a business providing charter boats for sport fishermen. Fort Jackson, a solid brick defensive fort, is no longer safe for visitors, due to the walls crumbling after the many hurricanes. As you travel further south, though, the primary industry becomes ... you guessed it ... support of the offshore oil rigs. Once again there are countless boat and helicopter-based services for the oil industry, and of course much of the oil and gas travels north through pipelines. Gas stations and restaurants are few and far between, but there's plenty of communications towers - again to service the offshore rigs.
All told, South Louisiana continues to prosper, although hurricanes present a great hazard for those located near the water.