If you’re headed to or from Houston, or New Orleans, or Pensacola along the Gulf Coast, it’s easy to get on I-10 and zip through the bayou country.
If you do, you’ll be missing out on some entertaining and unexpected attractions.
After crossing on the Galveston-Port Bolivar ferry at sunset, we drove on a couple of hours to Nibletts’s Bluff outside Vinton, Louisiana. As we settled into our inexpensive full hookup campsite at this county park, we heard banjos and fiddles. We’d arrived at the end of a five-day bluegrass jam that’s held here annually. The music was pleasant, and the showers had plenty of hot water. We walked out on a long fishing boardwalk that wound over the bayou about a foot above the water, but turned around when we saw a sign that warned ‘BE AWARE. ALLIGATORS CAN JUMP.’
Not too far down the road was the Gator Chateau. This large roadside park is operated by the oil and gas industry association, and has a few exhibits explaining the history and process of mineral extraction along the Gulf coast. But that’s not the real attraction. A small building along the park drive offers the opportunity for you to hold an alligator. When we stopped in, a very knowledgeable and enthusiastic young woman explained the do’s and don’ts before handing over a two foot gator to Patti. Pools nearby held more of the reptiles, large and small.
Next door in a small gift shop, we told the clerk we were planning too stop at a nearby shop for some boudin. We’d seen it advertised a number of places along our way. “Well,” she said, “y’all can do that. It’s pretty commercial. If you want the real thing, you’d best head over to Billy’s, though, down at Scott” Down the road it was then, to Scott, and at about ten in the morning, we stood in line for a good fifteen minutes for our turn at the counter.
Boudin is a sausage, particular to Cajun country, and it’s usually served with cracklings, which are deep fried bits of pig intestine. We shared a mid-morning boudin ball and a small bag of cracklings as we drove on to the Atchafalaya Visitor Center.
The Atchafalaya is the largest wetland in the United States. Made up of bogs, cypress swamps, and marshes, it’s a nursery for hundreds of species and home to many of the Cajun folk of this region. Acadians, French loyalists during the French and Indian War, were forced out of the Canadian Maritimes when the war ended in 1765, and settled here along the Gulf before the Revolutionary War. Their unique music and cuisine have become part of our wider US culture over the past century. The visitor center houses excellent displays about wildlife and ecology and offers an informative film.
Best, though, is the animatronic swamp critter band that looks like an escaped exhibit from Disney World.
This coastline was devastated by hurricane Katrina, and if you drive along the coast itself, you’ll see countless lots for sale, and beautiful seaside mansions that can be yours for practically a song. Remember, though, that they are uninsurable.
As you pass through Bay Saint Louis, Mississippi, stop and see the angel tree. During the hurricane, three humans and a Scottish terrier clung to this tree and were able to survive the storm surge. The tree died from salt poisoning after the storm, but one of the survivors commissioned a sculptor to turn it into a depiction of angels. There are many art trees along the coast, but this one is especially symbolic.
From Galveston, Texas to the Gulf Islands National Seashore every mile of coastline and every interstate exit offers unexpected surprises that will play hob with the plans you made over breakfast. Give in, and look for us, Patti and Tom Burkett, somewhere among the zydeco and etouffé, off the beaten path.