Last year’s Midwest road trip around Lake Michigan allowed me to visit the last two states I had never been in and officially claim that I had visited all fifty states within the United States. However, I realize that in a way, this claim in regards to having a clean perspective of all the states is basically flawed. Yes, I can state that I have consciously been within every state, but having only the opportunity to drive through a state without stopping to visit a site and being unable to take a photo within the state is pretty much the most minimal perspective that one could experience within the state. In 1975, after growing up in Florida, I applied to and was accepted at the University of California, Los Angeles. With a rental trailer full of my personal items attached to the family car, my parents, my sister, and I drove across the country to drop me off in my new life in Southern California. We crossed through seven states on the one way journey, which included a stop at the Grand Canyon, Hoover Dam, and Las Vegas, with no camera to record anything along the way. In the years since, I have been able to revisit Las Vegas and explore other areas of Nevada; made a few visits to Arizona, including a multi-day stop at Grand Canyon National Park; had a few visits to New Mexico to experience its national parks and Roswell; had a couple of visits to Texas, including a day stopover in Houston, a couple of decades ago, where a friend was able to give me a personal tour of the NASA space center; added a stop in Tupelo, Mississippi, during my Central Plains road trip to experience a small National Battlefield Park and Elvis Presley’s childhood home; and made a stop during a small road trip with my mother in Huntsville, Alabama, to attend the wedding of an early childhood neighborhood friend, giving me the opportunity to visit the space museum at the same time. However, the only state on the 1975 journey to which I had not had a chance to return was Louisiana. It was time for me to extend my personal perspective of the bayou and Cajun culture.
All of the other states around Louisiana I had visited as part of an extended road trip or as a stopover tied to another trip, but this had made Louisiana an outlier, making it difficult to include it on any future broad road trip, so I decided to plan this as a solo trip. A two day road trip back and forth was way too long to consider for what I considered to be a single day visit, so I considered a simple round trip air flight schedule. I realized that the humid swampy environs within the Mississippi Delta region would make a summer trip overly hot and uncomfortable, so I considered planning a spring weekend trip which would not interfere with my volunteer tutoring schedule. I then discovered that the tutoring program for which I was volunteering would be ending its school year in mid-May, giving me an open week just prior to the lead-in to the Memorial Day weekend. This provided me with the opportunity for a quick Tuesday to Thursday hop over which would avoid weekend travelers and upcoming summer vacationers. Using an online travel service, I booked my roundtrip flight schedule, two nights at a local inn in New Orleans, and a rental car. Luckily, my planned schedule just avoided weather and other travel issues that forced flight cancellations shortly after my return. The timing of my short vacation turned out to be perfect.
After flying in on a nice Tuesday afternoon and making my way to the inn in a New Orleans neighborhood midway between the airport and the French Quarter, I had my first chance to sample a bit of Cajun and Mexican fusion in the adjoining restaurant with a Louisiana crawfish quesadilla, before going back to my room to plan out the next day. My goal for my one day trip was to split my time experiencing the nature of the bayou and exploring the culture and wonder of the French Quarter. I had researched on the national park service website before my trip about the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve, which honored an historic Louisiana smuggler who joined Andrew Jackson’s forces in battling back the British army at New Orleans during the War of 1812. The park and preserve is actually located in six different locations, including the Barataria Preserve, a natural bayou preserve just a few miles south of New Orleans. My plan would be to drive down to the preserve right after breakfast and enjoy a few nature trails during the cooler morning hours, then head back up to the French Quarter to explore the small 80 block historical wonder of New Orleans.
The next morning I headed over the Mississippi River down to Barataria Preserve and arrived before the Visitor Center had opened. I grabbed my camera and walked down the quarter mile Visitor Center Trail. Along the way, I found the entrance to the mile long Palmetto Trail was closed for service, so I went back to the Visitor Center, which opened shortly after I returned. I was informed that the Bayou Coquille Trail Head, a mile up the road, was open, so I drove up to the parking area and walked down and back the half mile trail, taking more pictures. Despite the signs directing visitors to not feed the alligators, I did not come across any gators, snakes, or mosquitos during my walk. It appears that it was too early in the morning for them, but not too early for some lizards, hawks, or flies. I got my taste of the bayou and was able to drive back up to the French Quarter by mid-morning.
At the southwest corner of the French Quarter, I found a long-term parking lot to park my rental, then spent the next three hours walking the famous cultural area of New Orleans. I looked out over the Mississippi River on the Moon Walk in front of Jackson Square, while streetcars passed by. I bought playing cards from a voodoo gift shop. I had a combo Cajun lunch and listened to a street group playing jazz in front of the Supreme Court building. I experienced the unique architecture style of the corner hotels and apartment buildings, then checked out the jazz musician statues at Musical Legends Park on Bourbon Street. I strolled slowly through the Louis Armstrong Park across the street from the north side of the French Quarter. The cultural beauty was amazing to experience. After my long stroll through the French Quarter, I circled back to the parking lot and drove my rental back to the inn. For dinner that night, I walked down to another nearby restaurant recommended by the clerk at the inn and enjoyed another Louisiana meal, a classic Po’Boy. As I flew back home the next day, I truly felt I had experienced the Louisiana culture.