Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Traveling Louisiana Back Roads, Plaquemines Parish

The end of the road, our drive was to the end of the finger that sticks out toward the right

New Orleans was great fun but on this day we decided to see the other side of Louisiana. I wanted to see the Delta, the land formed and changed by the flow of water where the Mississippi River enters the Gulf of Mexico. Plaquemines Parish Louisiana is that place.
We turned left on Louisiana route 23 as we left the base and drove to the end of the road.

Louisiana route 23 also known as the Belle Chasse Highway is the main road on the West bank of the Mississippi heading south. In fact after driving about 20 miles it's two lanes of hardly any traffic was the only road.
Route 23 was a straight drive past houses and farms and small groves of citrus trees. It is a rural area populated by small communities with exotic sounding names like Gretna and Venice and Port Sulpher. There were a number of fish camps that catered to sport fishing vacationers.

We saw evidence of Louisiana's oil industry, from large black piles of oil field waste to helicopters flying crews out to the drilling rigs. That has to be a complicated relationship as the oil industry provides the only employment to the area besides fishing, yet that waste is endangering the wetlands that provide for the fishermen, shrimpers and oyster farmers.

Route 23 is surrounded by water. We drove for miles with Levees on both sides of the road and even passed a Corps of Engineers crew working on the complicated drainage system. Even on a calm day it was an eerie feeling to know that those earthen walls were the only thing between us and very large bodies of water. We now understand why locals call it "living in a bowl".

Toward the end of the road we crossed a causeway that was part of the Woodlands Trail and Park Bird Sanctuary. We stopped to watch Herons and Cormorant's and Egrets swim and fish. There were a few Roseate Spoonbills wading too. We were told by a resident that in March the trees are pink with them as they migrate to their Summer home. We saw a few people fishing and one kayaking.

Past the bird sanctuary the road narrowed even more and in parts was covered over by water but we made it to the end. The sign at the top of the page marks the spot. There was no magnificent view of the delta but we felt fortunate to be standing right on part of it.

There was no place left to go so we turned around and headed back North.  Just before we got to Triumph we came upon Fort Jackson. The red brick fort in the shape of a star and surrounded by a moat sits on the bank of the Mississippi River. It is named after Andrew Jackson who recommended it's construction after the War of 1812. Fort Jackson and Fort Philip (on the east bank of the river) provided coastal defense for New Orleans and the Mississippi.  They are positioned at a bend in the river so that approaching ships had to slow down and were vulnerable to cannon fire. These forts were the site of a 12 day battle during the Civil War. They, and a series of boom chains south of the forts were the only defense against a Southern approach to the city. The forts fell to the Union on April 28th 1862 and the Union Navy under the command of  US Navy Flag Officer David Farragut sailed into New Orleans. Fort Jackson became a Union Prison.

The fort is closed to the public and these Ibis guard the entrance
Fort Jackson is closed to the public due to water damage from Hurricanes. We were able to walk around the outside and to climb to the top of the levee that protects it. the view of the river with its strong current was impressive. The beautiful brick masonry structure had several visible cracks. We stopped at the museum a short distance away to learn more about the history of the fort.

Cracks in the wall of Fort Jackson
The Museums curator, whose family was responsible for finding many of the artifacts displayed there, told us of the Forts recent history. The museum and gift shop used to be located inside the fort. They were badly damaged by Hurricane Katrina and then Hurricane Rita in 2005. Many artifacts were damaged and lost as they sat in sea water for 6 weeks or more until they could be accessed. The new museum (opened in December 2015) is in a modern climate controlled building that was built by FEMA, after the Fort was deemed an unsafe environment. we had a wonderful conversation with this local woman and her daughter who described to us their experiences of living in Plaquemines Parish and the effect that the massive storm damage had on their families.
Fort Jackson is owned and operated by the parish, Fort St Philip, badly damaged and not restored, is on private land and not accessible to the public.

We continued our trip back North to Belle Chasse but stopped once more at Hank's Road Stand. Hank and Fred had quite a good time talking about "What the heck are ya'll doing down here?" while
I discovered Satsuma oranges, Louisiana's sweet local citrus that tastes like mandarin oranges.

Saying goodbye to Hank we turned North and completed our journey with a stop at PJ's Coffee and large cups of Viennese Blend.

Louisiana Route 23 was a great ride. We recommend a trip to the end of the road.

To see more photos of Plaquemines Parish visit our Flickr Album.

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