Louisiana: Palmetto State Park

January 26 – January 29

Our time in the state was brief. Most people think of New Orleans when they think of Lousiana but this town wasn’t in our plans. I have spent my share of time there with college football, watching UGA lose their national championships hopes to Pittsburg with a Dan Marino last minute toss into the end zone. I would later enjoy a New Years Eve celebration during a Christmas present trip with my oldest son (who was living there during his year with the Americorp doing Katrina recovery work) to watch UGA whoop up on Hawaii. It would have been fun to be with Lysette on her first visit to the city that doesn’t include the 8 hours in a plane at the NO airport. Her experience in Louisiana was mainly in the small town of DeRidder just south of Fort Polk for work.

What we did find in Lousiana was an area of the state that we both are more intrigued with, a slower community likely true to its roots, one bountiful of agriculture and seafood yet quiet enough to find some silence. We hope you enjoy the journey.

Travel Journal

Our drive out took us over the grand ole Mississippi on a large metal and concrete bridge landing us on her western shore or east Lousiana. We turned left on to MLK Blvd, and headed south. We would flow south along small roads that followed the Mississippi for a good part of the drive. These two lane asphalt roads that haven’t been milled or repaired for years, evidenced by the damage, pot holes and bad repair jobs making my driving skills necessary to even stay on the road at times while dodging the ever approaching road hazards. These small backroads you might expect in a forgotten stretch of Northern America where asphalt becomes damaged with the freeze and thaw of winter. We rolled, bumped, swerved, and drove this area passing farmlands to the right that were large and flat, full of mud from all the rain. The earthen berm to our left, separating us from the mighty Mississippi was covered with a carpet of spring green grass occasionally being grazed on by horses and cows.

We eventually had a 20-something mile stretch of I-49 into Lafayette where the roads were decent but once inside the city, were again terrible. We stopped at a Fresh Market for some groceries before our final rainy push to the Palmetto Island Sate Park Campground.

The check in was easy and we quickly set up on site No. 52 with intermittent rain. What wasn’t intermittent were the mozzies (Australian for mosquitoes) who feasted on us all night long. 

The state park sits on a stretch of land not a typical island that you pass over a bridge to get to but a place surround by hard wood swamp and low lands. The base of the place is packed with evergreen palmetto’s and topped with the hardwood trees most having lost their leaves for the winter. There are places to canoe, boat, and a thing called a splash pad. There are hiking trails but with the recent rains they are mostly blocked by large puddles. Besides mozzies, there are lots of birds and many armadillo’s scurrying about in the leaves and beneath the palmettos. 

After setting up, we spent the evening inside the A-Liner video chatting with family, eating dinner, and defending against the now, all out assault by the native mozzies. Somehow these brilliant insects have figured a way inside where other skeeters in past camps never did. They have evolved, they have “thintelligence”. 

“They don’t have intelligence. They have what I call ‘thintelligence.’ They see the immediate situation. They think narrowly and they call it ‘being focused.’ They don’t see the surround. They don’t see the consequences.” 

Michael Crichton, Jurassic Park

We spent the night with the light being switched on and off after each time we felt the itch or worse, heard the annoying pre bite buzz. This was followed by one of us chasing and destroying the little biting bastards with our wand of death while the other assumed the job as spotter. These little insects have now figured out a way to the interior of our camper even with all the windows and doors closed. Sleep was sparse and bug bites that whelped and itched, plentiful. 

In the morning we awoke with a new outlook on like and to sunshine, the thing that feeds the soul most and gives us energy. It was breezy, one of the common enemies of mozzies, so the outside was on! 

We spent the day first running the campground. We headed out to the boat put in before turning back, taking the short road out to the canoe launch and then back to camp all in getting around 5 miles of flat roads. The scene never changed much from green palmettos and leafless hardwoods with the exception of the Vermilion River at the boat ramp and the Eagle Pond at the canoe launch. The place is pretty though, nice, quiet, and full of funtivities for our short stay. 

Later in the day we jumped on the bikes and rode some of the same roads, we found a path that we’d later learned was out of bounds for park goers and that extended our ride outside the park for a few extra miles. The entire day was spent outside just enjoying the splendid weather. We heard the constant noise of leaves crunching with armadillos and birds who were also out in large numbers enjoying the splendid weather. 

At one point while sitting at camp, I watched as a gentleman backing his ~20 foot trailer alone and was having difficulties, like backing it completely off the pad into a tree. So I walked over to ask him if he needed me to spot him. I told him of my knowledge of using the bottom of the steering wheel to point the trailer in the direction you want the trailer to turn while using his mirrors. With all this and a few more attempts, he nailed in right into the correct position. He would tell me that he came out to set it up alone to see how it went but didn’t think it would be this difficult. We talked a few more minutes until he got busy preparing his camp.

The day ended with preparing and cooking dinner, doing some blogging inside the trailer and yes, killing flying biting bugs. Although they weren’t as bad this night as the temperatures were much cooler which is another common enemy of the mozzies and fortunately for us, one they haven’t adapted to survive, yet. 

The next morning was a brisk 41 degrees and pure sunshine, sweet sunshine. We spent the morning doing a few loads of laundry then went up to the main office to rent a canoe for a few hours. The park has a few lakes connected by a series of narrow waterways through palms, hardwoods, and marshy bogs. After signing away any rights to recover from them for injury, we set off for the canoe landing with the key to the No. 7 canoe. The canoes were lying hull up across metal pipes that extended from a wooden base structure. We unlocked the red boat No. 7, flipped it right side up, and carried it to the water’s edge. From the appearance of this inside, whatever paddled this boat before us was muddy, but less muddy once outside of it and didn’t bother to come back for its lost mud. Being dirty adventures ourselves, we made do with this minor inconvenience.

Toohey being accustomed to stand up paddle boards and inflatable kayaks, hopped right in the center area like a pro. With Lysette now in the bow seat for forward propulsion and me in the stern as chief navigator, we wiggled, waist thrusted, squirmed, and finally paddled off the banks of the center lake called Eagle Lake. In hindsight, these exotic moves to release the canoe from the grip of the shore have certainly been the inspiration for some funky dance moves.

Our route was down the waterway to the left. It was mostly straight with a few slight curves and no real obstacles to navigate around. The banks were visible above the waterline, dark mud topped with the palmetto bushes and leafless hardwood trees. I saw a few turtles slide off wood stumps into the brown muddy water as we floated past. The hardwood trees extending up and over our heads provided a nice contrast to the rich blue winter sky. We made it to another lake before turning left towards a second canal that we assumed led us to the Vermilion River. However, we quickly approached an obstacle, slightly larger than a twig but smaller than the smallest branch you could ever imagine, extending across the canal entirely, giving us a small window to cross with maybe an extra paddle stroke, twerk, or two but certainly not the effort it took to get off the bank when we first left. With a loud dissension from the bow being voiced out of fear of getting stuck, tipping over, or the possibility of death, the captain in charge of navigating the boat, me, made a quick and wise decision to extinguish the flame of the growing rebellion based on the possibility of full on crew mutiny. I begrudgingly agreed to bring the boat around and head back for the good of the whole all while making faces towards the bow not be seen by the crew. LH/bow crew edit: Likely the reason for the mud in the boat was the previous navigator did not make that correct decision and ended up capsized, covering his crew in thick black Louisiana mud.

We paddled the circumference of the lake then headed back into the canal from which we came. We passed the same foliage, seeing a few more birds, a kingfisher, before entering and passing the canoe launch. The canal to the third pond lay ahead, our 12 o’clock, so picking a landmark in the distance to properly navigate the water going vessel by aligning the bow, we proceeded successfully into the entrance. This waterway like the other was narrow with similar foliage and lack of much wildlife. The crew of No. 7 did enjoy the opportunity for great conversation of which the topic escapes me. There were no emerging obstacles along this canal as we made it safely and upright to the last lake. As with the previous lakes, we paddled the circumference noting the lack of wildlife, similar foliage, and of course the wonderful winter day. We then headed back into the canal leading back to the center lake. 

The first mate and bow forward propeller told me as we approached the lake with the boat storage that we still had time on the clock remaining for our rental so we decided to paddle back up the canal to enjoy more of the sunny cool day and to get our money’s worth. We followed the kingfisher as he flew up and down the waterway, stopping on branches over the canal to look for food. We talked about more interesting stuff and enjoyed the quality time of just being in a quiet place in the middle of no where. 

We safely made it back to the launch site and successfully secured land without any mishaps. We locked red canoe No. 7 back in its place, Toohey removing a good amount of mud from the bottom and then we returned the key, oars, and unused life jackets back to the office. The time together in the canoe was nice and even though we never went very far, we gained huge ground in the solidity of our team. 

We made it back to camp and decided to check on our travel route for the next day. The area around the state park is vast farmland with few amenities and the route tomorrow will include long distances with no significant towns so gas was an issue. Knowing that the gentleman I helped back his trailer yesterday was a local, I moved over to ask some advice. This question about the route highway 82 to Cameron and the ferry turned into a great conversation with he and his wife. He, a retired attorney and artist who paints with oils on canvas, and she an art teacher for K-4 children and artist who works with ceramics, were extremely engaging to talk with. He had grown up in this area and as a young boy would camp and fish these woods and rivers well before anything was here. He has a love of the outdoors and as he is retiring is finding the camper life interesting to him. They provided lots of information on the past storms and how they have impacted this area. As they talked about the people and culture we wished we had more time here, especially if they’d agree to be our tour guides. He told me of the French speaking Cajuns in the area, how his father didn’t want them to learn French as it was frowned upon to not speak English. How disappointing it is that they have lost some of that culture but how cool it is that some of it still remains. The accents here are a beautifully rough and a distinct sound that I find myself focusing on sometimes versus the content of what is being said to me. These small moments provide the gold, the interesting pieces, of what makes our country so special. These diversities in culture makes us special as a country.

We left the conversation with an interest in using the remaining day to drive the surrounding farmland outside the park, so we set off in search of a gas station. What we found was an agricultural haven for cattle, farm-raised crawfish, rice, shrimp, and other seafood. We found several gas stations at intersections. Petro-products were diesel and non-ethylene gas with no other options. The quantity pumped was through rolling numbers. Payment was made inside after the tank was filled and pumped turned off. Old school. We made it back to camp after sunset with a full tank gas and more appreciation for this land in southern Lousiana.

Our trip out of Louisiana was along highway 82. This two lane road now labeled by the team as surf and turf was along a stretch of land with cows and crawfish farms on one side and the gulf water with shrimp boats and crab traps on the other. Houses were splattered about but no big population center. We saw signs of oil production along the coast.

As we entered Cameron Parrish along Highway 82 we witnessed the worst of what Mother Nature can throw at a place as this year Hurricane Laura wreaked havoc on the area. There were huge piles of debris, people living in RV’s where their homes once stood, and buildings that appeared as though a bomb had been detonated. Cemeteries which are mostly above ground in this part of the country were damaged to the point of tombs lying open. It was a mess, sad, and hard to watch. 

We drove through Cameron Parish then a short free ferry ride across to Holly Island following highway 82 all the way into the Lone Star state of Texas and the town of Port Arthur.

Lousiana was our shortest state since Wisconsin but certainly not from a lack of interest. The culture of the area we traveled, the people we met, and the agriculture and seafood industry have our interest peaked for more. If we came back, especially in a year without COVID, we’d likely make a stop in New Orleans. We would like to spend more time in the area below Lafayette, possibly the small town of Abbeville, to understand and appreciate the true Cajun culture and the land around it.

We are currently in the Texas Hill Country at the Lady Bird Johnson City Park in Fredricksburg. Our days have been spent cycling the fun rolling farm and ranch roads, learning the history of Texas, and planning our route when we leave on 2/15. We are both enjoying being back in a place with a more arid climate and visually interesting topography, likely a change from the swamp and coastal areas we have spent that last 2 months. Until then, thanks for joining us on our journey.

4 thoughts on “Louisiana: Palmetto State Park

  1. Thanks for the swamp reports. I really enjoyed my brief cycling trip in Fall 2020 to Fredricksburg area. I am eager to hear what you think of the area.

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