Swamps and Beaches - Louisiana to Gulf Shores


We'd been dreading this notoriously bad stretch of I-10 through East Texas and Louisiana. There really aren't any good alternates unless you have an extra day to kill, so since we're replacing the suspension soon anyhow, we decided to just go for it. After all was said and done, though, other than a bad stretch around Lafayette, LA, it wasn't as bad as we'd expected. Still, when we got to camp, some drawers had opened and contents had shifted, so we needed to be careful opening cabinets. Speaking of camp, thats was another challenge. We checked in and drove to our site to see that it was not a nice pull-through so much as a sharp semi-circle half filled with water. The site was listed as 125 feet long, but that length would only be usable if you were driving something really articulated like a tram. We took a shot at pulling through it only to find the drivers side wheels of the camper were deep in mud and there would be no way to level out. So we pulled through and tried backing in, but couldn't get the angle right. Eventually, after much deliberation with some helpful neighbors, we just used the far end of the site as a back-in and used the near end to park the truck. The door of the camper didn't directly face the picnic table and such, but it worked and we had cords and hoses long enough to reach the pedestal at the other end of the site.

Out little Power-pedestal Pal

We did finally get into our muddy lake of a site

The park itself, Fontainbleau State Park was really nice! It's on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain and just a few miles from the causeway that goes directly to New Orleans. The park had a nice playground, a beach on the lake, nice biking and trails and it was dirt cheap to boot. Our only complaint is that we had possibly the worst site in the park and there were no sewer hookups, but we're getting good at managing our tanks for a week or so. The work week went quick as they usually do. We picked up our first mail-forwarding packet from the Escapees (great service! We couldn't be happier), did some grocery shopping and found a great little Pizzeria called McClains by the lake in the old part of town. Turns out we seem to be following spring break as we work our way around the gulf. So the entire week the park was filled with families enjoying their time off school. This meant lots of kids for Crayton to play with which always makes a stay more pleasant. It also explains how we got stuck with the lousiest site in the park since everyone had been here before and had their reservations months in advance.

a Super-Fast slide!

Playground at the end of the rainbow

A campsite Visitor!

The beach sand at the park was littered with tiny multi-colored pebbles and Pam and I enjoyed a lazy evening on night sifting the sand looking for the prettiest ones while Crayton played with a new friend and shared his trucks. We kept the rocks (shhhhh) and I keep them on my work desk. A nice reminder of a lovely peaceful day.

Beach pebbles from Lake Pontchartrain

The weekend came and it was time to get out exploring. First up, was New Orleans! We took off across the causeway, which Crayton seemed nervous about. For the entire 24 miles every minute or two we'd hear a shaky voice ask "Guys, when is the bridge over?" or "Guys, are we almost off the bridge?" Finally landing on the other side of the lake, we took the long way to the French Quarter so we could see some of the old cemeteries. We were nervous about parking for the truck, but found a spot right in the thick of things, although we paid a premium for it. In hindsight we should have parked a bit up Canal Street and taken the trolley into the French Quarter. Our first stop was the Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium . A nice family we'd met back at the campground, vacationing from Tuscaloosa, had been there and gifted us some extra tickets. What a cool experience! We've been to many butterfly gardens and Crayton always loves them. This once was pretty cool and they had lots of other creepy-crawly insects to check out, too. Pam picked up a hitchhiker / new accessory while walking through the butterflies. It was on her head for probably 10-15 minutes. It liked it up there!

Pam's new Accessory

More winged friends

We then walked over to the Green Goddess for a lovely vegan lunch (the Tofu Po-boy was amaze-balls!) before walking through the French Quarter for a while. When we turned onto Bourbon Street, Crayton turned around raised his arms and looked at me like I was crazy for thinking he should have to walk through this chaos. For Lent it sure seemed like there was a LOT going on. We enjoyed hearing the music coming from the different venues (Blues, Zydeco, Roackabilly, you name it), but the smell of piss and the drunken mayhem at 1 in the afternoon, etc, drove us off the main drag fairly quickly. Down a side-street we found a blues band set up on the street, playing. It was much less crowded here so Crayton got to enjoy the tunes for a bit. A bit further on we found Jackson Square and all the vendors and street performers there. It was a hot day so a guy selling Ice Cream was a nice treat. All of this was part of a plan to get to Cafe du Monde where Pam planned to get some beignets. The line to do so was down the block, and we knew Crayton wouldn't have the patience for the wait, so we vowed to come back some other day when it was less crowded. After a little window shopping, we headed to the waterfront with an eye toward catching the ferry across the river just to get a different view of the city. We barely missed one and rather than wait a half hour for the next, we decided to take a trolley up Canal Street to escape some of the chaos of the city for a bit. We found a nice pizza place half way up the line and stopped for an appetizer and a beer before heading back into the city center. The trolley stopped short of the end of the line, though, and the driver yelled "end of the line, everyone out!" So off we went only to find out why. There was a parade! The St Joseph's Italian parade was on and it was a hoot. Crayton loved getting beads (and especially candy!). Pooped out, we headed back to the truck and called it a day, driving back to camp to rest before another day of adventure.

Walking around the French Quarter

The St Josephs Italian Parade

Sunday we had reservations for a swamp tour! But we took a little detour on the way to the town of Abita Springs, to see the Abita Mystery House that we'd heard about. It's a collection of folk art and oddball exhibits put together by the artist John Preble. It was unique, reminding me of a combination of Antique Store, Wall Drug and The House on the Rock, but all with a Louisiana flair. Definitely something to be experienced. Chatting with John as we were preparing to leave, he informed us that the anuual Earth Festival was happening in the town square a short walk away. We didn't have much time if we were to make our boat tour, but we couldn't miss it, so we walked over and enjoyed some music and snacks while chatting with a local vendor about our adventures and getting some home-school ideas from her. Really wish we'd know about this ahead of time so we'd have had more time to spend, but we had a boat to catch.

A small taste of the weirdness that is the Abita Mystery House

We then drive over to Slidell to Honey Island Swamp Tours. We expected a little hole-in-the-wall operation, but no, this place was hopping! They were putting boats out as quick as they could fill them. Our expectations for the quality of the tour went way down when we saw how busy they were, figuring there's no way a place this busy would see much wildlife. We were pleasantly surprised. I do wish, though, in hindsight that we'd gone mid-week. Our guide made the difference. He was great! He grew up in the area, even stopping by his mom's cabin to pee while we were out, and went out of his way to show us what he could even with all the weekender fishermen out scaring the wildlife away. Still, we saw a couple of gators and some raccoons and heard a lot of stories about the area and the ecology of the swamp. If you go, I'd recommend them, but try to stay away from the busy weekends. We ended the day with dinner at Speckled T's in Slidell. We've begun eating some seafood now and then when it's fresh and local (Pam and I are both long-time vegetarians) and this place amazed us with some great dishes. They often have live music, too, and seems like the kind of place I'd love to come back to some evening. Finally, exhausted, we headed back to camp, ready to move on down the road on Monday to our next stop, a week on the beach in Gulf Shores, Alabama.

Swamp Tour!

Alligator!

It was a relatively short drive over to Gulf Shores. We'd heard good things about the area, but really had no idea what to expect. We had trouble finding somewhere to stay (it's STILL spring break it seems...) and wound up at a newer RV park, open less than a year, so they hadn't filled up with regulars. The downside what the place was brand new and pretty fancy, so we paid a premium, but it was really nice! Pandion Ridge RV Resort isn't on the beach but is a short drive from it and butts up against Gulf State Park. They had a really nice pool and hot tub, a fishing pond and trails. Their sites we all new concrete, well spaced with brand new everything. The managers were all super-nice as well, going out of their way to play with Crayton and make us feel welcome. Their monthly rates aren't too bad, so we may have to come back sometime.

By chance, a Wisconsin friend of ours (on spring break ;) ) was in the area vacationing with her two kids, and stopped by for the night. This was only the second time we've had overnight guests and it was a hoot. Seriously, if you know us and happen to be in the area wherever we happen to be, come on by! We love guests! We spent some time catching up with Becky and meeting her kids. They loved the camper and Crayton was a gracious host, sharing his toys and playing nicely. We then went out to dinner at the Pink Pony Pub right on the beach before spending a few minutes playing on the beach at night. In the morning, Becky had to take off for Pensacola, but we really enjoyed catching up and seeing her and her kids!

Visiting with Becky and her fam. Best picture I managed to get :(

The work week was awful. I was looking forward to a nice week near the beach, but work was just terrible this week. Lots of problems and late nights, frustrations and deadlines. So I didn't get to enjoy much of the amenities of the park, but did finally get to use the hot tub on Friday night Thursday we went out for dinner and had some local seafood at GT's on the Bay in Orange Beach. They had a huge saltwater tank indoors with rays and large fish as well as a nice outdoor patio and a pier with live music. The patio was full, but we enjoyed our meal indoors and Crayton got to play in the huge sandpit they had out back for the kids while I brushed up on my corn-hole skills.

After my royally crappy week and several weeks of non-stop travelling, we decided to take it easy on the weekend. Saturday we went to the beach for a while and then had lunch at the famous Flora-Bama beach bar and restaurant before heading back to camp. There happened to be a boat show across the way so we went over there late in the afternoon to see what live-aboard boats actually look and feel like. We're not ready to take this show on the water, but it's something we're tossing around as a long-term possibility, so we wanted to see what they felt like. Crayton took to it right away, telling us which boats he liked and which he didn't. I think he thought we were buying one that day! Sorry bud, but you're going to have to wait a few years.

Beach Time

Sunday we wanted to go see the Naval Aircraft Museum at the Pensacola Naval Air Station, but poor planning on my part (forgot to tell Pam she'd need her ID to get on base) meant that we couldn't so we changed plans and spend the day at Big Lagoon State Recreation Area walking the boardwalks and beaches watching hermit crabs, herons, crabs, fish and other critters before going to the playground there for a bit and enjoying a sno-cone (or SnoBall or Shave-Ice or whatever they're called wherever you happen to be). Finally we headed back to camp to take a walk on the trails and enjoy the hot tub and pool for a while.

Big Lagoon State Recreation Area

Lots to see and do here and we felt like we just scratched the surface. We really liked the beach here. The sand had a nicer consistency than Galveston and there was as much or more to do. We'll be back, for sure.

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We went from 3700 square feet in the suburbs to 370 on wheels. We work and travel fulltime with our son and kitty.

 

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