<< Day 22: New Orleans | Day 24: Central Alabama to Chattanooga, Tennessee >>
New Orleans to Central Alabama
After spending 3 nights in New Orleans, we were eager to hit the road. New Orleans had given us some wonderful memories. Both children had asked if we could come back one day during the Mardi Gras celebrations. Ben and I think that would be a lot of fun.
We had reservations this morning to take the 2-hour Honey Island Swamp Tour, about 45 minutes northeast of New Orleans. During our drive to the Pearl River Wildlife Management area, we passed countless buildings that reflected the devastation imposed by Hurricane Katrina, which hit this area almost four years ago.
Here is just one of the damaged buildings that we saw:
We crossed a long bridge over Lake Pontchartrain, where we could see a new, higher roadway being constructed to the left.
These homes looked prepared for high waters:
We arrived at Honey Island Swamp Tours:
Genevieve and Sebastian were ready for some action!
We were a bit early, so we had time to peek around at some of the nearby buildings in the swamp.
Our tour guide today was Captain Jack.
He was such an amazing guide, full of energetic enthusiasm, very knowledgeable about the plants and wildlife that we saw, and (most important) he seemed to actually care about whether we were enjoying the tour. This last element was something that we felt had been noticeably absent during most of our previous activities in New Orleans. We were starting to think that perhaps the lingering hardships from Hurricane Katrina had diminished the residents’ joie de vivre. Not so with Captain Jack (who had lost his home to the hurricane). His vibrant personality made our tour really special, and his genuine love for the swamp was infectious.
Ben, Sebastian and Genevieve loading onto the boat:
The boat was flat-bottomed and made of metal. Here is a similar boat to ours:
We headed out onto the Pearl River, which is a freshwater river that provides a habitat for many alligators, fish, snakes, birds, deer and other animals.
Many people come here to fish and hunt. Here are some hunting cabins.
We saw quite a few cypress trees along the river. These knobs sticking out of the water are called “cypress knees” and are the roots of the nearby tree.
Within 3 minutes of leaving the dock, we encountered “Yellowmouth,” a female alligator.
Captain Jack said that female alligators live to be 60-65 years old, and grow to be 10-11 feet long. Male alligators live to be 70-75 years old and grow to be 15 feet.
He estimated that Yellowmouth was 30-40 years old.
Yellowmouth came very close to our boat:
Captain Jack fed Yellowmouth a few small pieces of hotdog so that we could appreciate her powerful jaws.
A young alligator came to visit, perhaps one of Yellowmouth’s children; however, Yellowmouth chased her away with a vengeance.
Female alligators produce a lot of eggs. Captain Jack said that he has found 88 eggs in a single nest. However, only 15% of the eggs actually hatch, and only 1% end up surviving to adulthood. The number one danger to baby alligators is adult alligators, who like to feast on the tender babies. No “mama love” here!
Captain Jack gave the children on our boat some marshmellows to toss to Yellowmouth and the young alligator. However, Yellowmouth ignored these “treats.” You can see two of the white marshmellows floating neglectedly behind Yellowmouth in the photo below.
I was a bit surprised to see the alligators being fed hotdogs and marshmellows. I don’t know what the cumulative effect of processed “human” food has on the local alligator diet. However, Captain Jack did tell us stories about how he has seen alligators drag off carcasses of deer and boar that they had caught, so hopefully the introduction of human food hasn’t impacted the alligators’ ability to fend for themselves.
While we were watching Yellowmouth, a little frog came to visit.
As we continued down the river, Captain Jack pointed out that about 70-75% of the trees along the river are black gum trees. Cypress trees are not as common, especially large cypress trees like the one below.
He explained that almost all of the original buildings in New Orleans were built from cypress trees, but the trees are now protected under the Wetlands Act. The last cut of cypress trees was allowed in 1953. The older cypress trees that exist are those that were marked as hollow or blemished, and therefore were not cut down.
Captain Jack pointed out the watermark on the trees, which showed the water level last week due to all of the recent rain.
Some of the banks showed severe erosion. Captain Jack explained that much erosion is caused by the activities of the nutria-rat. In 1946, a local man imported 100 of them from Argentina with the intent on breeding them for their fur. Several weeks after the nutria-rats arrived, however, a huge hurricane swept through the area, and all of the animals escaped. They breed quickly, and they are also very destructive to the environment. Within a short time, there were so many nutria-rats that a $5 bounty was placed on each one.
We passed by some large homes next to the river.
One home had some huge new boat docks.
An abundant tangle of plant life grew along the shore. In the mix were some beautiful orange trumpet flowers.
The tall grass is called “saw” grass.
The plant with the large leaves is the “elephant ear” plant. Captain Jack said that he has never seen them this big and happy before.
Many small turtles, called “sliders,” were basking in the sun on logs.
There are huge snapping turtles that sit on the bottom of the river. Captain Jack said that they are very shy and that he has only seen 3 of them in 30 years.
Water moccasins and copperhead snakes also live in the river, but we did not see any today.
Many of the houses are weekend fishing or hunting cabins, but some are “full-timers,” where the owners live there year round.
This fishing cabin is only accessible by boat.
Some of the homes were built to accommodate cypress trees.
Here is an “open-air” weekend retreat, with a hammock and picnic table.
Other homes that we passed:
A sign above the door of this small home proclaimed its address to be “Redneck Blvd”:
This one is the “Sugar Shack”:
This beautiful little home is accessible by boat only; it is for sale, with a price of $65,000.
All around us we could see the devastating impact of Hurricane Katrina:
This tree had a huge bee hive in the trunk. Captain Jack explained that the name “Honey Island” came from the abundance of bees (and hence honey) in the trees.
This great blue heron has a 6-foot wing span.
One of its favorite foods is baby alligators. However, it provides a tasty meal for an adult alligator.
This white egret was also by the riverside.
An alligator named “Big Al” came to visit.
He was a 15-foot older male.
Another alligator named “Cindy” also made a beeline straight for us. She was a large female.
Captain Jack held Cindy’s tail and let us touch her skin. I couldn’t resist. I expected her skin to feel similar to that of a lizard—leathery, with a softness. However, Cindy’s skin was hard, and the scales on her tail were sharp as knives.
Thank you, Big Cindy!
For her patience, Captain Jack rewarded her with a piece of hotdog.
Captain Jack said that he has only heard of one alligator attack on a human in this area, and that attack happened last year. A 12 year old boy had been taunting a big alligator for about 6 months, throwing things at it, shooting it with his paintball gun, poking it with a stick, etc. One day the boy and 3 friends were swimming in the river, and the alligator bit the boy’s arm off. People caught the alligator and cut it open to get the arm out, but bacteria had already started growing on the arm, and it could not be reattached. Captain Jack said that the incident was tragic but that the boy shouldn’t have been mistreating the alligator.
Spanish moss was growing on many of the trees. Captain Jack pulled some off and passed it around for us to feel.
I learned that Spanish moss is not a parasite and does not hurt the underlying tree. It is also much softer than I expected. Captain Jack said that the moss is used by many animals to build nests, and that humans used to stuff mattresses and seats with the moss.
We turned around to head back to the docking area. Another blue heron was resting by the water’s edge.
We could see Highway 90 crossing over Pearl River with an old drawbridge that was built in 1936. The center lifts straight up and down.
On our return down the river, we were fortunate to witness this great blue heron flying with a small catfish in its mouth.
Back at the dock, we said farewell to Captain Jack. He made our tour fun, and we learned a lot along the way.
Back on Interstate 10, we passed over Pearl River.
These big container trucks were two of the many that were either heading to, or away from, one of the many nearby sea ports.
“Welcome to Mississippi”!
Driving on the interstate was just not that exciting. So I checked my map and found a route that tracked the edge of the Gulf of Mexico. We took the Gulfport exit and headed to the coast. After we passed through the initial stretch of fast food restaurants and gas stations, we entered the world of pawn shops and tattoo parlors.
When we reached the coast, we headed east on Highway 90 toward Biloxi. We were rewarded with a vast expanse of white sand and the Gulf of Mexico glistening in the distance. The Gulf water had whitecaps from the strong wind.
We saw some buildings that had been damaged by Hurricane Katrina, including this large one.
Many plots of land had empty foundations where the buildings had not yet been replaced.
We could see what used to be a pool on this lot:
There were also some new homes and tall apartment buildings that had been built.
Many plots of land were for sale, all with a fabulous ocean view across the street.
The cross sign in this front yard said, “He Has Risen and So Shall We.”
These palm trees had wooden props to support them in the wind.
The beach in Biloxi was so inviting that we had to stop for a picnic lunch here.
The children and I walked out onto the brilliant white sand. It was very soft and fine, and Genevieve said that it felt very much like the gypsum sand dunes at the White Sands National Monument (in New Mexico). We all agreed.
The water was very warm, like bath water, and the children were astonished that the water remained shallow for at least 50 yards out (we could see a couple standing quite far out, with water only up to their knees).
We couldn’t pass up this opportunity for fun! We headed back to the RV for bathing suits and boogie boards. The kids immediately met a new friend, Tyler from Nevada. They shared their boogie boards with him, and they all played beautifully together.
There were many black, white and grey seagulls milling about.
Some people beside of us started a feeding frenzy when they started offering fritos to the seagulls.
The birds were extremely polite, unlike the gulls back home that dive bomb us to steal our sandwiches and pizza. In the photo below, the seagull in the lower right has a frito in its beak.
These houses were across from the beach. Their view of the Gulf is fantastic; unfortunately, the view comes with the risk of hurricanes.
Directly across from our RV was this house that must have been pretty fabulous at one time. It was for sale, and it looked like the owner was sitting in front waiting for a buyer.
Continuing on our drive, we saw this light was next to a small harbor.
Many foundations along the waterfront appeared to have once supported large hotels or condominiums.
Most of the new buildings further down along the Gulf were huge casinos.
This structure was being renovated:
In the midst of the rebuilding process, I was delighted to see some wooden sculpture along the main street:
Construction was also continuing on the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum, which is intended to display clay artworks. One of the primary exhibits will be an extensive collection of pottery by George Ohr, the “mad potter of Biloxi,” who was born here in 1857.
The museum was in the process of being built when Hurricane Katrina roared along the coast, and construction was halted for a long time.
We drove by a large grove of lodge pole pine trees:
We could see the Pascagoula Naval Station from a bridge.
One of the many Baptist churches that we passed:
Ben was in search of a Starbucks, but we didn’t see a single one amidst all of the Walmarts, BigLots, Walgreens, McDonald’s, Burger Kings, KFC’s, Lowe’s, and many other chain stores that lined Highway 90.
At Moss Point, we cut back to the Interstate. We still had quite a distance to cover, so we needed to focus on making good time. Our destination tonight was the outskirts of Montgomery, Alabama. We wanted to visit the Rosa Parks Museum in Montgomery tomorrow morning.
We crossed over multiple waterways in a short distance.
Here is some of the surrounding vegetation, with the skinny trees and dense lower shrubbery.
We soon entered Alabama:
There was a nice “welcome” sign, but I only caught half of it with my camera:
Near Mobile, Alabama, we crossed over the Mobile-Tensaw bridge, which had beautiful arches.
The water below:
The road ahead stretched out over the water:
WindCreek Casino looked a bit out of place, rising tall above the trees.
Both Genevieve and Sebastian caught up on their sleep by taking long naps this afternoon, as we sailed along on the freeway.
After waking, on their own initiative, they sat down together and surprised us by creating a “Brother and Sister Declaration of Kindness”, with the following ten “rules” (quoted verbatim):
1. No yelling at each other in a mean way.
2. No tattling.
3. No whining.
4. Keep body parts to ourselves unless the other sibling wants us to do that.
5. When a sibling says stop, the other sibling stops.
6. No lying or bossing.
7. No arguing.
8. Care for each other.
9. No making fun of each other.
10. Respect each other.
Wow. Ben and I were quite impressed! We couldn’t have come up with anything better ourselves!
The setting sun:
A sign along the way:
Shortly after sunset, we arrived at a small but clean RV park near Hope Hull, Alabama. The children spent some time wandering around and exploring in the dark with their flashlights. After dinner, they sat together and made some colorful drawings until bedtime.
<< Day 22: New Orleans | Day 24: Central Alabama to Chattanooga, Tennessee >>
Back to Index Page
Back to Home Page