Morgan City Day One: Grand Isle

I took the evening off to read a book instead of type, so the following was yesterday.

Today I am The Navigator, which means more photos and the ability to note things of interest as we travel. Like the ‘Bridge ices before road’ sign before each bridge; I know this area may occasionally get cold enough for frost, but for that mass of concrete to cool enough for ice? Here? They might see snow very, very perhaps once every ten years, or so I was told yesterday. Perhaps they are required by law on  all bridges.

We’re heading east on Hwy 90, then south on Hwy 1 to Grand Isle. If you look at this area on a map, you can see the line of  an old Mississippi River delta curving gently from Grand Isle south and west past Port Fourchon before it turns north at Point au Fer. At first I90 runs on the natural levee of Bayou Black, one of the distributaries into which the Mississippi split as it built this delta – known as the Lafourche delta – from 2500 to 800 years ago. 

There is relatively shallow cypress swamp beside the road. Where the cypress has been cleared there is rough grazing land – and houses and development as well. 

We turned south on Hwy 1, beside the distributary for which the delta was named, Bayou Lafourche. The highway and settlements sit on the natural levee of the bayou. The levee narrows as it approaches the edge of the delta because less sediment was carried in the river water (the vast bulk had been deposited upstream); as we travelled south there were fewer streets paralleling the highway. And the bayou grew wider, and there were more boats; shrimpers that spread their nets wide from the side of the boat came in many sizes, and there were large tugs and other oil service boats.

I finally remembered to take a picture showing how timber structures almost everywhere we’ve been in LA are held above ground level to keep moisture and termites out of the structure, and to allow a draft under the floor to cool the house.


The main industries other than tourism are obvious everywhere.

 Just south of Golden Meadow the road hops over a levee and at the same point  there’s a lock on the bayou – clearly the end of the flood protection – and the landscape changes dramatically. 

Now the road runs through saltmarsh, with water level in the ditches only inches below the road surface.


As we continue south the areas of marsh grass shrink as the open water grows. Wide channels have been cut for boats and it looks as though the edges of smaller channels cut for pipelines – we can see the markers – are eroding, eating away the saltmarsh. This is what people are talking about when they talk about destruction of the coastal marshes leaving Louisiana vulnerable to storm surge damage. The oil industry development here is incredible, an indication of the future of the Atchafalaya if development is not controlled.

At this point we’re travelling on elegant causeways high above the marsh and open water.

The views are spectacular.

Eventually we return to earth, of a sort: the barrier islands at the seaward edge of the Lafourche delta. 

More saltmarsh, then semi-solid ground; stabilised dunes. The houses are clearly built with high water level in mind:

Some are higher than others; a few are built on reinforced concrete pillars rather than telephone poles. Major buildings such as the theatre and school look extremely solid and have at least two stories.

We continued east to the end of the road at Grand Isle State Park, where we piled out of the car and down to the beach. Another first for me: the first time I’ve waded in water where the life expectancy is not measured in minutes before hypothermia sets in. It was lovely and warm, with the purple flag flying to warn of dangerous sea life: we didn’t see any stingrays, but there were several large jellyfish on the beach. Which was dark sand speckled with pale shell. I wiggled my toes in it and considered where the sand grains might have originated. Saskatchewan? Wisconsin? Colorado? Pennsylvania? 

There are no sand dollars in the UK. I miss them.

We saw wildlife. A moribund shrimp eel, which I didn’t photograph because it seemed wrong to record its last gasp, and I wasn’t fast enough to record the sea gull battle for its remains. A praying mantis, rescued from the scorching sand under a bush.

There were holes in the sand from which a crab head would emerge, then dodge back.

And hermit crabs. hundreds of them. Every shell large enough to conceal anything had a resident. 

Some were stranded upside down, high above the water, warm to the touch, surrounded by pathetic scrabble marks from the crab’s attempts to right itself. The internet says these thinstriped hermit crabs are very resistant to dessication, but we mounted a rescue operation.

Hot, upside-down crabs were tossed back into the water, but we left the others alone. As we walked back along the beach the tide turned; as the water reached them, the crabs became active. This group seemed to be testing their neighbours’ homes for size. They do fight for desirable shells.


We returned to the car sunburned, slightly sandy and very happy. A good day. 


About sarahw

A zoologist who draws, a spinner who weaves, a person who thinks.
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One Response to Morgan City Day One: Grand Isle

  1. Allison says:

    Sarah! Thanks for so much joy as you travel through Louisiana and environs. I look forward to your posts daily.


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