Clearly they’re trying to cover all the bases with that one.
There’s a website, with a link to an immense app (4.6Gb if you download the content for offline use) that will guide and inform you about points of interest around Lake Calcasieu and the Gulf Coast. In fact it’s a good effort, although the app doesn’t seem to know when it has finished downloading the content. There are some amusing attempts to reconcile two or more conflicting interests; I particularly like the entry on ‘underground pipelines’, which is entirely economic stats about the importance of oil and gas to Louisiana’s economy, but finishes brightly – and totally inaccurately, given the destruction of wetlands by pipelines – with ‘And that’s just one of the MANY reasons why preserving Louisiana’s wetlands are so critical.’
We left Sulphur on a road with views that stressed the importance on industry in this area. Sulphur is named for its sulphur mines; it was here that in 1890 Herman Frasch first pumped superheated water into the deposits buried beneath several hundred feet of mud rich in toxic hydrogen sulphide to extract molten sulphur.
But further on it’s a pleasant drive, especially early on a sunny Sunday morning. Only the fishermen and people crabbing from bridges were out before us. We were undoubtedly the first visitors of the day on the Blue Goose Trail, where we saw Marsh Rabbits (note the short ears),
No other remains, just the claws; our guess is that predators remove the claw big enough to hurt them before devouring the rest.
To our great advantage we were also probably first at the Sabine Wildlife Refuge ‘Wetland Walkway’. We walked very quietly down Alligator Alley, watching sunny areas for anyone basking to bring their body temperature up. We were rewarded by sight of a young alligator, perhaps only 2-3′ long.
I’m surprised by how easy they are to see once you get your eye in; they’re the wrong grey here and in the Atchafalaya, a blue-grey that stands out against the warm browns and greens. This one turned around for a quick getaway into the water when it first saw us, but then waited watchfully as we warily approached more closely, following the path past it.
There were many ant nests beside the path, looking like loose soil pocked with small holes. I looked at them and wondered about fire ants, but I think they were too small. There were structures of soil or mud suspended from vegetation in the marsh, but the information boards at the refuge said nothing much about anything and the Internet has not yet told me what they might be.
There is an excellent view over the marsh from the observation post, showing not only the marsh but the distant line of a chenier. Originally this word referred to the oak trees themselves, but it has come to mean the sandy ancient beach ridge on which they grow.
There were American Chameleons (more properly Carolina Anoles) on a sunwarmed bridge. Fabulous! Although I only managed to get pictures of them pretending to be cracks in the bridge, I assure you they were bright green when we first saw them skittering up from the reeds.
We continued to the coast where we found a small track through the dunes and parked between the fisher people’s trucks to spend another hour wandering around, looking at shells, watching the waves. I kept reminding myself ‘This is the Gulf of Mexico!’
We drove on, through Holly Beach, which was completely destroyed by Hurricane Rita in 2005, and on to Cameron, which was not quite completely destroyed. I’d find this a hard place to settle, but perhaps I think on a different timescale.
In some places traffic into the beach has destroyed the vegetation stabilising the low sand dunes that are the only barrier to storm surges. Clearly attempts are being made to restore the dunes; I hope they are successful.
We turned north, crossing the Intracoastal Waterway, which today runs 3000 miles along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts, from Texas to New Jersey. In southern Louisiana it has cut a wide line across the wetlands, greatly reducing the amount of freshwater that reaches the marsh to the south of the Waterway.
It was too soon to go back to the hotel; we hadn’t spent long enough on the beach (although our sunburn might disagree), so we visited the Perkins Ferry riverside park in Lake Charles where we found yet another astounding thing: the biggest grasshopper we’d ever seen, the Eastern Lubber.
It’s a serious pest – the females are about 3″ long, so they can do a lot of damage to crops and gardens, and as the warning coloration suggests, it is distasteful verging on toxic – but we were simply amazed by its size. A harbinger of Texas tomorrow, perhaps?