Since we really didn’t want to go back to New Orleans and Dave and Sharon had plans with their friends, we decided to make the two-hour drive to Avery Island. Two hours is really on our outer limit of travel for a day trip, but Deb and Steve had visited it once and since then I had always wanted to go. The drive itself was pretty and I even saw a bald eagle in a tree along the way, although it was on the highway and we couldn’t stop to get a picture. Avery Island is the home of the Tabasco company and although I don’t really care for spicy foods, I love to see where things are made as we travel the country. Plus the first heir to the Tabasco brand was an amateur naturalist and had turned part of the island into a nature preserve which looked pretty terrific.
When we arrived on the island (entrance was free), we went up to the factory. There was a smell in the air, but it wasn’t as pungent as I feared and instead lent something to the whole experience. The tour cost $5.50 and came with 6 tiny little sample bottles and the gift shop was fantastic. The best part of the tour was watching the bottling line (which only runs Mon-Thurs) and if you wanted to you could skip that and just visit the gift shop. The combination ticket for the gardens and the tour was $12.50 (a little on the high side) but the gardens were so fantastic it more than made it worth it. Both tours are self-guided and pictures were allowed, so let me jump right in and show you what we saw. (It’s also worth mentioning that for the nature preserve tour, you can scan a QR code with your phone and Bluetooth your phone to your car speakers and get little speeches about each area as you drive through, which is pretty cool. You can also just call a phone number and use your speaker phone to listen to the blurbs as well.-Lee)
We ended up buying Tabasco Buffaleaux Cajun wing sauce ($5), Tabasco Worcestershire spicy ($2), and Tabasco Spicy Mayonnaise ($2.75). These were full-sized bottles and you could not beat the prices. Plus we picked up some Tabasco Chipotle Sauce for Sharon, which she says she has a hard time finding on the road. ($4)
It was fun, but two hours is a long ride and I was really hoping the Jungle Gardens would be good, and wow, they really were. We stopped at the gift shop and ate our lunch and then took the driving tour through the park. There are numerous places to pull over and take pictures so we ended up spending a few hours enjoying the area. Ned McIlhenny ran the family business but his true passion was how man and nature could coexist in harmony. To that end he studied the american alligator (and wrote one of the best books on the subject to this day), raised 60 different types of bamboo in the hopes it could eventually become America’s premiere building material, and built a rookery for snowy egrets. The snowy egrets were being hunted almost to extinction because women wanted their feathers on their hats, and he built raised rookeries from bamboo and hand raised 8 chicks in his park. Not only did they return to nest there, but there hundreds of descendants still return in the spring and it was absolutely amazing. He also has one of the largest Camilla collections in the United States, although unfortunately we caught the tail-end of the full bloom which is in February.
I loved the Buddhist Shrine area especially. Two friends of Ned’s found it in a warehouse in New York, purchased it and sent it to him. He built the lotus resting area and the pavilion to hold it, but the statue itself is centuries old.
You had to walk down to the bird rookery viewing platform and the path is a little rough so I definitely recommend wearing your hiking shoes if you have them. The platform was amazing but jam packed with kids which did take away from the experience a little. Lee and I stayed a long time (we probably took around 300 pictures) and the one brief interval where we were alone on the platform was magical. Here are a few of my favorite pics. If it wasn’t for the kids we could have done this all day.
After the birds we walked down into the nursery area (which was really a big field with large trees) and then drove through the Camellia area. We both really loved it. The weather was perfect, and the combination of plants and animals was amazing. Highly recommend a visit, even though it is a bit out of the way if you are passing through and thanks again Deb for leading the way. I would never have even known about this place if she hadn’t blogged about it.
On the way home we stopped at a Popeye’s Chicken. The store was out of cole slaw, green beans, and corn, but the staff was making it work and extremely friendly. The chicken itself was hot out of the fryer and really tasty (although I still think I prefer KFC especially cold) and the cajun fries and cajun gravy on the mashed potatoes was super yummy. We both got complete dinners for $5 each so the price was good and it was a true Louisiana experience.
Overall we really, really like Louisiana. The people were all incredibly nice, the food is amazing, and the weather in April (and yes I know that is not the norm) was absolutely incredible. The campground was great and there is so much nature in the bayou. I absolutely want to come back and see the northern part of the state and could see us spending a lot more time here in the future. I am definitely a fan and thanks again to Bridget and Pat for keeping an eye on us throughout our visit. It was wonderful!!
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