After exploring the Stockyards of Fort Worth, Texas, we left for Shreveport, our aim was to explore as much as we could before arriving in New Orleans, so we mapped out a route with as many interesting (to us) stops as we could fit in along the way.
This is a Wildlife Refuge just outside of Shreveport, near-ish the casinos. After a late start to the day and getting snubbed at another park (it was closed on a Tuesday… who does that) we were really pleasantly surprised with the informative visitor’s center and the easy walking trails. We came across a few woodpeckers and a chorus of frogs as we walked about and then were greeted by a horde of mosquitos as we biked further into the wetlands. There are trails here for everyone from the casual stroller to the intrepid hiker. All of them take you through the dense green forests along the beautiful Red River that really is a brownish-red hue. At one time there was a natural raft of fallen trees clogging the Red River that stretched for 165 miles and was so dense that people rode horses on it. Captain Shreve began the project of clearing the Great Raft so that ships and boats could make their way down the river, increasing ease and speed of shipping goods. He even designed the boat used to remove the trees. During the removal of the Great Raft, Captain Shreve named the headquarters of his operations “Shrevetown” and it later was renamed “Shreveport”. (A little piece of history we learned from the R.W. Norton Art Gallery that we’ll talk about later.)
James and I didn’t get to wander around this state park as much as we would have liked because the sun was setting and we didn’t think to put on mosquito spray. Coming from the dryness of the southwest, we haven’t gotten used to there being mosquitos quite yet. What we saw of the state park was impressive and beautiful. There were all sorts of people biking the many trails. We started chatting with a group of guys just about to go for a bike ride themselves and they told us that there’s a raccoon that comes up to people and pulls at their pant pockets, looking for snacks. All the signs saying “Don’t feed the raccoons” finally made sense. There were also deer in the area that would come up and take food out of your hands. James and I figured it was probably best if we didn’t feed them.
Our new friends gave us many tips on where to go in the area including a place for really good gumbo called Seafood Palace, so of course, we had to make a special stop (even though we had already eaten dinner). We weren’t disappointed with our first experience with gumbo. It’s so tasty!
This gallery had a little bit of everything. We weren’t allowed to take pictures, so you guys will just have to take our word for how amazing this place is. Inside there’s room after room of everything from their impressive collection of antique guns (including a Luger pistol, one of three designed for the US Army to test in the early 1900’s), to medieval tapestries, to 19th century western art and sculptures, to Egyptian art, as well as Greek and Roman artifacts. Not only do they have an impressive collection in their gallery, but they also have a garden out back that we walked for about a half hour (and still didn’t see everything). There are all sorts of plants, more sculptures, and small ponds; a very beautiful and quiet place for a stroll. It was SO difficult not to take pictures. We had to remind ourselves many times that photography was prohibited. The great thing about this gallery is that it’s all FREE! (They do accept donations, though!). This was one of our favorite stops near Shreveport! We definitely recommend this gallery to anyone passing through the area.
This distillery was built in 2011 and began distribution in 2013. We were so surprised when we learned about how young the distillery was because their rum is SO GOOD. It’s smooth and delicious. They offer a free tour of the distillery which we couldn’t pass up. We learned about how they start with molasses and sugar, (both from locally grown and processed sugarcane) and through a distillation process using three big drums (named Ruby, Uma, and Marilyn..get it? RUM?), create an amazing “Silver” rum. To make their Reserve, they age the rum in bourbon barrels from a few barrel distributors for at least 3 years, mixing and rotating the rum between barrels to get a consistent flavor. Not only is the tour free, but you get a free tasting of a couple of their rums at the end of the tour along with some of the rum spice cake they also make at the distillery! Overall, we give Bayou Rum a rating of 10/10!
I begged James to let us stop here and he didn’t put up a fight after I told him that we’d get to hold a baby alligator! The Gator Chateau is a rescue and rehabilitation center for alligators. They house the gators and feed them soy pellets up until their ready to be released back into the wild. Once they get a taste for blood all the human interaction goes by the wayside and animal instincts kick in, but until then, we were told they’re fairly docile. They had 3 year old gators for us to hold and had just got in a few tiny gators that were only a few months old. They had a total of 12 gators at their little center and were at full capacity. We visited with Gaston, the 3 year old gator, and were ready to head off check out the Tabasco Factory.
Avery Island isn’t actually an island, it just looks that way geographically because it’s surrounded on all sides by bayous. The main reason we wanted to check out the area was because it’s the site of the one and only Tabasco factory. As soon as you drive through the Avery Island gates, the sweet and spicy smell of Tabasco peppers fill your nose. We paid to take a self-guided tour of the factory which takes you through the history of the family-owned business, the process of how Tabasco is aged and produced, and the various new flavors of Tabasco that are available. It culminates with a taste test in their country store. We just about burnt our taste buds off and tortured James’ stomach with all of the food we tried from jalapeño jelly to raspberry chipotle ice cream (which is so tasty!).
Also on Avery Island are the Jungle Gardens, which started off as they still are as an attraction. Part of it was coopted by the USDA as a testing area for newly imported ornamental plants. You’re allowed to drive or walk through and enjoy the wide variety of plant types and interesting landscaping and architecture including a looted 11th century Buddha from the Shonfa Temple in Peking. The most impressive part of Avery Island was a place called “Bird City” where docks were set up in a man-made lake over 100 years ago and today thousands of egrets call this place home. The docks were coated in a blanket of white and the sounds of happy birds.
Our next stop on our trip was to New Orleans! We’ll hopefully get a blog post up soon!