I awoke to another cold, rainy day. I had hoped to take an airboat tour, but with a high of 45 forecast, I couldn’t imagine that zipping across the swamp in the rain would be much fun. Not to mention, the main attraction, alligators, hibernate in the cold weather. I opted for a slow start to the morning and enjoyed a bowl of oatmeal and a hot cup of coffee at IHOP.
After a few more circles around town, I finally found the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve, Barataria Region. The Reader’s Digest book failed to mention the preserve includes six, separate park locations. No wonder my GPS wasn’t taking me to the section I wanted to visit. In addition, the roads were under construction which resulted in further detours. Alas, I arrived ready to walk the dogs in the rain. Unfortunately, for safety reasons, the dogs were not allowed to tour the boardwalks with me. The boardwalks wrap through swamp land past pines, cypress, palms, and sugar cane. If the sun were out and the temperature were above 50, I might have spotted a resident alligator with her babies, but instead I gazed skyward toward spotting a variety of chirping birds flitting from tree to tree. I even heard a woodpecker, but I couldn’t find it!
Since the dogs really hadn’t enjoyed a good walk for almost 24 hours, I followed the ranger’s instructions and proceeded to a park located aside the intracoastal waterway. The area stunk of fish, so we stayed long enough to see if a cache was hidden nearby. Fortunately, an ammo can was hidden about half a mile down the road behind the Louisiana Marine Fisheries and Museum. At first glance, I was hesitant to get out of VANilla. The weathered museum’s front lawn showcased two beat up fishing boats. Rusted cars and run down homes lined the opposite side of the street. According to the cache description, the museum curator was aware the cache was hidden on the premises, so I quickly ducked behind the building and briskly strode toward the water’s edge to find the cache hidden underneath yet another boat situated in the yard. While there, I took a minute to glance in the museum window. I was startled to see a well kept display of fishing memorabilia. A sign posted on the locked door requested any interested parties to knock on the double doors at the adjacent building. I gave it some thought, but being before 10 on a Saturday, the property was deserted, so I moved on.
We drove west, close to 100 miles, looking for the Oaklawn Manor, once part of a 12,000 acre sugar plantation. We found an old home very close to Gina’s directions, but it wasn’t called Oaklawn Manor. A few hundred yards away, smoke billowed into the air releasing an odor that I couldn’t decide if it was fragrant or foul. I suppose since I chose odor over aroma, I’m leaning toward foul. Upon returning to the main two-lane, pot-holed road strewn with shredded sugarcane dropped from the trucks transporting the stalks, I realized the smoke was coming from a cane mill. In fact, I was surrounded by sugarcane fields. I continued on a few more miles and arrived in a lovely historic town, Franklin. It was like it popped out of thin air…another time warp for me. The rough roads and messy cropland transformed into a historic square lined with attractive buildings.
After mostly busts since yesterday morning and with the sun slowly poking through the clouds, I decided to continue through town and drive an additional 40 miles to Avery Island. I knew it existed as it is the home to Tabasco! The island includes the factory, a gift shop, pepper fields, a salt mine, oil wells, and the Jungle Gardens.
Edmund McIlhenny cultivated pepper plants and created a pepper sauce, Tabasco, shortly after the Civil War. After tinkering with his sauce and storing it in perfume bottles for his friends to taste, McIlhenny patented his recipe and sold his first bottle of Tabasco in 1868. He went on to sell over 600 more that year. Today, Tabasco produces over 700,000 bottles daily! Tabasco’s pepper plants are grown on Avery Island and in Central and South America. The peppers are harvested only when they turn a distinct red. The pepper pickers are given a baton rouge painted the color red that the peppers should match. All Tabasco peppers must be ground and mashed with Avery Island salt the same day they are picked. This process takes place on both Avery Island and in Central and South America. The mash is aged for three years in white oak barrels whose lids are drilled with holes and packed with salt. The barrels are purchased from bourbon distilleries and cleaned of any alcohol prior to use. The fermenting process only takes place on Avery Island. After three years, the mash is mixed with a premium vinegar, stirred for 28 days, strained, and bottled. When the barrels are rendered useless, the wood is chopped up and sold as wood chips in the gift shop. The bulk leftover from the straining process is bagged and sold as seasoning for seafood boils, and the remaining seeds leftover from the straining process are sold to a company in Michigan that extracts the oils for an ingredient used in Bengay, Icy Hot, and Colgate. Almost nothing goes unused! New pepper plants are grown from the strongest seedlings of existing plants.
Edmund McIlhenny’s son (E.A.), a naturalist and explorer, cultivated Jungle Gardens which include both native and exotic plants. Four miles of roads and trails wind past lagoons, palms, cypress, azaleas, camellias, wisteria, bamboo and more. Though obviously most flowering plants weren’t in bloom, just being able to walk uninterrupted for an hour in the sun without retracing any steps was a joy and worth the $8 I spent. E.A. McIlhenny helped save the Snowy Egret from extinction by establishing a colony on the island. Now 20,000 egrets nest on special platforms in a pond nicknamed “Bird City”. During my visit, I only saw one egret, and it was in a lagoon on the opposite of the garden! After our visit to the island, we zigzagged northeast along some back roads to Lake Fausse Pointe State Park to camp for the evening. ETB
websites: http://www.tabasco.com/tabasco_history/avery_island.cfm#targ, www.notablenotecards.com, http://www.etsy.com/shop/nichenotecards