Creole Nature Trail- Sulphur to Holly Beach, Louisiana

Austin is working lots of hours for this job in Louisiana. Unless Landon and I want to get up early and drive him to work, we do not have a car to explore the area with during the day. That works out fine because I like to run and explore that way, but for the Creole Nature Trail and other attractions further away, I have to wait for Austin’s days off to see those things. 
Intracoastal waterway bridge

So last Friday, we ventured out to the Creole Nature Trail. This trail is actually a scenic drive that is one of the oldest scenic drives in the country. There was a fancy app available for both Apple and Android products that gave us a map of the whole trail, as well as interesting facts and tidbits along the way. It was like having a personal tour guide in the back seat! We drove south through the marshy wetlands on the way to the Gulf of Mexico. Along the way, we crossed over the Intracoastal Waterway- a channel that runs from Browneville, Texas to Trenton, New Jersey along the coast. I had never heard of such a thing. It is used for shipping and it is 2,500 miles long. It was used heavily during WWII when shipping things over the open ocean meant risking being sunk by German U-boats. You learn something new every day! When we reached the bridge, rails were down because a boat with tall stacks was going underneath, necessitating the drawbridge. This was not a typical drawbridge, though, there was a metal platform in the center of the bridge that lifted up to allow the boat to pass under. It was neat to see the bridge in action. We think Landon would really have liked it as well, but he was conked out in the back seat!

Marsh channel going out to Lake Calcasieu

Along the path there were parking lots and little nature trails to be explored. The first one we came to was the Blue Goose Trail. This was probably a half-mile paved walk down to the shores of Lake Calcasieu. The lake itself is huge! It was a little less scenic and full of wildlife than normal because there had just been a controlled burn in the area the day before. We were trying to find an alligator to show Landon, but did not have any luck at the first trail. What we did find were swarms of HUGE mosquitoes. When Austin first was bitten by one, he thought it was a biting fly. That’s how big they are. They are even bigger than ones we have seen in other tropical locales like India and Indonesia!

Thanks, stroller, for being a good camera-holding apparatus!

Landon was a little sleepy when we got here, but by the time we were walking back to the car, he wanted to walk by “hisdelf” as he calls it. Well, that was great except there were swarms of huge mosquitoes and we were the only warm-blooded creatures around. We came out with only 1-2 bites each, and next time we will slather on the insect repellent!

On the Blue Goose Trail
The next stop on our tour was the Wetland Walkway. When we drove into the parking lot, there were signs all over about not feeding the alligators and not getting too close to the alligators. Surely, we thought, if there was an alligator to see, it would be here where we are being warned about them. We put Landon in the stroller just to be safe, since Landon is just the right size for an alligator meal. Turned out to be a little disappointing in the alligator sighting department, but a gorgeous 1.5 mile walk through the wetlands. 

The wetland walk started out on a paved road that led straight along a swampy canal. We were sure we were going to see alligators, particularly after coming across this sign:

In my opinion, the alligator looked friendly here!

We decided that this place would be absolutely gorgeous in Spring when the trees/grasses were getting their leaves and getting color back into them. This time of year, it seemed that everything just looked a little dead and drab. Along the trail, there were these neat platforms and shelters that went out over the water so we could get a better look. We used the zoom lens on the camera to try to look for alligators far away, but did not have any luck. Landon was convinced he saw one several times, but we think he has a bit of an imagination.

Canal from the platform over the water

 After going down the paved road for awhile, the path turned into a boardwalk type surface and we were walking (with no railings or anything) right over the marshy earth and water. We saw all sorts of scat on the trail, and it had a lot of hair in it, but we’re not sure what produced it.

Boardwalk at the Wetland Walkway

Reflections

At the end of the trail, there was an observation tower and some telescopes to get a closer look at areas of the wetlands. We passed one other family coming from the other direction, and neither of us saw any alligators. After reading in our handy app, it seems that they dig underground holes and hang out there in the winter, especially when it is too cold. It was not the warmest day, so I can see how they would want to stay inside. The mom in the other family remarked that last time she came to this walkway, there were six alligators right in the front area of the marsh really close to the parking lot. So they are there! Also, I heard on the radio that alligators outnumber humans 10:1 in the coastal marshes region. So… chances are high that we will see one at some point! Later on in this trip, we are planning on an air boat ride with a guide that knows where the alligators hang out. We may need to wait until then to see one!

Observation platform

Along our drive, we saw a large number of cool looking cranes and herons and other water birds. I finally got a picture of one. This one was hanging out by the parking lot of the Wetland Walkway.

Holly Beach houses on stilts

It was around 4:00 and we were trying to decide whether or not we should turn back or keep going on the trail. We did not have anything planned, so we decided to keep going to the next stop along the trail. Well, the next stop ended up being Holly Beach, which is on the Gulf of Mexico. It is only 35 miles from our hotel to Holly Beach, and when we got there it was practically deserted. In 2005, Hurricane Rita leveled the town and so people are gradually rebuilding. Many of the homes closer to the coast were on high stilts. In the community of Hackberry on the way to Holly Beach, about half were on some sort of stilts while some were on a concrete foundation just sitting on the ground. Austin thought maybe it was much harder and cost more to get a concrete foundation in with the marshy conditions, so most of the single family homes were on stilts. Anyway, I have been to one gulf beach in Naples, Florida. I don’t really remember this aspect of it, but you can basically drive into the water if you want. This differs from California beaches that have defined parking areas and  then you walk to the sand/beach part. Here, there were a few trucks parked feet away from the water, and I’m sure boat launching is super easy here. Austin didn’t want to get our SUV stuck in the sand, so we parked a little ways off and made our way down to the beach.

 The beach is fairly flat and had some really cool, big shells scattered all over the sand. Landon went to work on a sand castle right away. I started hunting for shells that were cool and different from ones I already have in my extensive collection. Austin documented with the camera and we all had a marvelous time. Something about the sound of the waves and the wind and the water and the sunshine and the sun in the hours before it sets is just so peaceful.

Shells!

Beach for miles and miles
I MADE IT!
I DID IT!

 After a few minutes, the peace was disturbed by jubilant shouts from our little boy. “MOM!” he said, “I DID IT! I DID IT! I MADE IT! I MADE IT!” He was, of course, talking about his sand castle and he was so excited that he did it mostly himself (I helped get him started with the base before I shell-hunted). He was jumping up in the air and frolicking all over the beach. It was just one of those sweet, happy memories that will always make me smile. One interesting thing he was doing was running all over the beach and grabbing a small handful of sand from each place and running back to put it in his castle. After awhile, it was windy and getting colder and Austin and I were ready to go. Landon was still running around like crazy and really did not want to leave.

Happy boy in his happy place

Running to collect more sand
Birds in flight

While we were there, we saw one other family in a golf cart- grandparents with two older grandchildren probably upper grades of elementary school age. They went by in the golf cart, and then a few minutes later the sky was full of seagulls! The boys were way down the beach scattering the birds and there were a lot of birds!

Beach, shells, sun. There is not much else I need in the world.

Washing off
As the sun got lower in the sky, we knew we should be getting going. We washed Landon off in the warmer waters of the Gulf (not as warm as Indonesia, but warmer than California). Maybe next time we can plan and bring dinner and have a sunset dinner on the beach. The sunset will probably be great from this vantage point next time!

The boy and his castle
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