Creole Nature Trail- Cameron to Lake Charles + Lacassine National Wildlife Refuge

Pelican while we were waiting for the ferry
The barge

I wanted to see the rest of the Creole Nature Trail. My plan was to drive an out and back route from Lake Charles. Austin thought it would be very fun to go on the ferry across the river in Cameron. So we drove south from our hotel in Sulphur and followed the trail around to Cameron- doing a loop instead of out and back. We reached a point where there was just a big river, with no way to get across it. Enter the giant ferry boat. It was in the middle of the river when we drove up, so we watched the wildlife and waited for it to get across. We were second in line, and eventually drove onto the boat. I was curious as to how this all worked, but it was really simple- there was a ramp from shore to the boat. Landon was not quite sure what was going on until we pulled away from the shore. Then he got excited. Nobody else got out of their cars once the ferry was on the water, so we just sat back and relaxed in the car and ate lunch while we crossed. It took about five minutes en route, plus docking time, but soon enough we were out on the other side of the river! Austin guessed that they use a ferry instead of building a bridge because this area gets hit very hard by hurricanes and it is easier to just operate a ferry than rebuild a bridge every few years.

Thanks, Acadia, for the fun times!

We have detachment!

The barge waited a few minutes on each side before returning back. There were quite a few trucks that came barreling down the dirt road to catch the ferry before it left. I can imagine it would put a dent in plans/schedules to barely miss the ferry!

The dock area from the ferry

Landon was intrigued!

We visited the next stop on the Creole Nature Trail- the Cameron jetty and boat docks, but did not see any boats, so we decided not to pay for the entry fee into that area. There was a short pier, and in the app it said you could see dolphins from it, but it was seriously the shortest pier I’ve ever seen, so I was not convinced that we could see much more than from the shore. So after a slight stretching of the legs near the jetty, we set off to Rutherford beach. Austin had briefly looked at the map and thought that the turn off was close to the city of Cameron. We turned off on a random road and ended up on some sketchy dirt road that had a dead end on a trailer. We decided quickly that this was not the right way and turned around and went back to the main road.

Rutherford Beach
 We followed the main coastal road for another few miles to the real Rutherford beach. FYI there is a sign pointing the way- so you don’t have to guess! This beach was touted as being more “unspoiled” than Holly Beach, but there were a few houses and much more trash here than on Holly Beach, in my opinion. Landon had fun making sand castles and scooping with big shells, and Austin and I searched for a full sized, unbroken conch shell. We found lots of large pieces, but never a full shell. Maybe another time. We also found some big moon shells and several different types of clam looking shells. We are coming back to Chicago with a ton of shells that I will use in future projects someday! The shells down here on the gulf are just much cooler, bigger, and so different from the shells that I’m used to finding in California.

I was dumbfounded as to what this was, but I think it is a skull

I found a skull on the beach. At first glance, it looked like a fish attached to a porous coral type structure. After examining it more closely, I found a back bone and vertebrae. Austin’s guess was a lobster, but a local came along and we asked him what he thought it was, and he said a skull of some sort. After looking at the shape of the bill on the Roseate Spoon bill, I think it might be a skull of a spoonbill!

After a fun, windy, cold, sandy time at the beach, we headed back inland. We passed some Oak Cheniers- ancient beaches where oaks grew and then held soil. Through time, these cheniers became higher in elevation than the surrounding area, making them better places to build buildings (vs. marshy ground). Although the elevation gain was negligible, it was interesting to see oaks very close to the beach. 

Around this time on our drive, we lost Landon to nap. That was welcomed because his tablet battery was low and he was getting a little restless being cooped up in his seat after the beach. Soon after he fell asleep, we came upon the Pintail Drive. We did not do the boardwalk, because Landon was asleep and we forgot the stroller, but we drove along the drive going approximately three mph in order to take in the wide assortment of wildlife!
Roseate Spoonbills

 During a brief visit to the Lake Charles Visitor’s Welcome Center, I picked up a birding pamphlet and a shelling pamphlet, both of which were very useful for our nature trail adventure! I opened up the birding pamphlet to identify these beautiful, delightfully pink birds. They are called roseate spoonbills, and we saw a ton of these on the Pintail Drive! What makes southwest Louisiana so special as far as birding goes it that many birds winter here in the marshes. So, there are large quantities of birds here which makes them easier to spot and appreciate!

Great blue heron
Exposed alligator

Near the end of our drive, we also spotted some alligators! They were not very large, and were not moving very much because it was too cold, but we officially spotted alligators in the wild! Cross that off this trip bucket list. We did not wake Landon because naps are precious, but we hope to introduce him to some alligators this weekend.

Cute little turtle… watch out for alligators!

This bird was one of my favorites on the day. Its feathers were just the most interesting shade of maroon/green/brown. I had never seen anything quite like it.

White-Faced ibis… really that’s what it’s called!
I’m kind of obsessed with these beautiful spoonbills

Lurking alligator!

Just as a side note, this was another time when I really appreciated our zoom lens. While staying in the comfort of our car, safely away from the monster mosquitoes down here, I was able to zoom in on these amazing creatures! Zoom lenses are the best!

Cypress tree
Now I will tell you a funny story. We got done with the drive. We had two options and some time to kill before we planned on eating a early dinner at Steamboat Bill’s famous seafood restaurant in Lake Charles. Landon was still sleeping, so we were giddy with the possibilities awaiting us. We could either continue back up the normal trail to Lake Charles and kill time there, or we could take a supposedly short detour to Lacassine National Wildlife Refuge to see some real cypress swamp up close and personal. We took the second option. We drove further into the middle of nowhere southwest Louisiana swamp land/very small towns. We passed several. We finally got to the area of the swamp after 45 minutes. Austin was skeptical of my navigating skills, and I was apologetic that I did not know how long it would take us. I advised him to not take the first turn off because we wanted to go to the headquarters and walkway. Well, I successfully got us to the walkway 20 minutes later. It had a tiny dirt turnoff and was a grassy track in the middle of the cypress swamp with thorny bushes threatening to overgrow it. Not what I pictured, but the swamp itself was beautiful.

Sun and cypress

Let’s learn the difference between cypress trees and mangrove trees. I looked it up and cypress trees are conifers that are adapted to living in standing FRESH water. Since water levels fluctuate, they grow “knees” that protrude above the water to provide oxygen for the root systems. Mangroves are adapted to live in all sorts of harsh conditions including salt water. They have more roots coming off of their trunks and are important to prevent soil erosion in coastal areas. They also protect and provide shelter for tons of wildlife. There are both cypress and mangroves in the Everglades. We saw mangroves in Cilacap, Indonesia, and now here we are in Louisiana appreciating the beauty of cypress trees.

The boys… Landon refused to look. He is getting tall!

Love the lights and reflections here

Landon would not look for a pictures with mommy either…
But then I tickled him and he looked briefly.

After the swamp, we high tailed it back to I-10 for a quick trip back to Lake Charles for dinner. We passed lots of rice fields, which we recognized from our recent travels in Indonesia. In Indonesia, they can do three crops a year, here they can sometimes do two. Also, sometimes they keep the fields flooded and set out crawfish traps and so they do rice fields in the summer and crawfish farm in the winter. We saw about half of the farms doing the crawfish pots. 

Although we planned on devouring a lot of boiled crawfish for dinner, they were not serving them when we got there, so Austin got boiled shrimp and I got a boiled shrimp salad and we shared swamp fries- cheese fries with shrimp etouffee on top. Landon ate french fries and some chicken strips for dinner. All around it was a long, but fun outing discovering the beauty of the landscape and wildlife of southwest Louisiana!
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