Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Experiencing a different kind of Louisiana wildlife

April 22-24, 2013
Abbeville, Louisiana
Betty’s RV Park

My two previous posts focused on partying at Betty’s nightly happy hour, dancing at local festivals and bars, and enjoying Cajun cuisine. Earlier this week, we found some time to explore the natural surroundings in this area.

One of the first places we wanted to check out is a place called Intracoastal City, about ten miles from here. To be truthful, we expected it to be more of a port town, but instead it is mostly a commercial area for the area’s shrimp and oil industries. A man-made canal with locks connects the Vermilion River to the Gulf of Mexico, as part of the Intracoastal Waterway. We stopped at one of the first ports to check out the shrimp boats in the area. It was interesting to discover that most of the boats had Vietnamese names.  I remember seeing a 60 Minutes episode that showed how the shrimp industry in Texas is now dominated by Vietnamese immigrants. Looks like it is also true in Louisiana, at least judging by the names of these shrimp boats.

From here we traveled further down toward the Leland Bowman Locks where we saw lots of evidence of  barges, heliports, and tugs all in service of the offshore oil industry. I neglected to take a photo of one of the main docks which we found interesting as it was the first time we saw the name Halliburton on an American business. Perhaps the irony of this part of my post is the negative impact much of this drilling has had on wildlife.  It would be so sad to see this area after an oil spill or hurricane.  Perhaps that is why so many of the Cajuns embrace life fully as there has been much more hardship here than most have had to endure in terms of both natural and man-made disasters.

The next day we took about a twenty-minute ride to check out the Rip Van Winkle Gardens, so named because the man who built his estate here in 1870, Joseph Jefferson, was best known as an international actor who played the role of Rip Van Winkle over 4000 times.  He chose to build his estate on top of a large salt mine overlooking Lake Peigneur, giving himself one of the better views in the region.  Years after Jefferson’s death, the new owner turned the 25-acre estate into formal gardens and eventually donated it to become a public garden and historical site. After doing so, this owner built a visitor’s center, conservatory, and dream house on the property near the lake. Less than a year later, in 1980, a disaster occurred when a drilling rig pierced a salt cavern on the property causing a whirlpool that sucked most of the buildings into the flooded lake. Fortunately, no one died, but it took more than ten years to restore the gardens and the building and re-open the place to the public.

We were delighted to see these beautiful grounds, but we did not do as we were told (by other folks at Betty's) and go and pay $10 for the house tour and movie.  When we arrived, it was just too tempting to sit under these incredibly beautiful 350-year-old live oak trees and have lunch on the patio of the Jefferson Café. Vic ordered his third or fourth shrimp poor boy of the trip and I had my first authentic muffuletta sandwich with the classic olive salad and Sicilian sesame bread.

There are several Asian artifacts around the gardens as the new owner’s son is married to a woman from Thailand. The black circle hanging below the tree is a large antique temple gong—sure adds to the exotic beauty of the place. Check out the cat curled up on one of the chairs. There were lots of critters around the gardens who seemed to make themselves feel right at home. 

There are also temple bells on the grounds and a large Balinese carved gate with statues that is used for the many weddings that are held on the grounds. I found the symbolism of the gate explained in a brochure quite fascinating:  “The gate faces west so that the couple heads east toward the rising sun, the source of enlightenment. As they enter the gate, they enter their new life as a couple for life.Standing guardians on one side prevent past lives from following the couple. Seated guardians on the other side discourage a return to single life as marriage is a lifetime commitment. A small structure at the back symbolizes the hurdles one must overcome in life.” So fascinating, that I forgot to take a photo of the gate. . . .

My big distraction here was actually the discovery of a huge flock of roseate spoonbills near the entrance to the estate.  I kept hoping to see them in the wild in Florida and that only happened once in two years when we were kayaking in Sarasota Bay near Cortez.  I had to walk through quite a bit of muck to get close enough to take these photos and I stayed quite a while hoping to get an in-focus photo of one of these beauties in flight.  I did not succeed, but just seeing them in person was quite thrilling for me. I learned that April is prime mating season, which is why they are pinker and fluffier than usual. Okay, be prepared for too many photos as you have to experience the full monty.

I think in life before full-timing (LBFT), I would have thought seeing this many pink birds meant I had too much to drink. I am happy to report I saw these amazing creatures after only a glass of strong unsweetened tea with lemon.  Coming to Louisiana has felt like hitting the jackpot—quite unexpectedly.  And, as a matter of fact, gotta go—we are on our way to the Cypress Bayou Casino as Betty’s guests for a special dinner and dancing event. And, yes we are still here—extended our stay twice already!


  1. Oh, my gosh! My favorite bird today, the spoonbill! Wonderful shots, I just love them! What a great place...

  2. ahhhh I see you got caught in the web...

    1. Yes, we are entwined. Actually leaving today but not without second thoughts as the Crawfish Festival is this weekend!

  3. Really interesting post. There are a lot if negative effects of every kind if drilling it seems. I assume the riseates have clipped wings? Your pictures are wonderful. Have you checked out the monthly rate? :-))

    1. No, their wings are not clipped--that's what made this discovery so special. I did learn, however, that the area is a man-made wetland that the owner created as for "nesting opportunities for wading birds that suffer from habitat destruction and predation." I have not yet asked Betty about her monthly rate, but it must be quite reasonable as the daily rate for full hook-ups is less than most state parks.

  4. The best part of this lifestyle is finding hidden gems and staying as long as you want when you discover them. This is why we rarely plan ahead; you never know what tomorrow might bring.

    I love the picture of you under the live oak...very pretty:)

    The roseate spoonbills are magnificent! Glad you added lots of photos. But someone needs to let them know that orange and pink kind of clash!! Haha! I've only seen them once before when we were on a bike trip while staying in Cortez, FL. There were several in trees around the water.

    Looks like a great day! Thanks for sharing and planning for our future visit.

  5. To me, you are enjoying the best part of retirement and full-time RVing! it's so great to find the "gems" and NOT to have to leave on a schedule! I really think Joe and I will have to revisit Louisiana...thanks for wonderful posts about the area!

    Happy trails! Looking forward to the next stop!

    p.s. The spoonbills are magnificent!

  6. I told John I could see myself living in Abbeville. Every day is like a party there!

  7. No wonder you extended your stay at Betty's ... you're having too good a time to leave. I have yet to see Roseates in the wild ... hope to someday!

  8. I cannot get use to pink birds. I guess after 4000 times, you do not have to study your lines anymore:)


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