We travelled along the Louisiana Outback Creole Nature Trail on Thanksgiving Friday. The scenic highway runs along the Gulf of Mexico Coast, often at a short distance from the water. The land was flat and dotted with ponds, marshes, rice fields and grazing land for cattle. All the homes were raised on stilts against flooding. A shabby double-wide propped up about twenty feet in the air flaunted a sign “Cajun High-rise”.
Our driving pace was very relaxed and we stopped at a tiny Cajun Diner for a classic Louisiana shrimp and catfish Po-Boy lunch. Many of the locals were out fishing along the canals beside the highway. Hunters decked out in camouflage, motored down the bayous in search of ducks and gators.
Stopping at the Cameron Prairie Nature Walk, we strolled the boardwalk with its views of various waterfowl. The Pintail Wildlife Drive took us very close to the waterways that support hundreds of bird species, turtles and alligators. Considered one of forty of the top birding locations in the US, there are colonies of egrets, ducks, spoonbill, heron, cormorants, ibis and anhinga. We witnessed displays of flocks flying up in unison as the sun cast shadows over their wings as they completed what seemed like choreographed ballet. Turtles are usually very shy and their tremendous hearing capacity has them diving into the water before one can even lift a camera lens. Perhaps accustomed to frequently passing vehicles, the turtles were posing for their Kodak moments. We also saw at least ten alligators, most of whom were sunbathing in the grass.
By late afternoon, we were ready to stop for the night but saw no RV sites that were appealing or that had vacancy. We took a small ferry across a channel as the sun was losing its warmth. The beach-side town of Cameron seemed like a possible place to stop for the night. We spoke to some locals that said anyone could camp on the beach so down we headed and set up facing the ocean. Luckily we had enough light for a beach walk and watch the sun set over the waves. The pretty pastel-coloured houses looked lovely against the burning sky. We could see a few oil storage platforms miles out, twinkling in the dark distance. It was great to pop out onto the sunny beach in the morning.
We carried on along the Creole Nature Trail past a similar watery landscapes, houses perched on stilts and grazing cattle. Oil refineries were abundant and residents of a few “oil towns” were lined along local piers for fishing and family days out. The view shifts from outback wilderness to sprawling industrial complexes. Huge oil refineries are a mass of stacks, pipes, towers, trays and storage tanks. The sounds and odors of crude oil being distilled, converted and broken down into propane, diesel, butane, gasoline, furnace oil and industrial fuels is overwhelming.
About ten miles across the grassy fields dotted with cattle, the bridge, stack and top third of the deck of an ocean liner would appear. Bright white, brick red, loud yellow and various blues of huge cargo ships were startling to view above the grass as they passed through the canals north of us. Next, we saw an interesting illusion to the south. Hazy silhouettes of ocean tankers appeared to float higher than the road we travelled on. Atmosphere and distance can really play tricks on the eye! As we neared the Bolivar Port, we joined a long line of motorists lined up for a ferry crossing. The traffic was high due to the Thanksgiving holiday so we waited about an hour to board and cross the mouth of Galveston Bay, Texas. I went up to the top deck for the view while Chris stayed in the coach with Dixie. Because the trip is free, many people take the 45 minute ride as a sight-seeing excursion, watching pleasure boats, cargo ships, shrimpers and dolphins.
One must be of a certain generation to remember the Glen Campbell ballad about Galveston,an island town in Texas. Chris and I were singing it as we disembarked and drove along the seawall highway past public piers toward our camp. Settling in at Jamaica Beach RV Resort, we were greeted by next door neighbours Lorraine and Chris from Bayfield Ontario. Cocktails and friendship flowed freely as our Texas portion of our trip began.
We walked the beach every day and rarely saw other people. Dixie enjoyed the waves as well as sniffing the washed up shells, wood and seaweed. One day we took our bikes and enjoyed our first beach ride. The sand was a mixture of four colours; cinnamon, ginger, cloves and cardamom so each time the tide receded, the swirls and patterns in the sand changed. On different strolls we saw a dead shark, a fisherman’s net, a pirate chest filled with gold coins, a note in a bottle from a young Australian boy named Al, a giant pink pearl inside an oyster shell….relaxing to the rhythm of the waves sure fuels the imagination! Does anyone know if a sand dollar found on an American beach is worth more than one found on a Canadian beach?
The weather varied widely from extreme humidity and seventy degree highs to windy, rainy days in the low fifties. We scored a great campsite where we had a view of the Gulf. On a corner lot, we had our own lawn, palm tree and level paved site with patio. The park owners really took pride in their property. We drove into Galveston, only twenty minutes away, a few times to see the sites.
For a couple of hours, we rode our bikes around the East Historical District, observing the homes and gardens in their various states of total renovation or derelict shadows of former glory. The town was hosting a Victorian Christmas weekend so garland and lights added a bit of festivity. The Moody Mansion built in 1895 was refurbished after the Great Hurricane of 1900 and boasts decorative plaster carvings, mahogany wood trim, marble floors and stained glass inside. Bishop’s Palace is also open to the public and offers a mixed architectural style predominantly Victorian with turrets and porches borrowed from the design of French Chateaus. The other fifty city blocks are lined with a mix of small cottages and huge Greek Revival-inspired homes. Coloured tiles, ornate carving, wrought iron and picket fences, unique painted patterns and gingerbread, stained glass, charming gardens and porches lined with pillars all add nuance and variety to the neighbourhood. The bad taste of Hurricane Ike and other fierce storms is sadly evident throughout the city where financial ruin has lead to the slow decay of many of the homes and commercial buildings. There are a few quaint cafes and small businesses in the area. We sat in the afternoon sun delighting in superb coffee and and baked treats at Pattycakes Bakery.
Galveston has two waterfronts, its industrial port side where various cargo ships load and unload, cruise ships and fishing boats dock and where old oil rigs go to die. An interesting collection of them line the opposite shore of the harbour and are used for parts and repurposing. Beautiful worn warehouses now hold restaurants, bars and shops or stand abandoned. The south side of Galveston is a public place with wharfs and boardwalks where beaches invite locals and tourists to surf and enjoy the seashore. There are always many ships anchored out in the Gulf waiting to come in to port.
One gray, cool day we donated two dollars to the most decrepit parking box ever seen. (See image) An archaic metal key is used to push the money into the slot. How do they ever know how long a car had been parked in a particular spot? Curious! We toured the fascinating Ocean Star Oil Rig Museum. The retired rig holds bountiful displays and information about the oil industry. Older machinery, towers, drills and their amazing bits are in place on the exterior decks. Intricate models of rigs and ships from various eras, illustrations and charts tell the complex story of oil formation, discovery, gathering, processing and distributing. One model compared the immense size of a modern oil rig to Manhattan! All aspects of the industry are explored from the incredible technological advancements to the human elements of food preparation by chefs and laundry service on a rig. One thing I had never considered is the necessary delivery of fresh water to the oil rigs and platforms. Surprisingly, guests have an option of paying an admission fee to enter the museum or you can do an hour’s work on the rig, which I did, as you can see from the photos. It was worth the free admission!
Some say archaic, some say timeless charm….. Trapped giant Ken doll.
In keeping with the spirit of the season….a green tree above and white “Christmas Tree” below
on-deck tour guide
We sat outside at Fisherman’s Wharf Restaurant and enjoyed catch of the day: Grouper and Redfish. The patio is situated next to the tall ship Elissa and we watched seabirds gad about on the ship's ropes. Dolphins in the harbour appeared a few times for our entertainment. A huge yacht from The Caymen Islands was docked next to the patio and the crew were busy scrubbing every inch of it. We were treated to the departure of the cruise ship Triumph by chance.
A large property near the inland bay offers a variety of family entertainment from a gigantic Water Park, I-Max Theatre, Aquarium and Rainforest. During holiday season there are thousands of Christmas lights up and an ice sculpture venue too. We joined Lorraine and Chris on a tour of The Rainforest. The humid jungle brimming with vines, orchids, bromeliads, butterflies and birds was the perfect escape from a cold dreary day outside.
Colourful birds flew in the canopy above us and sloths and monkeys appeared out of the greenery now and then. We caught feeding time for the two large monitors. Ponds contained huge fish including interesting rays and turtles. A sea otter, twice the size of its Canadian cousins, played on shore and leapt in and out of the water with ease. A variety of snakes, lizards, bats and rodents were on view in their micro climate cages. The least shy of the birds were the Scarlet Ibis that looked exactly like White Ibis dipped in orange dye.
We shared a few “happy hours” at the park with our Canadian friends and supplies from Specs. The name suggests an optical store but Texans know that it is a huge liquor store. They say “everything in Texas is large” and the store fit the cliché. Imagine the largest grocery store you have ever been in. Leave a couple of rows of cheese, crackers, olives, snacks, bar implements and visualize the remainder stacked with any and all kinds of spirits, beer and wine! We joined Bonnie and Bill and daughter Kate, from Winnipeg, at the “Canadian Table” for a fun potluck dinner at the RV Park. I felt a small spark of Christmas spirit surrounded by decorations in the clubhouse and watching the many lights come on in RVers sites each night. Our “last supper” with Lorraine and Chris was over oyster and shrimp platters at “Nicks Kitchen and Beach Bar”.