New Orleans to Natchez
New Orleans, LA to Natchez, MS
Our plan for this day was to visit with a group known as Common Ground Relief, Inc. We had bought a Groupon to go on a wetland restoration excursion, where we would help with planting and learn more about the ecology of the area. But with the change of dates with the Pascagoula Audubon program, we had to alter our schedule and plans with Common Ground. We wouldn’t be able to do the excursion, but could meet with them in their office in the 9th Ward – the area most seriously damaged by Katrina and see the greenhouse that provides the nursery stock for the restoration.
Our first decision, though, was to use another Groupon and have breakfast at The Broken Egg. The reviews proclaimed some of the best omelets and southern specialty dishes. However, not knowing the area very well, we didn’t realize that Mandeville was 26 miles away – across Lake Ponchartrain - the second-largest inland saltwater body of water in the United States, after the Great Salt Lake in Utah. We were well on our way across the Causeway when we decided we wouldn’t be making a visit on this trip to Common Ground.
Like Nonna Mia’s Café, The Broken Egg is located in an old home, with various rooms converted to dining spaces. Many of the reviews I’d read did say that service had been slow and less than friendly, but the food was highly recommended. We arrived around 8 a.m. on a Wednesday, which was a good thing because it was not crowded, but even so we did find that there were only a few servers working and people did have to wait a while for their food. We reminded ourselves, this is the south and we’re all just so impatient nowadays. The food was worth the wait. Mike had the Hey Ricky omelette, which had avocado, cheese, salsa and chorizo cooked within it. Fried potatoes and English muffins accompanied his entrée. It was a lot of food, but he ate it all. I had something called the Southern Stack that included a crab cake placed upon a mound of grits and covered in a rich sauce with shrimp and Andouille sausage. I found it was spicy and delicious, but too rich. I only ate half of it and took the rest along to finish the next morning.
To follow the bike route north we had to return to New Orleans. It was 79F and humid this morning and we drove with our windows down, the river to our left. The levees prevented us from seeing the actual river, but it appeared as though we could ride on top of them for much of the way. This is our big question – so much of this southern portion of the river has levees next to the road – they appear to be perfect for bikers, but later, when we crossed the river at Reserve to Edgarton on the ferry we started seeing signs all along the levees saying Private Property No Trespassing and $100 fines for those caught on them. It appeared by the signage that this was a law passed in 2011. A phone number was listed for the Atchafalaya Basin Levee District and Mike called to ask about the actual rules and possibility of getting permission to ride on them. The woman informed us that all of these levees are owned by various people and we’d have to get permission from each one. A logistic impossibility. We hope to learn more about this in the coming year. It’s really a shame, if non-motorized recreationists cannot access these surfaces. They are a hell of a lot safer than the roadways.
Before taking the car ferry across the river we drove through a region that can only be called Petro Alley. Massive refineries (Shell) and chemical (DuPont) plants line either side of the river; their twisting steel pipes and tall stacks spreading across the horizon. The river here is not what we would consider boater friendly, as massive ocean going oil carriers and tugs pushing 20 barges up and down the river all vie for room to pass. A canoe or kayak would be dwarfed and easily swamped by these massive ships (though we know people have done it in those smaller vessels, down to the Gulf).
This part of Louisiana is known as the Delta; floodplains basically that are now mostly protected by the levees. It is also a region of old Plantations and the road took us past many of the stately buildings, some of which have been restored and opened to the public for tours. Near these homes we found the most massive and stately live oaks, wearing their long shawls of Spanish moss. (An aside; on our walk at Jean LaFitte we learned that parula warblers use the Spanish moss as nests). In the north these warblers use the Old Man’s Beard – usnia – to make their nests. The two plants resemble one another – although the Spanish moss is a flowering plant and Usnia is a lichen. But both work well for the parulas. Some of these oak trees are thought to be well over 200 years old. Their impressive shape stems from a short main trunk with many long and thick branches. Some of the branches reach far beyond the trunk – almost the length that the tree is tall, bending down to touch the ground occasionally and taking root.
The best bird of the day was a fork tailed kite that I saw fly over the road. Mike grumbled, not having seen it. Along this stretch of road up to and beyond Plaquemine, LA we started seeing signs along the side of the road that said, Water Protection Area. We were very curious to learn what that meant.
The town of New Roads, LA was a river town with many red brick buildings, highlighted by white trim.
Weaving our way along a road on top of a stretch of levee we encountered the Old River Control Complex. This a the place where the Mississippi River connected to the Atchafalaya and would have eventually changed its course to the latter, if man had not stepped in and said, “NO”. A series of sluices and dam like structures have been built to control just how much water we will allow the Mississippi to send this way. Author John McPhee describes this human endeavor extremely well in his book The Control of Nature. I recommend it to everyone, regardless of your interest in the river - very well written and insightful.
Our goal was to reach Natchez, a beautiful town built on a bluff above the river. I have never been here before, though Mike had. We found lodging at a Casino hotel, where the actual casino is several blocks away on an old Paddlewheel tied up to the shore, in an area known as Natchez Under the Hill. This area has a long history of riverboat transportation.
We had heard about Fat Mama’s Tamales restaurant and found it just a few blocks away. Before this trip, we did not know how popular tamales were in these southern states, but they are. Some places just specialize in them. Oh, and they always serve them with saltine crackers. We ordered half a dozen at this popular location, along with their Get Naked Margarita’s. Sitting on the patio in the warm late afternoon air was a pleasant change from the long hours in the car.