Swamps, Deserts and Shuffleboard Louisiana, Texas, Arizona

By Remy ( photos by Liz)

We were excited to finally be entering Louisiana, as this felt like we were entering a truly exotic part of the US of A. We had had faint glimpses of this in Alabama and Mississippi, but to be in the delta of the Mississippi River seemed like we were in a different world. The entry into the city of NOLA is impressive, driving down Highway 10 along the vast shore of Lake Pontchartrain, elevated most of the way above the swamps that constitute the geography around here. There was still a lot of hurricane damage evident here from the last storm that belted this area in the past summer: blue-tarped roofs, boats and other vehicles washed up in swampland where they wouldn’t normally be found, buildings have built or torn down (hard to tell – it appears that damage from a few storms past still hadn’t been attended to when the last one hit). The outskirts of New Orleans had a post-apocalyptic feel: dimly lit highways, many of which are still under construction/repair; heaps of debris, both natural and demolition waste; all compounded by a marine layer hugging the earth and occasionally dropping rain. We had been out in the cold for a while, so the first order of business was a major re-victualing at Costco, where our stay for the night only added to the post-apocalyptic feel.
After a workout and a shower in the Costco parking lot below an elevated highway overpass (not an unusual experience for van-lifers), we were ready to head in to The Big Easy proper to begin our exploration of this unique city. The first thing we had to do to prepare ourselves was learn how to properly pronounce the name of the city. Rather than give it the usual Canadian inflection as New Orleans, we had to train ourselves to contract the name and get as close as we could to the local Nawlins. Kinda like when foreigners come to Canada and refer to Newfound Land.
We had to break the seal on the French Quarter, which we did right away and got our tourist ya-yas out. We also did some disaster tourism, inspecting some levee breaks and learning about how the fooding affected people. It sure put the Calgary flood into perspective! And all this while living in City Park, one of the nicest urban green spaces we have encountered. There sure don’t design cities like this any more – the Louisiana Purchase was a great deal!

A typical road-side scene on the approach to New Orleans – mounds of demolition waste consisting mostly of waterlogged insulation and drywall. It is heartbreaking to think of where this will all end up, and one hopes that building codes will be changed to anticipate the climate change that will otherwise continue to generate such waste.
Into the heart of tackiness we descended. The French Quarter plays up greatly on Voodoo spirituality and the mysteries that French culture presented to the Anglo-Saxons that took over this area. The streets abound with fortune tellers and hustlers, which was slightly at odds with how generally lacking the number of tourists was when we got there. Another consequence of Covid, apparently.
One of the charms of the French Quarter is the architecture, with scads of cast iron ornamentation. The horse-drawn carriages have the effect of calming traffic, which makes for a more pleasant cycling experience as well.
Now that is a sensible bylaw! This place was obviously not settled by Puritans.
A typical street scene, complete with street performer whose performance consists of not performing. The Saints fan with the football assumed that position and maintained as long as we chose to watch. He carries a lit cigarette in his left hand to show people that he is indeed a living statue. Art is cool!
What would New Orleans be without its jazz? This very talented group of musicians set up outside of the Cafe du Monde (the oldest cafe in North America and serving coffee 24 hours a day for over 100 years) and played hard. The leader then worked the crowd as hard as they had played to collect donations, a very honest way to make a living. The cafe sells two things: beignets (the same deep-fried dough wads covered in icing sugar that we had tried in Mobile, AL) and coffee, which in this case is the local variety that includes chicory root. I came to like this very much, and regretted not buying more of it before we left.
City Park in New Orleans incorporates a Museum of Modern Art, which includes a free outdoor sculpture park. The pieces are mostly all privately-owned pieces that have been loaned to the Museum for enjoyment by the public – very civilized! We spent four nights in the park and were joined by our friends, The Ladies. The park police did not bother us until the last night, and even then the crusty old officer coached us into telling him what he needed to hear in order to satisfy his responsibility of informing us that the park was closed before I suspect he booked off for the night and we remained right where we were. Again, very civilized! A bonus to be able to overnight right in the city.
Part of our Hurricane Katrina Disaster Tourism tour. This was one of the levees that failed and flooded a signifiant portion of the city and killed a number of people. The concrete wall on the right is the flood wall that extends the height of the levee underneath, and you can see how far below is the level of the houses on the left. A study after the fact revealed that the Army Corp of Engineers had designed the levees based on faulty data, causing them to fail well before they should have.
Sometimes you just have to take the cheesy tourist photo, but it may as well be with some cool street art!
We signed up with The Ladies to do a swamp tour, which was a highlight of the trip. The boat captain had a very slick patter and obviously enjoys his job.We learned the difference between a marsh and a swamp (an important distinction if you are buying real estate in Louisiana) and got to see the local flora and fauna. This fed my Tom Sawyer-inspired fantasy of a raft trip down the Mississippi. We also had an opportunity to do some mushroom evangelism, educating the captain about the edibility of the oyster mushrooms we spotted growing in the swamp.
More of that disaster tourism – this concrete barge apparently wasn’t here in the swamp before Hurricane Katrina, but has been here ever since. Nobody knows who it belongs to.
On the way back from the swamp tour we stopped in at this roadside barbecue where we split a Flintstones-proportioned rack of ribs with The Ladies, along with the best smoked Andouille sausage we have ever eaten. This is the kind of foraging we love to do!
The cheerful and generous proprietor, who detected our giddy excitement and threw in an extra sausage. The culture here is as friendly and generous as has been reported!
Happy campers in City Park, New Orleans.

On to Lafayette…..

A cheerfully painted housing development in Lafayette, Louisiana. Housing is a big problem in the US and this is a cute response in providing affordable shelter.
We know you have been wanting to see some gators! After paying good money on the swamp tour to see some tame gators, we took a free side road to a wildlife preserve and saw more gators than ever! Liz is wrangling a pair of them in this photo.
They grow big here, likely because of the number of waterfowl that settle here on the flyways north and south. Or maybe because of the numbers of ignorant tourists that drive through and want to pet them or take photos with them!
Along the Gulf shore of Louisiana the building codes reflect how regularly the area is inundated. This house still shows the effects of last summer’s hurricane, and building supplies are so slow in coming that the government-issued tarps have already weathered off.
Even the schools have to be raised on stilts! It must be a weird fact of life that everything has to be built off the ground.
In Holly Beach, on the Louisiana Riviera, we got stuck for the first time! The exorbitantly-price traction pads were greatly appreciated as we self-rescued after blithely driving past the “4 X 4 Only” sign and promptly burying the axles in sand. It did draw the attention of some very hospitable residents (who are used to encountering boobs like us), so all in all it was a positive, if somewhat sweaty, experience.
One of said hospitable residents, Marty, generously providing us with some local gumbo after we had expressed regrets at not having had more of it before leaving Louisiana. His partner, Monica, also prepared us a meal of homemade jambalaya that night, and they let us use their outdoor heated shower as well, which is like gold to nomads!
We woke up in Holly Beach on Liz’ first birthday on the road. She had a gift waiting from our young friend, Sequoia, and I provided a token to open as well. It is not easy to surprise the other when you live together 24 hours per day!
Marty and Monica’s house in Holly Beach, which is raised on stilts 20′ in the air. It provides a great view but requires a significant climb every time to get in the door. And every time the tide surges, everything on ground level gets soaked or carried away. It puts blizzards and cold snaps in a new perspective, as those are just uncomfortable and don’t necessarily lead to ruin.

The Republic of Texas – the state really is as big as its ambitions. We took the loooong way around Houston, which was made easier by the fact that we ditched the tolls on the beltway. We have learned that toll roads in the US are now automated, with banks of cameras that record license plates as you enter and leave the highway. I know that Alberta doesn’t have an information-sharing agreement with any US state, so we let the robots click away – good luck finding us!
We bee-lined to Austin because of its well-deserved reputation as a weird city, to which it lived up marvellously.

A good sign – as we head west the tortilla selection in the grocery stores increases.
Austin has done a great job of preserving the riverfront in the city, as well as supporting the mermaid population!
Another street art tourist photo. This piece of graffiti is apparently a real posting that was part of the disintegration of a domestic relationship of the owner of the green building. It has now become Instagram famous and we even spotted the wall on the opening credits of season 6 of Queer Eye which was filmed in Texas.
Austin is weird, and this is just one of the reasons why.
Again – weird. I guess they have to support one of the city’s sons.
Barton Springs, which at this time of year is open for free. The same pool also supports a population of rare salamanders, and topless bathing by both sexes is tolerated. Its a natural spring that runs through the city that they have developed into an enormous swimming pool. The water is a constant 74 degrees fahrenheit. Too cold for Liz but perfect for Remy

After Austin, it was time to undertake the long dry trip through the deserts of western Texas, New Mexico and Arizona to make our rendezvous with Carol and Don ( Liz’s Parents) for Christmas. We had recruited them to bring down some needed supplies from Canada, and had used their address as a destination for things we had ordered on-line. We were looking forward to some coddling, as well!

And then, the loooong drive through western Texas. The hill country is beautiful and sparsely populated, by both people and gas stations. the highway cuts through the hills like this frequently.
Big skies, and big numbers on the highway signs. Remember, those distances are in miles.
Chicano culture is strong in El Paso, which only makes sense. this is a part of the US that is more Hispanic than Anglo.
Some of the best pozole we have had, anywhere.
La Casa de Azucar. this house is the passion project of a house-proud resident in El Paso who, in evenings and on weekends, hand-sculpted and painted every bit of ornamentation in this yard. Not only Austin is weird!
I am sure that this entrance would be the envy of anyone of Mediterranean descent! The artist began the project as a devotion to his wife, and one shrine in the yard led to the entire block being decorated. It does look like a house of Sugar.
A hike in the desert outside of El Paso. Much like we had done on Signal Hill in St. John’s, we ended up climbing the same mountain a number of times, except this time there was a distinct lack of craft breweries!
A rose among many thorns! We both really like the desert.
This would have had Wile E. Coyote licking his chops! We spent a night at a rest stop in New Mexico overlooking this sculpture and an amazing view of the valley that the old Spanish Camino Real followed up to the northern part of the state. We voted this our favorite rest stop stay yet.
It is nice to have big skies again, and we love checking out the beautiful clouds.
Into Arizona. The mountains here provide a great relief to the flat desert.
More hills and desert.
Street art is great, and should be encouraged! Tucson
Cactus hug! You certainly don’t want to get your hips into this one. This is part of a beautiful garden outside the old city hall in Tucson which houses a remarkable monument to a mass shooting that happened here, killing six people and wounding Representative Gifford. An unintended bit of disaster tourism on our part.
Our boondocking site outside of Tucson, where we were joined for a night by The Ladies, who are dogging our steps westward. This will be the last time we see them for a while, as we will be heading into Mexico while they continue to the coast and then northward to Canada to begin their slow return home to Ontario. Liz was proud of how she captured the sunrise on the side of their van, and I am proud of her too!
Again – we like the desert! And our vans.
Sometimes you just have to stop at the tourist traps, and we really enjoyed this one! Rooster Cogburn’s ostrich ranch, where you pay to feed their livestock. It is slightly freaky to feed these massive birds from your hand.
Apparently my brain is still much larger than than those of all four birds in this photo, but I am the one that has been trained.
Luckily no transmission of hoof and mouth disease after this tourist trick. Goats are surprisingly good kissers.
Home for the holiday! We finally hove up in Yuma, and happilyThe Radvan was able to squeeze in to Don and Carol’s parking space, and it was convenient to be able to pass things back and forth from the deck. We had a new mirror waiting for us to replace the one damaged way back in Pennsylvania, and lots of home cooking and hospitality (not to mention a hot tub and great showers).
Merry Christmas, suckers! It was actually cooler than it looks.
First siesta of the day. Don getting rested up for an afternoon poker session. The Shabens will appreciate this photo that we can add to the hundreds already in our family collection. Like mother, like son.
New residents at the RV park, getting to know the neighbours by delivering fresh quiche. Way better than Christmas carols! And yes, that is a healthy blend of fruit juices in their cups.
Th fantastic evening view from the deck at Don and Carol’s place. Did I say we love the desert?
The delicious Christmas trifle, thoughtfully prepared by Don and Carol’s neighbour, Penny. It only lasted a couple of days.
Christmas soak in the hot tub. We have a totally new appreciation for the snowbird lifestyle after our stay at the Sundance RV Resort – “we are playing bingo, so it must be a Wednesday”.

Having crossed the continent once more, and re-charged from our Christmas visit with Don and Carol, we are charged up and ready to begin the segment of our journey that we have been looking forward to for a long time – a re-conquest of Mexico!

~Remy~

Published by tompkinsontheroad

Married mother of two awesome boys who is now living full time in a self converted Camper van and seeing more of the world. We gave up something super special to live our dream of living a free and simple life on the road exploring new places and taking joy in the discovery of the extraordinary

8 thoughts on “Swamps, Deserts and Shuffleboard Louisiana, Texas, Arizona

  1. You have given me a lovely Sunday evening while we wait for our scalloped potatoes, sumac cauliflower and saffron chicken to cook. We feel your terrific energy across the virtual stream, Love the shared experience.

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  2. What a great read as usual, and the pictures where great. Thank you for your kind comments about our chosen part time lifestyle. We certainly love it here in Yuma.

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    1. Hi Finn,
      So nice to hear from you and glad to know you are enjoying the read! I can’t even begin to tell you how much work it is to put this together for posterity so it’s good to know friends are reading it!
      We will watch the video you sent
      Hugs to you and Satchco

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  3. Fabulous travelog! I am presently reading a book set in NOLA, mostly centered on food. It was serendipity to see your pictures and here you confirm the author’ s take on Nawlins. Great pictures!

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  4. “Really Great Blog-Posting-Happy Trails, AND I RECALL RECITING SIMILAR NON-FICTION GESTURES, in the WINTER TIME…WHEN I was DOWN SOUTH…Florida to California, etc., as in Happy Holidays/Christmas-New Year’s with NO SNOW!!!” Later, Brian CANUCK-THE BREEZE Murza, Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada.”

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