Tuesday, March 8th
Mississippi Gulf Coast to New Orleans (165 miles)
My first, early morning stop was at the Davis Bayou section of Gulf Islands National Seashore. This park has a Florida unit as well, but it is currently closed after being wiped out by Hurricane Ivan. Check out the pictures of the baby Raccoon I saw foraging for oysters in the muddy waters of the bayou.
The point of the early morning stop was to let me approach New Orleans after the morning rush hour had mostly subsided. I drove down and parked off of Canal Street, one of the ugliest inner city streets I have even seen. The French Quarter was interesting- but very dirty and not as European feeling as I would have thought. I stopped by The Visitor's Center for the New Orleans Jazz National Historic Park, a new NPS unit that is just getting up and running, and has no signs directing you to it. I'm sure it will be a cool park, for now it's just a room. I spent the next couple of hour wandering the French Quarter. I was real impressed with Jackson Square and the area around it, but I had a tough time seeing the wild side of Bourbon Street at Midday on a Tuesday. If I was still a drinker, New Orleans would be more fun. Now it's a collection of cool, old architecture, voodoo shops, antique stores, and more souvenir shops that any place I have ever been. (That's a hint where some of you will be getting you souvenirs from.)
I left downtown heading for the Jean Lafitte NHP-Chalmette Battlefield, eight miles south east of downtown. I had read about New Orleans legendary slums, but nothing could prepare me for the miles of seriously scary neighborhoods. It is really sad and sucked any enthusiasm for The Big Easy that I had developed. The Chalmette Battlefield, site of the most important battle in The War of 1812, is now just a field surround by the ugly industrial sprawl that seems to dominated all areas of the New Orleans suburbs that are not slums. This site really leaves a lot to the imagination, but is bordered by a pretty National Cemetary.
I followed US90 out to my hotel in Slidell, a utilitarian suburb about 25 miles Northeast (#6 on the map above) outside New Orleans. Along the way I stopped at Fort Pike State Historic Site, a great old, crumbling fort built to protect the entrance to Lake Pontchartrain. It was a lot like other forts from the time I have seen, Fort Pulaski NM in Georgia, Castillo de San Marcos and Fort Jefferson, of Dry Tortugas National Park, both in Florida.
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