Travel Blog & Book News
A World Away, Just 20 Minutes Out: the Barataria Preserve
Posted March 28, 2012 in Louisiana Travel
A recent ramble through the Barataria Preserve was a powerful reminder of just how close the natural splendor of south Louisiana is to our doorstep here in the city and the way it can transport a visitor to a seemingly different world, if only for an hour or so.
The preserve is part of the Jean Lafitte National Historic Park, and it’s a mere 20-minute drive from New Orleans proper. There are different parts of the preserve, but I think my favorite is what the park service calls its Bayou Coquille Trail and its Marsh Overlook Trail, an area accessed from a parking lot found about a mile down Hwy. 45 from the main visitor center.
The walk is about two miles in length and most of it leads along paved trails or boardwalks. This is all impressively built and well-maintained, giving good access without interfering too much with the areas we come to see. Little decks jut out here and there to get you off the trail for a deeper view into the habitat, and these reveal some scenes of breathtaking beauty and stunning bio-diversity.
In fact, the absorbing, enclosing, bewitching nature of these areas evidently got under the skin of whatever nameless writer was responsible for the placards staked here and there along the trail. Far from the usually dry text of national park info boards, I found these Barataria examples downright poetic. Here’s an example from one situated near a particularly dense swamp view:
“Luxuriant vegetation shapes Louisiana swamps, at once alluring and repelling, airbound and earthbound, fragile and indestructible. Mosses, vines, air plants, tree plants, water plants, fungi, lichens, algae and ferns envelop every surface, screen every bayou, disguise each contour and define every vista.”
These are one-way trails, so you see the same areas heading in and heading back, but don’t think of the return trip as a rerun. The trail takes in a remarkable range of landscapes, from hardwood forest to swamp to marsh as it slopes imperceptibly downward, and it’s fascinating to see these areas shift while walking the trail in each direction. This time of year the entire show is in bloom. Alligators are everywhere and they’re on the move, huge birds flap overhead, cypress trees practically throb with green growth, contrasting with their gray beards of Spanish moss, and irises shoot up from grassy, water-laden surfaces.
It’s beautiful, inspiring but also sobering. This incredible habitat is the essence of south Louisiana and it’s precisely what is disappearing so quickly as our coast continues to dissolve.
There are quite a lot of festivals going on this time of year. But with this beautiful weather, it’s also prime time to get out for some peace and quiet in nature. If that’s more your speed, the Barataria Preserve awaits.
Check out the slide show above for a look at what to expect. The Barataria Preserve’s Web site is very helpful as well.
Here’s a link for driving directions.