Authentic Breaux Bridge: Crawfish Capital of the World

Stroll the quaint downtown streets of Breaux Bridge, Louisiana and you’ll find yourself transported back to a time when life was less hectic

Nestled along the banks of the slow-rolling Bayou Teche, Breaux Bridge, the “Crawfish Capital of the World,” is a gorgeous historic town with world-class restaurants and a thriving Cajun music and folk art scene. Conveniently located just off I-10 at Exit 109, three hours east of Houston and two hours west of New Orleans, Breaux Bridge is a great place to stop off for a meal and an afternoon of antiquing, and an even better place to camp at a local RV park and stay awhile.

Bayou Teche at Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The bridge itself isn’t much to see (though you can’t miss it)—it’s a tall, slightly rusty metal drawbridge that spans the Teche (pronounced “tesh”). The downtown stretch of Bridge Street, though, is adorable. Antique shops, boutiques, art galleries, and restaurants span several blocks, and strolling the length of the strip can easily fill an afternoon.

The origins of this charming town date back to 1771 when Acadian pioneer Firmin Breaux bought land in the present-day city of Breaux Bridge and in 1799 built a suspension footbridge across the Bayou Teche to help ease the passage for family and neighbors. Area residents and visitors soon knew of the bridge and began calling it “Breaux’s bridge”, later adopted as the city’s name.

Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The town received its official founding in 1829 when Scholastique Picou Breaux drew up a plan called Plan de la Ville Du Pont des Breaux. The Catholic Church parish was created in 1847 and Breaux Bridge was officially incorporated in 1859. Back in 2009 Breaux Bridge celebrated its 150th birthday.

Breaux Bridge is the gateway to authentic Cajun culture in south Louisiana with traditional Cajun and funky Zydeco music, world-famous cuisine, and a rich history filled with interesting stories. Breaux Bridge is home of the world famous Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival every May, where thousands converge on the little city to pay homage to Louisiana’s famous crustacean.

Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The annual Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival is the town’s largest attraction. Taking place each year on the first weekend of May (April 30-May 2, in 2021, this down-home festival is an ode to the humble mudbug, one of the area’s major exports and a favorite for Cajun food lovers.

With three stages featuring the most popular Cajun and Zydeco musicians in the region, dozens of food vendors cooking crawfish (and other Cajun favorites) in every way you can imagine, a midway with rides and games, and more activities like crawfish races and crawfish eating contests, it’s a one-of-a-kind event that’s worth a trip.

Bayou Teche at Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Smaller events take place in town several times a year. The Tour du Teche, a large paddling race that takes place over three days each October and stretches the entire length of the Bayou Teche, passes through town. The annual Breaux Bridge Cajun Christmas Parade takes place the first Sunday after Thanksgiving and rings in the Christmas season with a Louisiana flair.

Just outside of Breaux Bridge is the gorgeous Lake Martin, a wildlife-filled preserve and rookery that’s protected and administrated by the Nature Conservancy. You can drive or walk along the edge of the lake and see alligators, egrets, herons, roseate spoonbills, nutria, and many more critters of various sizes hiding among the bald cypress and water lilies. There are several tour operators offering boat tours: Champagne’s Swamp Tours dock right at the entrance to Rookery Road and offer an eco-friendly tour experience. You can also rent canoes and kayaks and take your own trip around the lake.

Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just a bit further out of town, in the neighboring hamlet of Henderson, you’ll find access to one of the largest swamp ecosystems in the United States, the Atchafalaya Basin. McGee’s Landing Basin Swamp Tours take you into the basin for a look at some of the plant and wildlife that thrive in its murky waters, including the aforementioned gators and water birds. And it goes without saying, the fishing’s great here and in Lake Martin. They don’t call Louisiana the Sportsman’s Paradise for nothing.

Cafe des Amis, Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Scenic byways through this part of the state offer visitors a unique experience of the Cajun and Creole lifestyle. They are selected for their recreational, scenic, historic, cultural, archeological, and natural resources. Your senses are inundated with sights, sounds, and tastes that could only come from south Louisiana. Breaux Bridge is part of Bayou Teche Scenic Byway which winds through south Louisiana’s lush swamps and moss-draped bayous.

Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Breaux Bridge is a hotbed for Cajun and Zydeco music, and it’s easy to find in town. The famous Cafe des Amis (140 East Bridge Street) features Zydeco Breakfast every Saturday morning which pairs decadent brunch items with live zydeco music. You’ll also find live acoustic music here several nights a week.
Pont Breauz’s Cajun Restaurant (325 West Mills Avenue), formerly known as Mulate’s, is a legendary Cajun food and music venue that offers live traditional Cajun music every night of the week, alongside a tempting menu of classic Cajun and Creole dishes.

Bayou Teche at Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joie de Vivre Cafe (107 North Main Street) is a coffee shop and ad hoc community center that features Cajun music jam sessions on weekend mornings, as well as evening concerts, poetry and literature readings, and other cozy cultural events.

Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

What we admire—and secretly covet—is their love of good food combined with a zest for life that they proudly call joie de vivre.

—Linda Carman

Cool-As-Hell Louisiana Towns You Need to Visit (Besides New Orleans)

The rich cultural history, the tasty culinary scene, and the distinctive Cajun and Zydeco music are all part of the cultural legacy created by the diverse people who settled here

As you leave New Orleans and head west, the changes start out subtle: The Crystal Hot Sauce is replaced by Tabasco, the bright colors of Mardi Gras beads and Spanish-influenced houses are replaced by Spanish moss. With the 24-hour-a-day touristy chaos of Bourbon Street and the French Quarter behind you, you’ll find only friendly locals.

Tabasco factory © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Heading west on I-10 toward Baton Rouge, Lafayette, and Lake Charles means shedding the tourist trappings and easing into one of America’s most exciting food and music scenes.

For many visitors, a trip to Louisiana means Bourbon Street and sweet drinks in novelty plastic cups, Mardi Gras parades, and near-daily Brass Band Parades second lines (those who follow the band to enjoy the music) marching through the streets. But west of New Orleans is another side of the state—one where the tomatoes disappear from dishes as the food transitions from Creole to Cajun, and the music becomes more accessible.

Bayou Teche at St. Martinsville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The swamps of Bayou country are but a stone’s throw away, and suddenly, instead of a city where you could go a week without having a real conversation with a local, you end up in a place where you’ll get their life story before you’ve even ordered your plate of boudin.

Baton Rouge is about an hour and a half from New Orleans, and Lafayette another hour, and Lake Charles another hour beyond that, making them a good change of pace from NOLA. On the surface, the things you’ll do in Louisiana’s less-famous cities don’t differ from what you’d do in New Orleans—listen to music, eat incredible food, and soak up the local culture—but how you enjoy them is entirely different.

Bayou Teche at Breauz Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gus Rezende, founder of Social Entertainment, a hospitality company “that fuses lifestyle and culture through social experience” frames the difference: “New Orleans created a musician-driven culture which means that cover charges are high and you’ll pay for what you watch. Lafayette is more community-driven with a lot of free concerts.”

Cajun food from Don’s in Scott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At Baton Rouge’s Live After 5 held on Friday nights) singers belt out Southern rock, “Swamp pop,” and Zydeco in the center of town as the Mississippi River lazes its way by. Other nights of the week, the music is still everywhere.

In Lafayette, you can drive around to visit the historic houses and old mansions during the day, but at night, you’ll look for the music: You’ll find it in every corner of a club, even old school music halls, of which there are still a few.

Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you are planning to hit one of the outdoor concerts, be warned. If there’s one thing that’s bad about Lafayette, it’s how hot it gets in summer. Plan to visit in spring or fall.

Spring is festival season, and in March and April, any given weekend you can wake to a food festival. You won’t want to miss the Acadiana Po’ Boy Festival in historic downtown Lafayette the first Saturday of April and Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival.

Frog mural in Rayne © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Meanwhile, celebrate culture through music, food, and art at the Festival International de Louisiane—Lafayette’s biggest festival and one of the largest in the country—kicks off in April, celebrating the connection of this part of the US to the Francophone world. The nearby town of Rayne is known as the Frog Capital of Louisiana, home to one of the state’s best fests (the Rayne Frog Festival in early May).

But for Baton Rouge, the best time to visit is the fall, aka tailgate season.

Ambrosie Bakery in Baton Rouge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are many ways to enjoy local sounds and delicacies in Lake Charles. Dubbed the Festival Capital of Louisiana, it has more than 75 festivals and special events each year, including Mardi Gras, the Louisiana Pirate Festival (early May), the Black Heritage Festival (early March), the Cajun French Music & Food Festival (mid-July), and the Calcasieu-Cameron Fair in October. Savor delicious food at one of their culinary festivals or catch a live concert just about every weekend.

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After indulging your Cajun food kick, relish in the chance to see one of the best benefits of getting the heck out of New Orleans: the wildlife. Explore the Creole Nature Trail, filled with prairie grasslands and miles of freshwater, brackish, and saltwater wetlands rich in marsh grasses, crustaceans, and small fish. Visitors will view roseate spoonbills, great white egrets, great blue herons, tricolored herons, white ibis, red-winged blackbirds, and, of course, alligators—not to mention, Gulf beaches with excellent shelling and relaxation.

Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Whether you’re looking for gators, crawdads, or characters, getting out of New Orleans and heading to Baton Rouge, Lafayette, and Lake Charles brings you face-to-face with the local culture.

Worth Pondering…

Goodbye joe, me gotta go, me oh my oh
Me gotta go pole the pirogue down the bayou
My yvonne, the sweetest one, me oh my oh
Son of a gun, well have good fun on the bayou.

—Hank Williams, Sr.

Exploring Historic Denham Springs and Livingston Parish

Livingston Parish is filled with things to do, places to see, and a treasure trove of Southern Louisiana charm and culture

Shortly after settling into Lakeside RV Park we oriented ourselves to the area (Livingston Parish) with a day trip to Denham Springs. Livingston Parish is located between New Orleans and Baton Rouge.

Lakeside RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Easy-on, easy-off (I-12; Exit 22), Lakeside RV Park is big-rig friendly with back-in and pull-through sites. Our back-in site is in the 55-60 foot range with 50/30-amp electric service, water, and sewer centrally located. No cable TV. Wi-Fi worked well from our site; no problem locating satellite. All interior roads and sites are concrete. Site amenities include picnic table and fire pit.

Denham Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Denham Springs is located just a few miles east of Baton Rouge and is easily accessible via I-12 (Exit 10). At Denham Springs we wandered the Historic Downtown/Antiques Village and stopped at Mr. McDavid’s Specialty Meats to purchase pork boudin and smoked boudin.

Mineral Springs near the Amite River about one-half mile west of the present historic downtown drew settlers to the area. The springs attracted visitors who came to bathe in the reportedly-therapeutic mineral waters, and a resort developed around them.

Denham Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The settlement was known at different times as Benton’s Ferry, Amite Springs, Hill’s Springs, and lastly, Denham Springs. The name came from William Denham, a Mississippi native who moved to the area and married Mercy Houge, daughter of Alexander Houge, one of the two original landholders.

By the 1960s-70s, commerce stagnated and businesses closed. Denham Springs became a bedroom community as many residents commuted to Baton Rouge to work and shop. Downtown buildings were shuttered for many years until the 1980s when first one and then another and then more antique stores and other shops opened for business. Today the downtown is a designated Main Street Community and is known throughout the South for its antiques, arts, and specialty shopping.

Denham Springs City Hall © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Our first stop on the walking tour was the Old City Hall in the heart of the downtown historic district. This historic building currently houses the Welcome Center, a small museum, and serves as a civic gathering place. This stately building is on the National Register of Historic Places. Built in 1940, this building is constructed of poured concrete and includes two stories and a basement—a unique feature in this part of the country.

Driggers Park mural, Denham Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Benches in Driggers Park, a small “pocket” park in the heart of the historic downtown district, allow visitors to rest a few minutes as they explore and shop the Antiques Village. We took time to admire the beautiful mural painting of the historic Springs Hotel and the mineral springs which drew settlers to the area in the early 1900s. A photograph of this hotel was the inspiration for the painting of the mural in 2014. The photograph currently hangs in the Old City Hall.

Denham Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The oldest continuously operated business in the historic downtown district is the Benton Brothers. The business was established in 1938 by brothers Leslie, Edwin, and Robert Benton, one of the oldest families in this area. The three buildings on this site once housed an appliance/furniture business.

Denham Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

General building deterioration caused the three buildings to be demolished. A new store was built in 1973 and a brick facade was added in 1986. It is still owned by the Benton family and now operates as an antiques mall.

The first moving picture to be shown in Denham Springs was screened in the Farmers Association Building (circa 1917) in 1923. Later, Savoy’s Grocery operated in this building.

Denham Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Livingston Parish was one of the hardest hit areas in the catastrophic flood of August 2016 with an estimated 75 percent of the homes a total loss. A low-pressure front remained nearly stationary over the area for days with rainfall rates of up to 2-3 inches an hour resulting in a total rainfall of 25-30 inches. The storm dumped three times as much rain on Louisiana as Hurricane Katrina, enough to fill Lake Pontchartrain about four times. Eight rivers reached record levels including the Amite River which crested at nearly 5 feet above the previous record in Denham Springs. The Historic District was under water. At one point, a 62-mile section of Interstate 12 was closed because of flooding. Lakeside RV Park escaped flooding since it is located on higher ground.

Denham Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Goodbye joe, me gotta go, me oh my oh
Me gotta go pole the pirogue down the bayou
My yvonne, the sweetest one, me oh my oh
Son of a gun, well have good fun on the bayou.

—Hank Williams, Sr.

History and Culture along Bayou Teche National Scenic Byway

Immerse yourself in Acadian culture

The Bayou Teche Scenic Byway received the prestigious designation of National Scenic Byway by the Federal Highway Administration on February 16, 2021.

Located along the Bayou Teche National Water and Paddle Trail in the heart of the Atchafalaya National Heritage Area, the byway is home to an incredibly beautiful natural landscape and winds through four parishes—Iberia, St. Landry, St. Martin, and St. Mary.

Atchafalaya National Heritage Area Visitor Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To receive a national designation, a road must possess intrinsic qualities that are nationally significant. The road, the attractions, and the amenities along the route must provide an exceptional traveling experience so recognized by travelers that they would make a drive along the highway a primary reason for their trip.

Atchafalaya National Heritage Area Visitor Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bayou Teche Byway stretches down through South Louisiana like a snake that can’t make up its wind which way to coil. Native Chitimacha believed a giant snake carved out the waterway creating the zigzag path now popular with paddlers. Historian Harnett T. Kane once said the bayou is “past in Louisiana,” a witness to historic events and the varied people who called the Teche home: Creoles, Cajuns, Native Americans, and Africans, among others.

Atchafalaya National Heritage Area Visitor Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The unique natural beauty and history of Bayou Teche Byway is why a 125-mile route through three parishes—St. Mary, Iberia, and St. Martin—has been designated a Scenic Byway. Here you’ll find breathtaking scenic views of live oak trees draping moss over the placid waters and unique wildlife and migratory birds visiting through the Mississippi Flyway.

Evangeline Memorial along the Bayou Teche in St. Martinsville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The bayou attracts thousands each year for its fall Tour du Teche annual race for canoes, kayaks, and pirogues (the traditional Cajun canoe) along with many other paddle races. The Brownell Memorial Park and Carillon Tower in Morgan City and the 9,000-acre Bayou Teche National Wildlife Refuge are musts for nature lovers. Brownell offers cabins for rent and tent camping and RV spots and the refuge features four hiking trails in addition to canoe launches.

Bayou Tech at St. Martinsville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Along the Bayou Teche Byway’s banks are numerous historic towns from the predominantly French towns along the upper Teche such as Breaux Bridge and St. Martinville to the more Anglo-Saxon culture of Franklin with its more than 100 historic properties many on the National Register of Historic Properties and several open for tours.

Mural in Acadian Memorial Museum, St. Martinsville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Museums include the Chitimacha Museum and the Charenton Heritage Museum in Charenton providing history on the bayou and its native inhabitants, the Jeanerette Museum offering 200 years of the sugarcane industry and other history, and the International Petroleum Museum and Exposition in Morgan City.

Bayou Teche at Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Morgan City to Franklin

Stroll Morgan City’s historic district where you can browse antique shops or view the Atchafalaya River from a wharf-side pavilion. For a closer look at the Great Atchafalaya Basin (and maybe a ’gator or two), take a guided swamp tour in nearby Patterson. There you’ll also find a branch of the Louisiana State Museum noted for its displays on aviation and the cypress industry. Next stop: Franklin, whose more than 400 historic properties include the Grevemberg House Museum, a gracious antebellum townhouse filled with Civil War artifacts and antique toys. Pause for a hamburger or po-boy at Iberia Cash Groceries then visit Charenton where the Chitimacha Museum reveals the history of Bayou Teche’s early inhabitants.

Tabasco factory on Avery Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Franklin to New Iberia

In the town of Jeanerette, be sure to sample the French bread and ginger cakes at LeJeune’s Bakery whose owners still use the bakery’s original 19th-century recipes. Farther along the byway in New Iberia stands Shadows-on-the-Teche. The antebellum home built by a wealthy sugar planter now is a museum surrounded by graceful live oaks. Near New Iberia, tour the Avery Island factory where world-famous Tabasco pepper sauce is made. The plant’s founder also created a 250-acre garden and bird sanctuary here. Stroll through azaleas and camellias, glimpse a deer in the garden, and step onto a boardwalk for a view of resident alligators.

Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New Iberia to Arnaudville

As you make your way toward Arnaudville, stop in St. Martinville and Breaux Bridge. The Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site in St. Martinville recalls the chilling expulsion of the Acadians from Nova Scotia as told by poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in “Evangeline.”

Café des Amis in Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In Breaux Bridge, visit Café des Amis, where the menu includes beignets, couche-couche (battered cornmeal cooked in a hot skillet and topped with milk or syrup), andouille or cheese grits, and crawfish étouffée—and that’s just for breakfast. About 10 minutes from here is Lafayette, considered the unofficial capital of Cajun country.

A trip along Bayou Teche is a good way to sample Louisiana hospitality, hear toe-tapping music, and as the locals say “pass a good time.”

Worth Pondering…

Jambalaya (On the Bayou)

Goodbye joe, me gotta go, me oh my oh
Me gotta go pole the pirogue down the bayou
My yvonne, the sweetest one, me oh my oh
Son of a gun, well have good fun on the bayou

—Lyrics and recording by Hank Williams, Sr., 1954

Lake Martin: An Accessible Louisiana Swamp and Rookery

Lake Martin is a wildlife preserve and home to a few trails as well as many different kinds of animals such as herons, egrets, ibis, bullfrogs, cottonmouths, alligators, and nutria

The Cypress Island Nature Preserve at Lake Martin, just outside of Breaux Bridge, Louisiana, is home to a swampy ecosystem that’s full of wildlife and native plants. Unlike the deeper swamps of the Atchafalaya Basin, Lake Martin can be easily reached by car and much of the surrounding area can be explored on foot or in a canoe or kayak.

Lake Martin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The approximately 9,500 acres of cypress-tupelo swamp and bottomland hardwood forest habitat is owned and managed by the Nature Conservancy who also maintain a visitor’s center and a boardwalk over the swamp at the South end of the lake.

Lake Martin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lake Martin is home to a natural rookery where thousands of wild shore birds and migratory songbirds build their nests each year. Beginning in late January, thousands of great egrets, followed by little blue herons, black-crowned night heron, cattle egrets, snowy egrets, and roseate spoonbills make their nests and rear their young in the rookery. Great blue herons, neotropic and double-crested cormorants, anhingas, and osprey may be seen in the distant tree tops. Expect a spectacular rookery view from March through June. The 2.5-mile walking levee trail is open from the fall to the spring and is suitable for children.

Lake Martin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The walking trail starting along the levee is closed during alligator nesting season, June through October. The rookery area in the southern end of Lake Martin is closed to all boat entry from February 1 through July 31 for breeding bird season. You may drive along Rookery Road all year round.

Alligator at Lake Martin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lake Martin is also home to a substantial nesting population of alligators, which can typically be spotted from Rookery Road, which runs along the edge of the lake. They are naturally camouflaged, but it doesn’t take long to get good at gator-spotting; you can usually find them by looking for stopped cars and folks with cameras and binoculars.

Alligators are not typically aggressive, but some of the hiking trails along the back side of the lake are closed off during nesting season, as nesting females can be the exception to this rule. Feeding alligators is illegal, as is throwing things at them. Be a responsible visitor and observe from afar.

Lake Martin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Other reptiles and amphibians, including a variety of snakes, turtles, lizards, and frogs, are also common in the lake and the surrounding brush, so be on the lookout. Again, none of these animals are aggressive, but snakes in particular are best viewed from far away.

The Cypress Island Preserve Visitor Center with a picnic pavilion and boardwalk are located where Rookery Road meets LA Hwy 353. The Visitor Center is generally open from 10:00 am until 4:00 pm on weekends year-round and during the week from Wednesday through Sunday during the busy springtime.

Lake Martin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rookery Road, a dirt and gravel road, runs around a good portion of the lake, and a slow drive along the edge can yield good wildlife-spotting results. If you prefer to explore on foot, though, you can park your car alongside the edge of the road at any point, or at parking lots at both ends of Rookery Road and at the junction of Lake Martin Road and Rookery Road, near the boat launch.

Lake Martin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Experienced paddlers can rent a kayak or a canoe from the boat launch at the end of Lake Martin Road and take a solo spin around the lake. If you prefer to paddle with a guided group, check the schedule at the local outdoor store, Pack and Paddle, who often host paddling excursions here and elsewhere.

Great egret at Lake Martin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cypress Island Preserve is located approximately halfway between the town of Breaux Bridge and the city of Lafayette. Lake Martin, the preserve’s main visitor attraction, is approached by two paved roads, Highway 353 from Lafayette and Highway 31 from Breaux Bridge.

Lake Martin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Parking is available at the Visitor Center located at 1264 Prairie Hwy where Rookery Road meets Prairie Highway (LA 353). A small parking area is also located at the southwest end of Lake Martin, where the walking levee trail may be accessed through the adjacent gate. Another parking area is located at the northern end of the lake from Rookery Road, where the north end of the walking levee trail may be accessed through the adjacent gate.

Poche’s RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to Stay: Poche’s RV Park, Breaux Bridge; Cajun Palms RV Resort, Henderson

Worth Pondering…

I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.

—John Burroughs

Top 10 States with the Best Winter Weather

Here are 10 states that will make your winter warmer

It’s winter! Welcome to the season when conversations center around the weather and how unbelievably cold and miserable it is outside.In most of America, winter sucks. It is cold out. Pipes freeze. Lips, noses, and cheeks get chapped and raw. Black ice kills. It’s horrible.Growing up in Alberta, I have experienced the personal hell that is winter’s awkwardly long, frigid embrace. That’s why I’m a snowbird.

No. 10 is a state that might not come to mind when thinking of a safe haven from cold temperatures.

Golfing in Utah Dixie © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Utah

Below the rim of the Great Basin sits Utah‘s warm-weather retreat, the town of St. George. And there’s good reason they call this area Utah Dixie. Like New Mexico and Nevada, you can generally count on the fact that winters will be packed with sunshine. 

Main Street Downtown Las Cruces, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. New Mexico

Did you know that New Mexico is basically southeastern Arizona? I mean, in the sense of topography. They both have high plains, mountain ranges, deserts, and basins.

Laughlin, Nevada © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Nevada

Other than in the northern reaches of the state, Nevada’s generally pretty well protected from the worst aspects of winter.

Bay St. Louis, Mississippi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Mississippi

While North Mississippi can get hit with a little blizzard action (snow tornadoes!) it’s far from the norm. And even when a cold snap does hit, people are generally back to porch-sittin’, sweet tea-sippin’ weather in no time. There are also 26 miles of pristine water and white sand beaches in Mississippi without anywhere near the number of tourists or tacky T-shirt shops you’d find in Florida. And, unlike the other beach towns on the Gulf, Biloxi and Gulfport have casinos. And don’t overlook funky Bay St. Louis. Overall, Mississippi is a state with reasonably painless winters.

Alligator in southern Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Louisiana

You think they’d have Mardi Gras in February if that wasn’t an ideal time for a party?!?!! Wait—what do you mean “it’s set by the church calendar to always fall the day before Ash Wednesday?” Well, you think they would’ve petitioned the pope for a change by now if that humid subtropical climate didn’t laissez les bon temps rouler?!?  Yeah, I have no idea either, I guess. 

If I could eat in only three states for the rest of my life, Louisiana would be in this select group.

Boudin at Don’s Specialty Meats in Scott, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More to the point, y’all know the high regard to which I hold the food culture of Cajun Country and the rest of Louisiana (thank you for Tabasco, po’ boys, gumbo, crawfish, jambalaya, boudin, and crackling) and nature abounds.

Alabama Gulf Coast near Gulf Shores © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Alabama

The people of Alabama asked the Lord that He make the climate of Alabama suitable to play football outside year-round and He listened to the people and granted them a mild winter climate for which to play His game. Except up in Huntsville. While mostly known for college football and slow cooked ribs, Alabama is actually geographically diverse with the rolling foothills of the Smoky Mountains in the North, open plains in the center, and the Gulf Coast’s sandy shores in the south. This makes Alabama an excellent destination for RVers.

Corpus Christi Bay, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Texas

According to a quick eyeballing of the globe, Texas is roughly the size of South America or something, and you can’t speak on the weather in Brazil like it’s the same as Chile, right? West Texas is mostly arid desert and you can get the occasional blizzard that shuts down Amarillo. East Texas is subtropical and humid even in the winter. At a spot where the U.S.-Mexico border and the Gulf of Mexico meet sits Brownsville. Warm winds blowing off the sea on 70-degree days make for an ideal scene in the wintertime especially if you’re dealing with stiff, frigid winds blowing feet of snow against the front door back home. With all that said, outside of the Northern Plains, the average temps in Texas in the winter usually stay in the mid-60s during the day, and that’s pretty darn nice.

Lovers Key, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Florida

It goes without saying that the warm weather is a major draw to Florida in December, January, and February. Look out the window… if it’s anything other than sunny and 75 degrees, you probably wish you were in South Florida right now. Just think—you could go from freezing in the cold to boating, golfing, or laying out in the sun. And Key West is the furthest from depressing Northern winter you can get in the Lower 48.

Near Desert Hot Springs in the Coachella Valley, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. California

Yes, California has issues and does a lot of things wrong. Lots of ’em. Let’s talk for a minute about how this state has every single kind of scenic beauty you could possibly want. Start in the south with the expansive, natural beaches set against towering cliffs. Then move inland to the moon-like desertcapes in the Mojave and Joshua Tree. Then it’s a short drive to Palm Springs, Palm Desert, Rancho Mirage, and the other desert cities of Coachella Valley where the winter weather is near perfect.

Usery Mountain Regional Park near Mesa, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Arizona

Ah, Arizona. Occasionally, retired executives from the northeast will accidentally move to Flagstaff and get very sad and angry when they realize the average winter temperature is somewhere in the 20s. But most of Arizona offers up that dry desert day heat (it was 75 in Phoenix last week) that is good for arthritis. Arizona is a warm-weather perch for snowbirds from around North America and one of the most popular getaway destinations in the Southwest.

Organ Pipe National Monument, Arizona

Home to cactus, prickly pears, rattlesnakes, the Grand Canyon, roadrunners, the world’s oldest rodeo, and the bolo tie, the state is rich in attractions that entertain the young and the not-so-young. From eroded red rock formations to large urban centers, from the Grand Canyon’s stunning vistas to small mountain towns, from Old West legends to Native American and Mexican culture, and from professional sporting events to world-class golf—Arizona has it all!

Worth Pondering…

As Anne Murray sings in the popular song, “Snowbird”:

“Spread your tiny wings and fly away

And take the snow back with you

Where it came from on that day

So, little snowbird, take me with you when you go

To that land of gentle breezes where the peaceful waters flow…”

Rôder with Family

How about y’all? Do you like to rôder?

Rôder (pronounced row-day) in Cajun French means to roam or run the roads and Lafayette is the perfect destination to pack up the RV and rôder.

Whether you’re coming for the weekend or planning an extended stay, the Happiest City in America has plenty of family friendly things to do. From foodies, history and cultural buffs, and geocachers to the more adventurous outdoor activities, Lafayette has the perfect experience waiting for you.

Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

So what are you waiting for? Let’s go rôder!

Are you overwhelmed with all of the things to do and experience? There’s no shortage of ways to experience the Happiest City in America and its nearby communities. Here are some of my favorites for first-time visitors and those already in love with all things Cajun.

Lake Martin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lafayette Parish is surrounded by wetlands, so there’s no better way to experience the area than by boat. Hop aboard a swamp tour via airboat, or rent a kayak. It’s also a birding paradise. Visit Bayou Vermilion, Lake Martin, or Avery Island with binoculars in hand. Admire the plant life on the Lafayette Azalea Trail or Avery Island’s Jungle Gardens, a 170-acre complex with azaleas, camellias, and even wildlife. And don’t forget your camera!

Avery Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lafayette Parish has received countless awards for its culinary scene, including Southern Living’s Tastiest Town in the South. Where else can you tour a rice plantation, a crawfish farm, a meat market, and a chile pepper growing facility before enjoying a dish that combines them all? Avery Island’s Tabasco Experience is perhaps the best-known foodie attraction. And the area also has its own Boudin Trail. Don’t miss the opportunity to chow down on dishes like crawfish etouffee, cracklins, and gumbo. The Lafayette area also has both down-home eateries that have been here for decades and new restaurants with modern interpretations of the traditional cuisine.

Louisiana hot sauces © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lafayette is known as “The Hub City” because of its proximity to major roadways heading north, south, east, and west that lead locals and visitors to explore smaller towns. Though Lafayette is the largest city in the region, a great portion of its rich culture here is driven by surrounding communities, the gems that make up Acadiana, a 22-parish (county) region. Here are some smaller towns that are a short drive from Lafayette and are well worth the trip.

Don’s Specialty Meats in Scott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Scott – 5 miles; 13 minutes from Lafayette

The city of Scott’s motto is “Where the West Begins and Hospitality Never Ends” and that’s pretty fair. Its close proximity to Interstate 10 makes its quaint downtown district accessible to visitors for local shopping, art galleries, and boudin―lots and lots of boudin. The title “Boudin Capital of the World” was awarded to Scott by the state of Louisiana about five years ago. You can find the rice and meat-filled sausage staple at iconic joints like Billy’s Boudin and Cracklin, Don’s Specialty Meats, Best Stop Grocery, and NuNu’s Cajun Market.

Bayou Teche at Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Breaux Bridge – 9 miles; 10 minutes from Lafayette

Breaux Bridge was given its name from an early Acadian family who built a bridge over the Bayou Teche, a main waterway used during the Acadian’s arrival in the 1700s. The bridge over the Teche now celebrates the town’s other title, given to it by the Louisiana Legislature in 1959. Yes, without argument, Breaux Bridge is “The Crawfish Capital of the World”.  Its downtown district is the perfect day trip destinations for a main street walk and bite to eat. Take note, the Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival is held annually in May. Breaux Bridge’s downtown district is worth a visit during any season for shopping, dining, and live music. Check out venues like La Poussiere, Buck & Johnny’s Pizzeria, and Tante Marie’s Kitchen for a weekly live music schedule.

Bayou Teche at St. Martinsville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

St. Martinville – 16.3 miles; 26 minutes from Lafayette

St. Martinville is the parish seat of St. Martin Parish. It lies on Bayou Teche and is the third oldest town in Louisiana with many buildings and homes with historic architecture. The historic St. Martin de Tours Catholic Church and La Maison Duchamp on Main Street are part of the legacy of the Acadian people. The church was dedicated to Martin of Tours in France where a St Martin de Tours church can be found. St. Martinville is also the site of the “Evangeline Oak”, featured in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem about the Acadian expulsion. It is also the site of an African American Museum and is included as a destination on the Louisiana African American Heritage Trail which was established in 2008.

Tabasco on Avery Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New Iberia – 20.5 miles; 32 minutes from Lafayette

The McIlhenny Company still operates at its original home on Avery Island which is a must-do when visiting New Iberia. Built on a salt dome, it’s a mysteriously beautiful place where the red chile peppers grow, the factory hums, and abundant wildlife can be seen in Jungle Gardens. Tour the history and production of TABASCO Sauce including TABASCO Museum, Blending and Bottling, TABASCO Country Store, and 1868! Restaurant. Experience the natural beauty and tranquility of Jungle Gardens, a 170-acre semitropical garden on Avery Island. Enjoy the gently rolling landscape, botanical treasures, and abundant wildlife. Attractions range from beautiful flowers to birds to Buddha (a magnificent centuries-old statue on the grounds). Thousands of snowy egrets nest in Bird City.

Jungle Gardens on Avery Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Goodbye joe, me gotta go, me oh my oh
Me gotta go pole the pirogue down the bayou
My yvonne, the sweetest one, me oh my oh
Son of a gun, well have good fun on the bayou.

—Lyrics and recording by Hank Williams, Sr., 1954

The Underrated Coast

So much more than the Redneck Riviera

Americans tend to forget they have a third coastline. Sure, they’re aware the Gulf of Mexico has beaches but they tend to lump those in with Florida which then gets lumped in with the Atlantic coast. And the whole rest of the coast from Alabama to Texas gets criminally overlooked. The Gulf Coast is much more than the “Redneck Riviera”, a label it’s long since outgrown. This is a land of magical swamps, remote white-sand beaches, artists, musicians, and colorful characters. And it is the best coastal road trip few have taken.

Ocean Shores © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Beginning at the end of Florida in Pensacola, driving west to the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain near New Orleans, you’ll skirt the turquoise waters of the gulf while dipping into lush marshlands and storybook small towns. You’ll discover a side of the south you never knew. Come along and see why the Gulf Coast truly is America’s most under-appreciated coastal road trip.

Although Gulf Shores, Orange Beach, and other areas took a major hit from Hurricane Sally, the area has begun to recover. Be sure to phone ahead for destination updates.

Near Orange Beach © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Flora-Bama (Florida-Alabama state line)

One of America’s top beach bars, The Flora-Bama Lounge is located uniquely on the Orange Beach, Alabama and Perdido Key, Florida line. About half an hour south of Pensacola this honky tonk has long been a landmark on its famous location. The Flora-Bama has five stages for live music and features bands of country, rock, dance, and beach music. Check back in during the annual interstate mullet toss in late April where competitors line up to see who can throw a fish the furthest across the state line.

Gulf State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gulf State Park, Alabama

After responsibly enjoying the Flora-Bama head west on Perdido Beach Boulevard about 10 miles for the sweeping gulf views to Gulf State Park. Here you can immerse yourself in the sand dunes and Spanish moss that made Alabama’s beaches so beautiful before the condo boom. If you’ve got the gear, the park’s got plenty of RV, tent, and car camping sites. Or reserve one of the fully-furnished cabins that sit along Shelby Lakes. Take advantage of the park’s free bike-share program where you can hop on its 28 miles of trails and roll under live oaks then over a boardwalk to the area’s only stretch of sand not lined with condo towers. Nothing but sand dunes, pelicans, and the lapping waves to join you.

Fairhope © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fairhope, Alabama

Shangri-La may be a fantasy, but you can find a real-life utopia on the eastern shore of Mobile Bay. The city of Fairhope (population, 16,000), founded in 1894 by a society based on cooperative community ownership, was named for its members’ belief that their enterprise had a “fair hope” of success. Ever since, it has beckoned artists, writers, and other creatives, and today, it draws visitors searching for good food, great shopping, and a bit of outdoor adventure. Galleries and studios pepper downtown streets along the waterfront, alongside more than 80 antique shops, small boutiques, and locally owned restaurants. Visit once and you will be back.

Mobile © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved\

Mobile, Alabama

Don’t be fooled by the beautiful skyline reflecting off the bay; Mobile is more than just incredibly good-looking. Mobile is more than 300 years old, and that fact alone ensures there must be a lot of history associated with a city of that age. The many museums and historical homes help tell Mobile’s story. Eight National Register Historic Districts make up what is known as downtown and midtown Mobile. Explore the mighty WWII battleship USS Alabama, winner of nine battle stars, and the submarine USS Drum. Both are National Historic Landmarks. Visit the Hank Aaron Childhood Home and Museum located at Hank Aaron Stadium. 

Dauphin Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dauphin Island, Alabama

A narrow, 14-mile-long outdoor playground near the mouth of Mobile Bay, Dauphin Island provides a getaway atmosphere with attractions aimed at the family. The Dauphin Island Park and Campground is a great place to enjoy all the island has to offer. The 155-acre park offers an abundance of exceptional recreation offerings and natural beauty. The campground is uniquely positioned so that guests have access to a secluded beach, public boat launches, Fort Gaines, and Audubon Bird Sanctuary. The campground offers 150 sites with 30/50 amp- electric service and water; 99 sites also offer sewer connections.

Bay St. Louis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bay St. Louis, Mississippi

There’s St. Louis, and then there’s Bay St. Louis which dubs itself “a place apart.” Here, beach life collides with folk art. Catch the Arts Alive event in March when dozens of artists’ studios collide for a community-enriching arts festival that features local works, live music, theater, literature, and lots of food.

Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Breaux Bridge, Louisiana

Back in 1799, Acadian pioneer Firmin Breaux Breaux built a suspension footbridge across the Bayou Teche to help ease the passage for his family and neighbors. In 1817, Firmin’s son, Agricole, built the first vehicular bridge. Breaux Bridge and crawfish have become synonymous. Restaurants in Breaux Bridge were the first to offer crawfish on their menus and it was here that crawfish etouffee was created. Breaux Bridge became so well known for its crawfish farming and cooking that the Louisiana legislature officially designated Breaux Bridge as the crawfish capital of the world. Breaux Bridge hosts the annual crawfish festival, recognized as one of the state’s finest festival.

Tabasco Factory on Avery Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Avery Island, Louisiana

Lush subtropical flora and venerable live oaks draped with Spanish moss cover this geological oddity which is one of five “islands” rising above south Louisiana’s flat coastal marshes. The island occupies roughly 2,200 acres and sits atop a deposit of solid rock salt thought to be deeper than Mount Everest is high. Geologists believe this deposit is the remnant of a buried ancient seabed, pushed to the surface by the sheer weight of surrounding alluvial sediments. Today, Avery Island remains the home of the TABASCO brand pepper sauce factory as well as Jungle Gardens and its Bird City wildfowl refuge. The Tabasco factory and the gardens are open for tours.

Seawolf Park, Galveston Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Galveston Island, Texas

Galveston Island is home to some of the best attractions Texas has to offer including Moody Gardens, Schitterbahn Waterpark, the Historic Pleasure Pier, dazzling Victorian architecture, and 32 miles of sun-kissed beaches. Come to the island to stroll the beach or splash in the waves. Or come to the island to go fishing or look for coastal birds. No matter what brings you here, you’ll find a refuge on Galveston Island. Just an hour from Houston, but an island apart!

Port Lavaca © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Port Lavaca, Texas

Grab your fishing pole, sunscreen, and beach chair…it’s time to go to Port Lavaca. This coastal town has all the seaside fun you could ask for but without all the crowds found in other Gulf Coast locales. Checking out Port Lavaca’s beaches is a no brainer, regardless of whether you’re looking for a quiet barefoot stroll, hunt for shells, or kick back and relax. Start at Magnolia Beach, also known as the only natural shell beach on the Gulf Coast. Lay out a blanket and soak up the sun, or cast a line from the fishing pier. For more sandy beaches, relax in the shade of a thatch-covered cabana at Lighthouse Beach or swim or paddle board in the tranquil waters of Alamo Beach.

Rockport © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rockport-Fulton, Texas

At the final stop on our coastal road trip you’ll discover why Rockport-Fulton is the Charm of the Texas Coast. You’ll find a sandy beach, a birder’s paradise, a thriving arts community, unique shopping, delectable seafood, unlimited outdoor recreation, and historical sites. The Coastal Bend’s natural resources and moderate climate remain the primary attraction for visitors to the Rockport-Fulton area. Be it sport fishing, bird-watching, water recreation, or simply relaxing in the shade of wind-sculpted live oaks life here still revolves around Aransas Bay.

Worth Pondering…

I do like to be beside the seaside.

—John A. Glover-Kind

Creole Nature Trail: Where Natural Wonderlands Abound

Experience the Louisiana Outback along the Creole Nature Trail

One place in Southwest Louisiana that never ceases to amaze is the Creole Nature Trail, a 180-miles-long scenic byway where natural wonderlands abound. Affectionately known as Louisiana’s Outback, the Creole Nature Trail is a journey into one of America’s Last Great Wildernesses.

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Part of America’s Byway’s system, the Creole Nature Trail is known for its distinct waters, pristine blue skies, and stops along the drive adorned with plenty of wildlife and bird watching that can either fill an entire weekend, or simply a day trip. Featuring stops of picturesque landscapes beyond transcription, the Creole Nature Trail, an All American Road, sees hundreds of thousands of visitors annually, all passing through this delicate ecosystem.

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The marshland, bayous, prairies, and coastal shores along the Gulf of Mexico teem with wildlife including alligators and birds. These lands and waters support 28 species of mammals, more than 400 species of birds, millions of monarch butterflies, 35 species of amphibians and reptiles, and 132 species of fish.

A+ Motel & RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We used A+ Motel & RV Park in Sulphur as our home base while driving the Creole Nature Trail and exploring the area. New in 2008, A+ is big rig friendly with 28 pull-through and back-in sites and conveniently located 30/50-amp electric service, water, and sewer connections, and cable TV.

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While there are five entrances to the Creole Nature Trail, the most popular entrances are off I-10 in Sulphur (Exit 20) and just east of Lake Charles at Louisiana Highway 397 (Exit 36).

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The trail loops through 180 miles of bayous and marshlands and along the shore of the Gulf of Mexico before once again heading north. The remaining entrances are located on Louisiana Highway 82 at the Texas state line in the west and the Vermilion Parish line on the east; exit 36 from Interstate 10; and exit 6A on I-210 just north of the Lake Charles Regional Airport on Louisiana Highway 385.

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Although the Creole Nature Trail is primarily a driving route, there are numerous stops where you can take advantage of a nature walk. Each of these excursion areas provides excellent wildlife and birding photography opportunities.

The Creole Nature Trail features four wildlife refuges, three national and one state: Sabine National Wildlife Refuge, Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge, Lacassine National Wildlife Refuge, and Rockefeller Refuge.

Sabine National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sabine National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1937 and is the largest coastal marsh refuge on the Gulf of Mexico. The primary management objective of the refuge is to preserve a large area of coastal wetlands for wintering and migrating waterfowl from both the Mississippi and Central Flyways. This refuge is a major nursery area for many estuarine-dependent marine species as well as home to alligators and other reptiles, mammals, and numerous wading, water, and marsh birds.

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Numerous recreational opportunities are available year round. Hiking, wildlife observation, and photography are popular at the Wetland Walkway and Blue Goose Trail. The Wetland Walkway is a 1.5 mile walking trail including a section of boardwalk across a freshwater marsh, an observation tower with viewing scopes, five trail rest shelters with benches, interpretive signs, and a restroom facility.

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Blue Goose Trail is a one mile foot path that leads through a brackish marsh community to the edge of Calcasieu Lake. The area includes an observation tower, restroom, and numerous interpretive signs about the area.

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located at Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge, the Southwest Louisiana National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center features exhibits about Sabine, Cameron Prairie, Lacassine, and Shell Keys National Wildlife Refuges, and their coastal habitats and inhabitants. Exhibits include a diorama theater with Cajun animatronic characters, a scale model of a water control structure for hands-on learning about marsh management, natural habitat dioramas, impressive alligator displays, an interactive computer, and a fiber-optic migration exhibit.

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On your next adventure out, consider a scenic drive on the Creole Nature Trail; you never know what may be waiting to be seen.

Worth Pondering…

It’s not just a drive.

It’s an experience.

Avery Island: Touring Tabasco & Jungle Gardens

Louisiana’s Cajun Country is home to the world’s favorite hot sauce

Avery Island is the home of Louisiana’s iconic hot sauce: Tabasco. See how it’s made during a factory tour, pick up a few souvenirs at the Tabasco Country Store, and tour the island’s Jungle Gardens.

Tabasco © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Touring food factories can be a hit or miss venture. Sometimes you get a really hands on tour that gets you up close and personal to the action which can be fun and tasty. Other times you’re stuck sitting in a room watching animated characters tell the company’s history circa 1987.

Tabasco © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We’ve taken a tour of the Tabasco Factory and then explored Avery Island on two occasions; it is worth the drive and your time.

When planning your visit to tour the Tabasco factory be aware that there are three distinct attractions to check out. If you want to do everything, plan on a half day visit or longer.

Avery Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The first part of our Tabasco Tour adventure began with the requisite factory tour. The tour is free and takes about 30 minutes. The tour guide takes you through a few different production areas, relating interesting facts and details about the operation and its history.

Tabasco © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The pepper sauce that Edmund McIlhenny created in 1868 on Avery Island is much the same that is produced today, on that very same site. The basic recipe, the process by which it’s made, and the ingredients remain virtually unchanged. And five generations of McIlhennys and employees have dedicated themselves to preserving its legacy.

Tabasco © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Edmund McIlhenny was given seeds of Capsicum frutescens peppers that came from Central America, and he first planted them on Avery Island over 140 years ago. Today, just as then, when the peppers reach the perfect shade of deep red and are at their juiciest, they are carefully picked by hand. (Young peppers are green and then turn yellow, orange and, finally, deep red as they age.)

Tabasco © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When in doubt, pickers can gauge the color by comparing it to a small wooden dowel, “le petit bâton rouge,” painted the preferred hue of TABASCO red.

Tabasco © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The pepper mash is placed in white oak barrels, and the wooden tops of the barrels are then covered with more Avery Island salt, which acts as a natural barrier to protect the barrels’ contents. The mash is allowed to ferment and then aged for up to three years in the McIlhenny warehouse.

Tabasco © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After going through the tour you finish up with a short video presentation that gives you history of the McIhenny Family and their five generations of Tabasco sauce making experience. The best part? They give you numerous mini-bottles of Tabasco at the end of the tour.

Tabasco © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you aren’t into factory tours, you can skip it and head right over to the Tabasco Factory Store. Here you will find all the Tabasco merchandise that any shopper could desire. You can also sample every sauce flavor available here along with super delicious Tabasco Ice Cream.

Avery Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While touring the factory and wandering the store is cool, a favorite part of touring Avery Island is a visit to the Jungle Gardens.

Jungle Gardens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Avery Island is one of five salt dome islands rising above the flat Louisiana Gulf Coast. These islands formed over the eons when alluvial sediment covered a vast plain of salt left behind by an ancient saltwater ocean. Surrounded by low-lying swamps and marshes, Avery Island stands 163 feet above mean sea level. The Tabasco Factory was built on one such salt dome island that is home to North America’s first ever salt rock mine in 1862.

Jungle Gardens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jungle Gardens is a 170-acre garden with semitropical foliage, abundant wildlife, and a centuries-old Buddha statue. The garden’s rolling landscape stretches along Bayou Petite Anse on the northwest side of the Island.

Jungle Gardens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jungle Gardens is home to a large collection of camellias. Thousands of plants represent some 600 varieties, including imports from Japan and France as well as varieties that McIlhenny developed on Avery Island.

Jungle Gardens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You might even spy some alligators, deer, and raccoons that live in the hills and marshes around the gardens. And then there are thousands of snowy egrets that nest on the island each spring on specially built, pier-like structures in a pond nicknamed “Bird City.”

Jungle Gardens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You can stroll the gardens along a path covered by gnarled oaks laced with Spanish moss and stand at the shrine that houses a centuries-old Buddha—a gift to E. A. McIlhenny in 1936.

Jungle Gardens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Jambalaya, a-crawfish pie and-a fillet gumbo
Cause tonight Im gonna see my machez a mio
Pick guitar, fill fruit jar and be gay-oh
Son of a gun, well have big fun on the bayou.
Son of a gun, well have big fun on the bayou.
Son of a gun, well have big fun on the bayou.

—Hank Williams, Sr.