8 Rituals and Traditions to Welcome Spring and Say Goodbye to Winter

Goodbye winter, welcome spring!

The first day of spring (March 19 in 2024) for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere is an eagerly anticipated event around the world. Although the Northern and Southern hemispheres celebrate the start of the season at different times of the year, both share in observing the equinox—which comes from the Latin words aequus and nox meaning equal and night—with unique customs.

Spring represents rebirth and rejuvenation and many of the celebrations reflect this: Homes are cleaned, blossoms are admired, and, in some cases, the dark winter months are sent off in dramatic, flaming fashion. Here are some of the most interesting winter-into-spring rituals and traditions.

Morse Farm Maple Sugarworks, Vermont © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sugaring season

The tail end of winter isn’t exactly renowned for bountiful harvests—unless, perhaps, the crop is maple syrup. In the northeastern United States and eastern Canada, the weeks before and during early spring are known as sugaring season when syrup is made from the sap of maple trees. The season typically starts around mid-February and lasts through early April; during this time, syrup is made, served, and sold at buildings in the woods known as sugar shacks.

Locals and visitors alike flock to these cozy shacks, eager to pour warm maple syrup on fresh, powdery snow to make a deliciously sweet treat. In New England, the taffy-like candy is known as sugar on snow while French-speaking Canada calls it tire sur la neige (pull on the snow).

Making or eating sugar on snow is a simple and satisfying way to mark the changing of the seasons but making the amber liquid is a much longer labor of love. It begins in the fall when maple trees store starches in their trunks. As early spring temperatures begin to rise, the starches convert to sugars and the above-freezing days and below-freezing nights create the pressure needed for the sweet liquid known as sap to flow from holes drilled in the tree’s trunk. The extracted sap is then boiled to reduce it to its familiar concentrated, syrupy texture. Not every tree is sugaring season material, though—it needs to be about 40 years old to be big enough to tap.

Spring at Hee Hee Illahee RV Park in Salem, Oregon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cherry blossoms

One of the best things about spring is all the new flowers it brings. Without a doubt, some of the most breathtaking blooms can be seen on cherry trees. Before the trees produce fruit, their elegant limbs erupt in pillows of white and pastel-pink flowers. Japan’s cherry blossoms—known as sakura—are especially notable producing a spring spectacle known around the world. The blooming season is dependent on weather but generally happens for about two weeks in April when it is celebrated with festivals that draw millions of spectators every year.

The springtime cherry blossoms hold special significance in Japan where people host picnic parties under the trees as part of a centuries-old tradition called hanami—meaning, literally, flower viewing. The custom originated during the Nara period and was popularized as an aristocratic gathering under Emperor Saga in the ninth century complete with sake, poetry, and other refined activities. Today’s hanami celebrations are decidedly less formal but no less festive: They’re enjoyed by people of all backgrounds and often go well into the night with food, drinking, and dancing. Similar cherry blossom festivals take place in Washington, D.C. and New York City.

Prep the RV for spring travel © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Spring cleaning

If spring’s longer days and warmer breezes have you wanting to throw open the windows and wipe every corner of your house (or RV) clean, you’re not alone. The age-old tradition of spring cleaning isn’t just a feel-good practice—it has roots in some cultural customs and was even once a necessity because of how homes were kept warm in the colder months.

During the 1800s, people primarily heated their homes with wood- or coal-burning fireplaces and used kerosene lamps for light in the long winter months. This often led to traces of soot and grime on just about every surface in the house requiring a deep cleaning come spring when people would take everything outside to literally shake off the dust. Modern conveniences have made these original reasons irrelevant but the tradition of spring cleaning persists anyway.

In some places, the ritual also has cultural or religious significance. In Iran, for example, the practice has its name: It’s called khane tekani (or shaking the house) and it’s tied to the Iranian New Year, Nowruz which coincides with the spring equinox.

Groundhog? © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Groundhog Day

Groundhog Day is a full month and a half before the official first day of spring but it has become a familiar marker in the slow transition of the seasons for people in the US and Canada. Each year on February 2, a groundhog is coaxed out of its underground burrow to provide a weather forecast for the coming weeks. If it sees its shadow, the rodent is scared back into its hole for six more weeks of winter. No shadow means warmer spring weather will arrive earlier than expected.

The decidedly unscientific ritual has been taking place in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania since 1887 but its origins date back to the fourth-century Christian holiday Candlemas. During Candlemas, clergy members would distribute candles representing how long and cold the winter would be. German Protestants later put their spin on this by introducing a hedgehog as their seasonal prognosticator and when German settlers arrived in America they continued the tradition using a groundhog. Now, the event is not only a major local affair but also a global news story every February.

Eggs, a symbol of new life © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Egg painting, cooking, and eating

Eggs are everywhere in spring, thanks in large part to their association with Easter and resurrection in the Christian faith. But their significance isn’t limited to just one religion or culture: Eggs have symbolized new life and reproduction throughout most of history dating back to Pagan sun-worshipping rituals and are important parts of many spring traditions to this day.

In Bosnia, residents of Zenica celebrate with Cimburijada (the Festival of Scrambled Eggs), a tradition that honors the renewal of life that comes with the season. At dawn on the first day of spring, locals gather to make and share giant dishes of scrambled eggs typically prepared in the open air using hundreds of eggs, butter, and other secret ingredients.

In Iran, during Nowruz, decorated eggs represent fertility for one’s family and are considered among the most important items on the ceremonial haftseen table. And no matter where you are in the Northern Hemisphere one of the most well-known spring equinox traditions involves standing an egg on its end. A long-running legend purports that this feat can only be achieved on the first day of spring since the Sun and Moon are equidistant from the Earth, the pull of gravity is equalized and therefore an egg is less likely to fall over.

This is simply not true. There is no gravitational change during the equinox that would help an egg balance.

Fields of spring wildflowers in Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Burning effigies

Fire is used as a comforting (and sometimes necessary) heat and light source throughout the winter. So what better way is there to send off the cold months than with raging hot flames? Many cultures around the world incorporate effigies and bonfires into their spring celebrations upholding old rituals that are as lively and fun as they are dramatic.

In Poland and some other Slavic countries, many people commemorate the arrival of spring with a Slavic tradition known as the Drowning of Marzanna (the Slavic goddess of winter). On the first day of spring, Marzanna’s likeness made of straw and dressed in traditional local clothing is set on fire and tossed into the water in an attempt to defeat winter’s icy last gasp and ensure a good harvest in the season to come. Meanwhile, in Switzerland, the sacrificial effigy is a life-sized, cotton-stuffed snowman, the Böögg who is filled with fireworks and lit on fire. The faster the Böögg burns the warmer the upcoming spring and summer will be.

Spring wildflowers in Mississippi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Holi

Holika Dahan or the lighting of bonfire takes place on the eve of Holi. The day is also popularly called Chhoti Holi or the Small Holi. The bigger event—play with the color takes place on the next big day. Holika Dahan is an extremely popular tradition and is symbolic of triumph of good over evil. This ancient Hindu celebration also known as the festival of spring or the festival of colors has become one of the most popular and well-known equinox experiences in India and beyond. What started as a religious holiday has turned into a larger cultural celebration of the arrival of spring and the end of winter.

There are numerous legends associated with this ancient tradition and it is difficult to pin-point as to when actually the tradition started.

Holi is typically held every March and is most widely known for its joyous explosions of colorful powder which revelers use to douse each other in vibrant hues. Holi celebrations also include lively public gatherings and a ceremonial bonfire on the night known as Holika Dahan which takes place the day before the main event.

King cake symbolizes Mardi Gras season © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mardi Gras

Mardi Gras known as Shrove Tuesday or Fat Tuesday falls annually on the day before Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent. The word Mardi Gras means Fat Tuesday in the French language. Celebrations include festivals, parades, dancing, and feasting before the fasting starts on Ash Wednesday.

Mardi Gras is a tradition that dates back thousands of years to pagan celebrations of spring and fertility including the raucous Roman festivals of Saturnalia and Lupercalia. When Christianity arrived in Rome, religious leaders decided to incorporate these popular local traditions into the new faith, an easier task than abolishing them altogether. As a result, the excess and debauchery of the Mardi Gras season became a prelude to Lent, the 40 days of fasting and penance between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday.

Worth Pondering…

Come with me into the woods. Where spring is advancing as it does no matter what not being singular or particular but one of the forever gifts and certainly visible.

—Mary Oliver

The Mystique of Mardi Gras: Inside the History of Fat Tuesday

Believe it or not, Fat Tuesday wasn’t always a day of parades and beads

Beads tossed from parade floats elaborate masked balls, and the brilliant colors of purple, green, and gold. We’re speaking, of course, of Mardi Gras (February 13, 2024), the raucous celebration that falls on the Tuesday before the Christian fasting period of Lent in February and March. Also known internationally as Carnival or Carnaval, the lively annual festival is the hallmark of New Orleans, Louisiana, but its rich history begins well before the establishment of the Big Easy in 1718.

Mardi Gras parade © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Medieval roots, French legacy

The origins of Mardi Gras can be traced to medieval Europe passing through Rome and Venice in the 17th and 18th centuries to the French House of the Bourbons. From here, the traditional revelry of Boeuf Gras or fatted calf followed France to her colonies. By that time, the celebration was linked to the Catholic Church and its attempts to discourage indulgences during Lent. 

The English translation of the French Mardi Gras is Fat Tuesday and it was originally a single-day celebration in which revelers would eat, drink, and carouse as much as possible before midnight when Ash Wednesday marked the beginning of Lent. It was a day that many recklessly released their inhibitions before the 40 days of fasting that led up to Easter.

Mardi Gras costume exhibit © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On March 2, 1699, French-Canadian explorer Jean Baptiste Le Moyne Sieur de Bienville arrived at a plot of ground 60 miles directly south of New Orleans and named it Pointe du Mardi Gras when his men realized it was the eve of the festive holiday. Bienville also established Fort Louis de la Louisiane (which is now Mobile) in 1702. In 1703, the tiny settlement of Fort Louis de la Mobile celebrated America’s very first Mardi Gras.

In 1704, Mobile established a secret society (Masque de la Mobile), similar to those that form the current Mardi Gras krewes. It lasted until 1709. In 1710, the Boeuf Gras Society was formed and paraded from 1711 through 1861. The procession was held with a huge bull’s head pushed along on wheels by 16 men. Later, Rex would parade with an actual bull, draped in white and signaling the coming Lenten meat fast. This occurred on Fat Tuesday.

New Orleans was established in 1718 by Bienville. By the 1730s, Mardi Gras was celebrated openly in New Orleans but not with the parades we know today. In the early 1740s, Louisiana’s governor, the Marquis de Vaudreuil, established elegant society balls which became the model for the New Orleans Mardi Gras balls of today.

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Secret societies, parades, and beads

The earliest reference to Mardi Gras Carnival appears in a 1781 report to the Spanish colonial governing body. That year, the Perseverance Benevolent & Mutual Aid Association was the first of hundreds of clubs and carnival organizations formed in New Orleans.

By the late 1830s, New Orleans held street processions of maskers with carriages and horseback riders to celebrate Mardi Gras. Dazzling gaslight torches or flambeaux lit the way for the Krewe’s members and lent each event an exciting air of romance and festivity.

In 1856, six young Mobile natives formed the Mistick Krewe of Comus invoking John Milton’s hero Comus to represent their organization. Comus brought magic and mystery to New Orleans with dazzling floats (known as tableaux cars) and masked balls. Krewe members remained anonymous.

In 1870, Mardi Gras’ second Krewe, the Twelfth Night Revelers, was formed and it introduced throws in 1870 which kicked off the tradition of tossing keepsakes from floats into the crowd. While some Krewes, like the krewe of Zulu, choose to throw coveted odd items like coconuts, most Krewes stick to purple, green, and gold beads, the official colors of Mardi Gras.

Mardi Gras costume exhibit © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Newspapers began to announce Mardi Gras events in advance and they even printed Carnival Edition lithographs of parades’ fantastic float designs (after they rolled, of course—themes and floats were always carefully guarded before the procession). At first, these reproductions were small and details could not be seen. But beginning in 1886 with Proteus’ parade Visions of Other Worlds these chromolithographs could be produced in full, saturated color doing justice to the float and costume designs of Carlotta Bonnecase, Charles Briton, and B.A. Wikstrom. Each of these designers’ work was brought to life by talented Parisian paper-mache artist Georges Soulie who for 40 years was responsible for creating all of Carnival’s floats and processional outfits.

1872 was the year that a group of businessmen invented a King of Carnival, Rex, to preside over the first daytime parade. To honor the visiting Russian Grand Duke Alexis Romanoff, the businessmen introduced Romanoff’s family colors of purple, green, and gold as Carnival’s official colors. Purple stands for justice, gold for power, and green for faith. This was also the Mardi Gras season that Carnival’s improbable anthem, If Ever I Cease to Love, was cemented, due in part to the Duke’s fondness for the tune.

The following year, floats began to be constructed entirely in New Orleans instead of France culminating with Comus’ magnificent The Missing Links to Darwin’s Origin of Species in which exotic paper-mache animal costumes served as the basis for Comus to mock both Darwin’s theory and local officials including Governor Henry Warmoth. In 1875, Governor Warmoth signed the Mardi Gras Act making Fat Tuesday a legal holiday in Louisiana which it still is.

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Modern Mardi Gras

Like Comus and the Twelfth Night Revelers, most Mardi Gras krewes today developed from private social clubs with restrictive membership policies. Since all of these parade organizations are completely funded by their members, New Orleanians call it the Greatest Free Show on Earth!

Except for the crowds, today’s Mardi Gras isn’t that different from its colonial origins. Secret societies still rule the parades, revelers still try to catch the throws, and indulgence remains the common thread for the entire week of festivities. There’s no experience quite like a New Orleans Mardi Gras experience so as people say in Cajun French at Mardi Gras New Orleans, laissez les bons temps rouler—let the good times roll!

>> DIG DEEPER

Future Mardi Gras Dates

  • March 4, 2025
  • February 17, 2026
  • February 9, 2027
  • February 29, 2028
  • February 13, 2029
  • March 5, 2030

Worth Pondering…

It’s a great party, and anyone who doesn’t enjoy Mardi Gras is not of this world.

—Franklin Alvarado

10 Amazing Places to RV in February 2024

If you’re dreaming of where to travel to experience it all, here are my picks for the best places to RV in February

The universe is full of magical things patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper.

—Eden Phillpotts

English author and poet Eden Phillpotts was known for his prolific output of novels, plays, poetry, and short stories. In 1918 he published A Shadow Passes, a collection of reflections and poetry that capture the author’s keen observations about the world around him. In his contemplation of the buckbean plant (aka Menyanthes), Phillpotts marvels at the beauty of its “ragged petals finer than lace.”

This attention to detail serves as a broader contemplation of the natural world emphasizing the innumerable potential wonders that remain unnoticed and unappreciated until our understanding and awareness deepen. Beauty and magic are always present; we need only to keep our minds and hearts open to the possibilities that lie in wait all around us.

Planning an RV trip for a different time of year? Check out my monthly travel recommendations for the best places to travel in January. Also check out my recommendations from February 2023 and March 2023.

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. A history of cowboys, shootouts, and outlaws in the southwest

The rich and illustrious history of Tombstone is well-known by many Western film buffs but few places are as prepared to tell its story as the Tombstone Courthouse. This Arizona State Historic Park is a wealth of knowledge on everything from the founding of the city of Tombstone to the first-hand accounts of those present at the gunfight at O.K. Corral.

Tombstone as a city was established in 1877 when Edward Schieffelin discovered silver mines in the area. Tombstone Courthouse was the center of Cochise Country from 1882 to 1931 when the city seat was moved to Bisbee.

The courthouse was built in the shape of a Roman cross and is 12,000 square feet. The Tombstone Courthouse is the oldest courthouse still standing in Arizona. During its tenure as the county courthouse seven men were sentenced to hang for various crimes—five of which were hung together after a botched robbery left at least four others dead.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Best national park to visit in February: Saguaro National Park

Located in southern Arizona, Saguaro National Park is one of the warmest parks to visit in February. Temperatures in the park soar from late spring through early fall making the winter months the best time to visit Saguaro. With an average high of 70°F and a very low chance of rain, this is a great park to visit in February.

Saguaro National Park is named for the Saguaro Cactus which only grows in the Sonoran Desert.

This park is split into two different sections, the Tucson Mountain District and the Rincon Mountain District. You can visit both in one very busy day but you’re best to spread them out over two separate days.

Plan your visit:

Temecula Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Temecula Valley wine region

Nearly 50 wineries populate the Temecula Valley and the rolling-hills region: known for award-winning Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Zinfandel, and Pinot Noir. Think of Temecula as the Napa Valley of southern California being only an hour drive from San Diego and a couple hours from LA.

Just west of the valley wine region, Old Town Temecula is a fantastic place to eat and people watch. However, getting through Old Town involved ten stop signs and ample opportunity for street café onlookers to witness my first gear stall.

Plan your visit:

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. West Texas is mostly flat and desolate, right? Not Quite! 

Big Bend National Park is an exception to people’s commonly-percieved notions that West Texas is flat and desolate. Big Bend National Park is the quintessential hidden gem of the state. At 801,000-plus acres, it’s one of the largest national parks in the United States yet it’s also one of the least-visited parks. The low-visit rate might be because the park is nowhere close to a populated city center.

Big Bend National Park is perhaps most appealing in winter when temperatures stay in the 60s during the daytime. This weather is perfect for hiking and biking the 200 miles of trails that the park offers. Big Bend offers the best of both mountain and desert terrain and with the Rio Grande River bordering the park, you can also take part in water activities.

Plan your visit:

Galveston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. I still dream of Galveston

This exciting old city is located on a barrier island off the Gulf Coast via Highway 45. It’s just 50 miles south of Houston but it leaves the hustle and bustle of the big city behind and slows the pace down to a barefoot beach town.

The Gulf of Mexico laps the sandy beaches that stretch the full length of the island. You can enjoy the relaxing beachfront atmosphere, take a dip in the warm gulf waters, walk along the seawall, or go through the shops in the historic downtown area where cruise ship passengers disembark to get a taste of this historic city that was established in the early 1800s when it was still part of Mexico.

The Spanish influence is evident in much of the old-town architecture. Check out the Bishop’s Palace, historic churches, and the Moody Mansion for examples.

Read more:

Bay St. Lewis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. A place apart

There’s St. Louis, and then there’s Bay St. Louis which dubs itself a place apart. Just 51 miles away from the one-of-a-kind hub that is New Orleans, Bay St. Louis couldn’t feel further from the hustle and bustle. The town’s prime spot on the Mississippi Sound, an embayment of the Gulf of Mexico provides a glorious stretch of white-sanded beach with virtually no crowds. In fact, this strip of shoreline is known as Mississippi’s Secret Coast.

Just off of Beach Boulevard, you’ll find Old Town Bay St. Louis, a walkable area full of local shops and eateries. Spend an afternoon strolling through Old Town, browsing the beach boutiques and art galleries.

Plan your trip to be in town on the second Saturday of each month when Old Town puts on a giant art walk complete with live music, local merchants, and other special events.

Check this out to learn more: Bay St. Louis: A Place Apart

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Mardi Gras

Mark Twain once wrote that a traveler “… has not seen the United States until he has seen Mardi Gras in New Orleans.”

Of the hundreds of Louisiana festivals, none tops Mardi Gras. Spectacular parades, unbelievable costumes, music, dancing, food, drink—take your pick of places to indulge and enjoy.

The biggest celebration occurs in New Orleans but nearly every community in the state has its own version of the annual party. Wherever you go, you can find the style that best suits you including tons of family-friendly celebrations.

Mardi Gras is here and there are so many parades and activities for every member of your family. You’ll find the perfect revelry for every age.

Nothing gets Louisianans together like a good party. And when it comes to Mardi Gras season, you’ll find plenty of ways to celebrate with the kids and grown-ups alike all the way up until Fat Tuesday (February 13, 2024).

Read more:

Mardi Gras King Cake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Birthplace of Mardi Gras

When you think of Mardi Gras you likely think of New Orleans, beads, and the rowdiness of the French Quarter. The Big Easy has a long and illustrious history with Fat Tuesday, but, believe it or not, it’s not the birthplace of the celebration in America. For that, you have to go about 150 miles east to Mobile, Alabama.

On Mardi Gras, clusters of costumed people travel from the banks of Mobile Bay on Government Street, up old and tightly crowded Dauphin Street, and into the center of the city.

The secret societies that dominate the celebration organize themselves on floats just as their parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents did before them. Crowds along the street cheer them on and marvel at the costumes catching trinkets and MoonPies thrown from above.

Read more:

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. A dose of southern hospality

Savannah, Georgia, is a charming historic Southern town on the Atlantic coast, just across the Savannah River from South Carolina. The city is known for its beautiful municipal parks, historical features such as antebellum homes, and the horse-drawn carriages that ferry passengers around the cobblestoned streets of the historic district.

Stroll the ancient oak-lined paths of Forsyth Park and then take a walk through the Juliette Gordon Low Historic District followed by comfort food at a Southern cafe and you’ll never want to leave Savannah. February is the end of Savannah’s low season and a great time to beat the crowds as long as you are willing to don a jacket.

Worth Pondering…

All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.

―Charles M. Schulz

Family-Friendly Mardi Gras Events in Louisiana 2024

Everywhere else, it’s just a Tuesday

Mark Twain once wrote that a traveler “… has not seen the United States until he has seen Mardi Gras in New Orleans.”

Of the hundreds of Louisiana festivals, none tops Mardi Gras. Spectacular parades, unbelievable costumes, music, dancing, food, and drink—take your pick of places to indulge and enjoy.

The biggest celebration occurs in New Orleans but nearly every community in the state has its version of the annual party. Wherever you go, you can find the style that best suits you including tons of family-friendly celebrations.

Mardi Gras parade © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mardi Gras is here and there are so many parades and activities for every member of your family. You’ll find the perfect revelry for every age.

Nothing gets Louisianans together like a good party. And when it comes to Mardi Gras season, you’ll find plenty of ways to celebrate with the kids and grown-ups alike all the way up until Fat Tuesday (February 13, 2024).

Greater New Orleans Area 

Slidell: Krewe of Bilge

Sometimes Mardi Gras floats float. Head just a few miles east of New Orleans where the Krewe of Bilge boat parade goes through the canals of Slidell. For the last 40 years, Bilge has tossed out beads and cups (or throws) and other commemorative Carnival treasures to parade goers from the middle of Slidell waterways. The family will love seeing the decorated boats where krewe members toss out beads and Carnival treasures.

Some great spots to catch the parade are at The Dock of Slidell off Lakeview Drive, along Highway 11 at Michael’s Restaurant, The Landing, and Tooloula’s, and on the east side of the parade route at the firehouse on Marina Drive.

Details: Saturday, January 27, 2024 at 12:00 pm

Mardi Gras parade © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Metairie: Family Gras

Head to Jefferson Parish’s family-centric Mardi Gras experience: Family Gras. This free event is perfect for the whole family. You can enjoy the spectacle of Mardi Gras parades, authentic local cuisine, local art, a Kids’ Court and outdoor concerts by both national artists and Louisiana favorites!

After the music ends, stay for an up-close look at the Krewes of Excalibur, Caerus, Atlas, and Madhatters as they roll in front of the Family Gras site on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights.

Details: February 2-4, 2024, Mardi Gras Plaza, 3300 block of Veterans Memorial Boulevard, across from Lakeside Shopping Center 

Mardi Gras parade © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New Orleans: Krewe of Barkus

Mardi Gras gets even cuter when furry friends are involved. New Orleans’ French Quarter goes to the dogs at the annual Krewe of Barkus where dogs and their owners dress up in cute, crazy costumes. It’s a blast for kids and adults alike alike. Who doesn’t like adorable animals dressed to the nines?

Like Barbie, Barkus believes that dreams do come true and that any dog canine be anything! Krewe members embrace the possibilities that Barbie and her posse represent at the best dog parade on Earth.

Details: Sunday, February 4, 2024 at 2 p.m.

Mardi Gras parade © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

South Louisiana

Lafayette goes big with its Mardi Gras festivities and two of the family-friendly highlights are the annual Children’s Parade and the Krewe of Bonaparte. The Children’s Parade kicks off first in downtown Lafayette and is followed by the illustrious Krewe of Bonaparte later in the evening. These are far from the only parades, though. An old-fashioned Courir de Mardi Gras takes place in Vermilionville and is followed by many others.

Eunice: Lil’ Mardi Gras

Adults can’t have all the fun! Eunice is one of the small Cajun Country towns where the culture is as alive as ever and family is an important aspect of their culture. That’s why you’ll find Lil’ Mardi Gras here where children are separated into different age groups and can participate in traditional Cajun Mardi Gras traditions.

They are encouraged to be in full costume, mask, and capuchon. The day starts early with the Mardi Gras run beginning at 9 am. Participants will return to the Eunice Recreation Complex at noon for lunch then depart for Harris Field at 1:15 for the chicken chase. The day ends with a children’s parade in downtown Eunice at 3 pm.

Details: Sunday, February 11, 2024

Mardi Gras costumes exhibit © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Baton Rouge: Mystic Krewe of Mutts 

In Baton Rouge, the 25th annual Mystic Krewe of Mutts asks you to bark your calendars for this hilariously awe-inspiring (or paw-inspiring) event. This is a fundraising celebration for a local non-profit’s spay/neuter program that features costumed pups parading through downtown Baton Rouge. Food vendors are on-site, too, so come hungry.

Details: Sunday, January 28, 2024 starting at 10:00 am

Lake Charles: Krewe of Barkus 

Lake Charles also hosts the Krewe of Barkus parade that encourages pets, their owners, and all who want to participate to dress in their Mardi Gras best.

Details: Saturday, February 10, 2024 at 1 pm

Mardi Gras exhibit © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jeanerette: Grand Marais Mardi Gras Parade

The Grand Marais Mardi Gras Parade is a unique experience the whole family will love. This rural Mardi Gras parade in the heart of Cajun Country takes place at the corner of Highway 90 and College Road in Jeanerette. It’s a family-oriented event with floats, bands, and an “ugly costume” contest that is not to be missed.   

Details: Sunday, February 11, 2024

Central Louisiana 

What to take the kids to see a real-life queen? The reigning Miss Teen Louisiana is the Grand Marshal of Alexandria’s annual Children’s Parade. You’ll see whole families from grandparents to grandchildren on colorful floats along with local marching bands and dance teams to get your toes tapping.

Mardi Gras exhibit © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Natchitoches: Krewe of Dionysos

The whole family will enjoy the charm of Natchitoches with the Krewe of Dionysos parade. This evening parade puts on a show with lights, costumes, and lots of beads to take home.

Details: Saturday, February 10, 2024

North Louisiana 

Monroe: Krewe of Janus Parade 

The Krewe of Janus Parade in Monroe puts on a show that is not to be missed, with dozens of floats and marching bands. The elaborate floats feature larger-than-life sculptures and bright colors that are a marvel to the eye. And the Krewe of Janus Children’s Parade steps up the competition for best floats with some incredible family creativity. In the Children’s Parade, you will find dozens of decorated wagons and kids in costumes putting on a show for the whole family.

Details: Saturday, February 3, 2024, Pecanland Mall at 10 am

Mardi Gras exhibit © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shreveport: Krewe of Barkus and Meoux Parade

Shreveport goes to the dogs (literally) at the Krewe of Barkus and Meoux Parade. Head to Old Reeves Marine to see the pups strut their stuff, and feel free to bring your own. The cuteness of this parade will have you telling everyone “Happy Mardi Paw!”

Details: Sunday, February 4, 2024, Louisiana Downs at 11 am

This is just a sample of the many family-friendly that take place throughout the state during carnival season. Enjoy a safe family-friendly Mardi Gras!

Here are a few great articles to help you do just that:

Worth Pondering…

It’s a great party, and anyone who doesn’t enjoy Mardi Gras is not of this world.

—Franklin Alvarado

Let the Good Times Roll in Mobile: Birthplace of Mardi Gras

Everywhere else, it’s just a Tuesday

When you think of Mardi Gras you likely think of New Orleans, beads, and the rowdiness of the French Quarter. The Big Easy has a long and illustrious history with Fat Tuesday, but, believe it or not, it’s not the birthplace of the celebration in America. For that, you have to go about 150 miles east to Mobile, Alabama.

Mardi Gras dates back thousands of years to ancient Rome and pagan celebrations of Saturnalia and Lupercalia. When the Roman Catholic Church rose to power, Church leaders were looking for ways to make it easier for pagans to adopt the faith. Rather than the winter and spring festivals they encouraged a carnival on the day before Lent which starts 46 days before Easter.

The practice migrated to other countries with large Catholic populations at the time including France, Germany, Spain, and England. Traditionally, people would binge eat and drink, scarfing down all the meat, eggs, milk, and cheese in their homes.

Mobile © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The gorging was celebratory since fish and fasting were close to the only things on the menu until Easter. The practice came to be called Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday in France.

In 1699, a French Canadian explorer with a mouthful of a name, Jean Baptiste Le Moyne Sieur de Bienville, landed on the coast of present-day Louisiana. The spot is about 60 miles south of where New Orleans would eventually be founded and Bienville named the place Pointe du Mardi Gras because of the impending holiday. The crew celebrated though it was likely a quieter celebration than today.

In 1702, Bienville founded another town, Fort Louis de la Louisiane. The small settlement celebrated the first official Mardi Gras in what is now the United States in 1703. Fort Louis de la Louisiane eventually turned into Mobile, Alabama, and served as the first capital of the original Colony of French Louisiana. The city of New Orleans, for comparison, wasn’t even established until 1718, 15 years after the first Mobile Mardi Gras.

Mobile © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The French, Spanish, British, and, eventually, Americans all came through and left their mark on Mobile changing how the festival is held. Celebrations waxed and waned over the years as the economy rose and fell, wars came and went, but still, Mardi Gras lives on.

Now on Mardi Gras, clusters of costumed people travel from the banks of Mobile Bay on Government Street, up old and tightly crowded Dauphin Street, and into the center of the city.

The secret societies that dominate the celebration organize themselves on floats just as their parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents did before them. Crowds along the street cheer them on and marvel at the costumes catching trinkets and MoonPies thrown from above.

Fewer balconies line the streets of Mobile than New Orleans and fewer tourists come to the city for Mardi Gras but the look and feel is familiar. There are kings and queens, princesses, and debutants. Mobile’s Mardi Gras drinking scene lacks 24-hour bars and a rich cocktail history like New Orleans but it has its own perks.

Mobile © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

People can buy 16-ounce to-go drinks in plastic and styrofoam cups from licensed bars and restaurants in the downtown district. MoonPies get more attention than cocktails but bars make MoonPie-inspired cocktails like the ice cream heavy Chrissy (basically consists of vanilla ice cream, vodka, and the hazelnut flavored liqueur, Frangelico) and MoonPie Martinis (served in three popular MoonPie flavors—orange, banana or mint chocolate).

“There is no way to truly tell you what it’s like. You have to experience it,” says Steve Joynt, who runs Mobile Mask, the Mardi Gras guide for the area. “From parades to balls to block parties and parties in private homes, Mardi Gras is what each individual makes it.”

Joynt adds, “Mobile’s Mardi Gras is different from others in a thousand different ways and it’s the same in a few very important ways: It’s a community celebration and an excuse to come together, enjoy each other’s company, and have some fun.”

Mobile © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mardi Gras 2024 FAQs

When is Mardi Gras 2024? Mardi Gras 2024 or Fat Tuesday is on Tuesday, February 13.

What does laissez les bons temps rouler mean? Parisians are not likely to understand this Cajun French phrase but when you visit the Gulf Coast during Mardi Gras season you’ll hear the locals use this literal translation of the English phrase let the good times roll.

Who can go to a Mardi Gras ball in Mobile? Mobile Mardi Gras ball attendance is invitation only. Members of Mardi Gras Crews who organize the balls can invite non-members to the lavish celebrations.

When did Mobile first celebrate Mardi Gras? Mobile is proud of its Mardi Gras heritage and claims the first official Carnival celebration in the United States. It was started in 1703 by Frenchman Nicholas Langlois when Mobile was the capital of French Louisiana.

Mobile © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What is a mystic society? Mystic societies are secret societies that organize parades and balls during Mardi Gras season. They date back to 1704. The oldest existing parading society is the Order of Myths. Mystic societies each have their own traditions, rich with symbolism and ritual.

What is King Cake? A King Cake is a traditional Mardi Gras pastry with roots in Christian tradition. Traditionally, you start enjoying King Cake on January 6, an epiphany. The pastry is a cakey bread dough formed into a ring and decorated with Mardi Gras colors, gold, purple, and green. Bakers do get creative. A bakery in Daphne, for example, offers a crawfish King Cake.

What are MoonPies? MoonPies come in many different flavors including chocolate, banana, mint, and peanut butter. A MoonPie is made up of marshmallows, graham crackers, and chocolate. The MoonPie got its name in 1917 when a coal miner asked a traveling salesman from the company for a snack as big as the moon. The MoonPie website reads, “It was filling, fit in the lunch pail, and the coal miners loved it. The rest, as they say, is history.”

Mobile © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mardi Gras language: Learn the lingo before the big day

Fat Tuesday, King Cake, Carnival, and Krewes are all popular terms during the Mardi Gras season but what do they mean?

Learn some of the most popular lingo before hitting the parades:

  • Epiphany: Held on January 6, this is a Christian holiday that celebrates the three wise men’s visit to baby Jesus. This is also known as the start of the Mardi Gras season.
  • Lundi Gras: This is the French term for Fat Monday which is the day before Mardi Gras.
  • Mardi Gras: The French term for Fat Tuesday which is the day of the Mardi Gras celebrations.
  • Ash Wednesday: This signifies the end of the Mardi Gras season. All the craziness of Mardi Gras comes to an end when the clock strikes midnight on Ash Wednesday.
  • Carnival: The term Carnival means farewell to meat which signifies the temporary period before lent. Those who take part in lent can indulge in their humanly desires. The Carnival season begins on Epiphany and ends on Fat Tuesday.
  • Mardi Gras Ball: A ball is held after each parade float rolls through the streets of Downtown Mobile. At the balls the royal court is introduced along with dancing and costumes.
  • Floats: Mardi Gras floats are extensively decorated trailers driven by trucks during the parades. Many floats throw an assortment of beads, candy, and Mardi Gras-themed items. Each year, those participating in the parade make sure ensure that their floats and costume match the year’s theme.
  • Krewe: These are the people that make up the different Mardi Gras organizations. They ride on the floats while also funding and creating the parade.
  • Royal Court: These consist of honored members within an organization or krewe. The court normally includes a king, queen, dukes, maids, grand marshals, and more. The royal court is presented at the organization’s balls where they wear elaborate costumes. In order to become part of a royal court, most people have to be on a waiting list for years.
  • King cake: This is a festive-looking cake that uses Danish dough, cinnamon, glaze topping, and sprinkles. There is also a plastic baby that is hidden within the cake which is meant to represent baby Jesus on the Epiphany.
  • Moonpie: MoonPies are dessert sandwiches that come in multiple different flavors and sizes. These are very popular to use as parade throws.
  • Doubloon: There are large coins that are made out of aluminum and used as Mardi Gras throws.
  • Throws: These are the material goods that krewes throw from floats during the parades.
Mobile © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And last but not least:

Laissez les bons temps rouler: This is a popular Cajun-French saying during the carnival season that means Let the good times roll.

Worth Pondering…

It’s a great party, and anyone who doesn’t enjoy Mardi Gras is not of this world.

—Franklin Alvarado

My Favorite Things about Louisiana

From authentic dishes and Mardi Gras to adventures into nature, these are just a few of the reasons why I love Louisiana

There are infinite opportunities to get to know Louisiana, a state known for some of the nation’s (if not the world’s) friendliest folks, plus the kind of cuisine, music, and culture that are found nowhere else.

Here are a few of my favorites but by no means is this list complete—there’s simply too much to see and do! Add these to your Louisiana must-experience list. 

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Creole Nature Trail All-American Road

Starting on the outskirts of Lake Charles and ending at the Lake Charles/Southwest Louisiana Convention & Visitors Bureau, the Creole Nature Trail All-American Road is a network of byways where you’ll find more than 400 bird species, alligators galore, and 26 miles of Gulf of Mexico beaches. Also called America’s Outback, the Creole Nature Trail takes visitors through 180 miles of southwest Louisiana’s backroads.

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You’ll pass through small fishing villages, National Wildlife Refuges to reach the little-visited, remote Holly and Cameron beaches. Take a side trip down to Sabine Lake or drive onto a ferry that takes visitors across Calcasieu Pass. Throughout the trip, expect to see exotic birds; this area is part of the migratory Mississippi Flyway. 

>> Get more tips for visiting Creole Nature Trail

Louisiana swamp tour © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Louisiana Swamp Tours

Louisiana serves up a lot more memorable experiences than just bowls of its famed gumbo.

To experience an indelible part of the state’s past, present, and future visit the mysterious and exquisite swamps throughout south Louisiana, home to one of the planet’s richest and most diverse ecosystems. Perceived as beautiful and menacing, south Louisiana’s ancient swamps have long captivated writers, historians, and travelers.

Louisiana swamp tour © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just the name Louisiana brings to mind images of moss-draped oak trees, bald cypresses with massive, bottle-like trunks, and flat-bottom boats effortlessly gliding through waters populated with alligators. On a south Louisiana swamp tour, you’re likely to see all of those plus some unexpected surprises.

There are many outfitters who can get you deep into the waters of the Honey Island Swamp (on Louisiana’s Northshore) the Manchac Swamp (between Baton Rouge and New Orleans), Barataria Bay (south of New Orleans), and the massive Atchafalaya Basin between Baton Rouge and Lafayette. All swamps have their own stories to tell and with the help of expert local guides you’re guaranteed to have the kind of adventure you’ll only find in Louisiana.

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

3. Bayou Teche

The definition of a bayou is “a slow-moving body of water” and South Louisiana is full of them. But my favorite is Bayou Teche which meanders for 125 miles through charming towns like New Iberia, Breaux Bridge, and St. Martinville offering lovely vistas all along the way.

Bayou Teche was the Mississippi River’s main course when it developed a delta about 2,800 to 4,500 years ago. From its southernmost point in Morgan City to its northern end in Arnaudville, the byway crosses beautiful marshes and fields of sugar cane connecting lovely towns that have well-preserved historic districts.

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

Sample Acadian culture in cafés and dance halls serve up Cajun and zydeco music along with boiled crawfish and étouffée. Stately mansions along with the bayou exhibit the lifestyles of sugar barons from the past. The cuisine, customs, and architecture reflect the influences of Native Americans, Europeans, Africans, the Caribbean, and other peoples who settled the area.

>> Get more tips for visiting the Bayou Teche

Konriko Company Store © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Conrad Rice Mill/KONRIKO Company Store

New Iberia’s Conrad Rice Mill is the oldest rice mill in America and is also one of the leading tourist attractions in the Bayou Teche area. At this National Register of Historic Places site, you can watch an introductory video about the history of rice farming in Louisiana, tour the mill itself, and shop at the KONRIKO Company Store for some truly unique local souvenirs.

P.A. Conrad founded the Conrad Rice Mill and Planting Company in 1912. He would cut the rice by hand and let it sun-dry on the levees before putting the rice in the threshers. The rice was poured into 100-pound bags and taken to the mill. At that time, the mill operated only three to four months out of the year. Conrad would sell his rice from inventory waiting for the next crop to harvest.

Tours are Monday to Saturday at 10 am, 11 am, 1 pm, 2 pm and 3 pm. The admission fee for the tour is $5/adult with a discounted rate for seniors and children. The tour consists of a slide presentation about the area and a guided walk tour of the mill.

Mardi Gras parade © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Mardi Gras

Mardi Gras is just one of many reasons Louisiana has gained a reputation for being the nation’s most festive state. Mardi Gras isn’t just a day (also known as Fat Tuesday)—it’s also a season running from Twelfth Night (also known as Epiphany) to Ash Wednesday.

Visitors can also get a feel for the festivities anytime of the year. Check out the Mardi Gras Museum of Imperial Calcasieu in Lake Charles, home to a stellar collection of Carnival costumes and artifacts from past decades. Or see the Mardi Gras: It’s Carnival Time in Louisiana exhibit at Louisiana State Museum’s The Presbytère in New Orleans to learn about the state’s rich Mardi Gras history. You can see Mardi Gras being built year-round at Mardi Gras World in New Orleans where some of the biggest and best parade floats are being constructed.

>> Get more tips for visiting during Mardi Gras

Louisiana hot sauces © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Cajun and Creole Cuisine

Louisiana’s food is steeped with historical influences including Cajun and Creole cuisines which are relatively similar to each other. Cajun and Creole are two distinct cultures that over the years have continued to blend.

If you’re versed on Louisiana history and culture then all you really need to know is that Creole cuisine uses tomatoes and proper Cajun food does not. That’s how you tell a Cajun vs. Creole gumbo or jambalaya. Other popular dishes include étouffée (a seafood stew) and beignets (fried doughnuts).

A vastly simplified way to describe the two cuisines is to deem Creole cuisine as city food while Cajun cuisine is often referred to as country food. Cajun is a style of cooking that has its roots in the French-Canadian settlers who arrived in the area in the 18th century. Cajun dishes are typically very spicy and full of flavor and they often include seafood, rice, and beans.

Be sure to try some of the delicious Cajun and Creole food on offer. You can find it in restaurants all over the state but for a truly authentic experience head to the bayous of southwest Louisiana.

Tabasco on Avery Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Avery Island

The McIlhenny family introduced Tabasco pepper sauce in 1868. Experience the history and production of the world-famous hot sauce during your visit to Avery Island. The Avery Island Fan Experience includes a self-guided tour of the TABASCO Museum, Pepper Greenhouse, Barrel Warehouse, Avery Island Conservation, Salt Mine diorama, TABASCO Country Store, TABASCO Restaurant 1868! and the 170-acre natural beauty of Jungle Gardens. Admission is $15.50/adult, $12.50/child, and $15.95/senior and veteran.

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

E.A. McIlhenny created the 170-acre Jungle Garden in 1935 and opened it to the public to enjoy his collection of camellias, azaleas, and other imported plants. You may see wildlife such as alligators, bears, bobcats, deer, and other wildlife as you walk or drive along man-made lagoons that trail Bayou Petit Anse. The over 900-year-old Buddha sits in the Temple he created. And visit Bird City, home to thousands of egrets, herons, and other birds!

>> Get more tips for visiting Avery Island

Crawfish farming © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Crawfish Season

If the pelican wasn’t on Louisiana’s state flag, the crawfish might as well be. It’s just that important to the state’s identity, economy, and cuisine. The little red crustacean is found in Cajun and Creole food throughout Louisiana cooked every which way imaginable.

Crawfish are part of Louisiana’s history. The Houma Indian tribe has used the crawfish as its emblem for centuries. Today, Louisiana leads the nation in crawfish production.

Crawfish farming © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What makes crawfish even more of a precious resource is the fact that it’s so seasonal. February to mid-May is the prime time to find fresh, live crawfish.

Jeff Davis Parish offers crawfish farm tours which give visitors an inside glimpse of crawfish ecology and the business of farming them. The tours operate from March to May (the crawfish harvest season) on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday mornings. Spectators will experience the habitat, harvest, calculation, distribution, and consumption of Louisiana’s #1 crustacean.

The Louisiana Legislature named Breaux Bridge the Crawfish Capital of the World in 1959 and the Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival was born in 1960. Replete with music, food, and fun this festival personifies the Cajun culture like no other. 

Boudin at Don’t Specialty Meats © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Boudin

Trying boudin is a must when visiting Louisiana. Though the recipe is uncomplicated—pork, rice, seasonings, and spice stuffed into an edible casing—each and every boudin is unique in texture and taste. Vendors are known for their distinct links. Boudin is a roughly half-pound, half-foot length of sausage available for purchase in most every local meat market, grocery store, and gas station. A perfect way to explore the region is to try one boudin after another, link after steaming hot link, to form a chain that connects, or literally links, the Cajun prairie towns to the Creole bayou communities.

Billy’s Boudin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Whether it’s smoked, fried as a boudin ball, or made from seafood rather than pork, there are many worthy variations. The best versions are found at gas stations and markets, like Best Stop or Billy’s, both in the town of Scott. Specialty meat markets like Don’s in Carencro offer a heart-stopping range of other meaty treats. And of course you’ll find high-end versions in restaurants like Cochon in New Orleans but do yourself a favor and check out the real deal at some of the old-school joints throughout Cajun Country. 

Atchafalaya National Heritage Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Atchafalaya National Heritage Area

The Atchafalaya National Heritage Area known as America’s Foreign Country is full of opportunities to take advantage of the great outdoors. Whether it’s paddling on the sparkling waters, hiking through the lush greenery, biking on winding paths, or keeping an eye out for that elusive bird you’ve been looking for­—the Atchafalaya National Heritage area has everything to offer. 

An American-Indian word, Atchafalaya (think of a sneeze: uh-CHA-fuh-lie-uh) means long river. Established in 2006, the Atchafalaya National Heritage Area stretches across 14 parishes in south-central Louisiana. It is among the most culturally rich and ecologically varied regions in the United States, home to the Cajun culture as well as a diverse population of European, African, Caribbean, and Native-American descent.

>> Get more tips for visiting Atchafalaya National Heritage Area

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 History of Mardi Gras Traditions

What was Mardi Gras like in 1898?

Fat Tuesday, last day before Lent’s forty day fast;
Mardi Gras magic exudes from every pore,
Elaborately costumed krewes toss beads off floats,
Give rise to fanciful celebrations of the dead,
Historic carnival steeped in Catholic doctrine.

—Sterling Warner

Mardi Gras is a Christian holiday and popular cultural phenomenon that dates back thousands of years to pagan spring and fertility rites. Also known as Carnival or Carnaval, it’s celebrated in many countries around the world, mainly ones with large Roman Catholic populations. Mardi Gras is traditionally celebrated on Fat Tuesday, the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, and the start of Lent. This year Mardi Gras is February 21 which means the season will last a little more than six weeks.

Mardi Gras parade © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mardi Gras is one of the many worldwide celebrations that recognize Fat Tuesday—the last day before Lent which historically was characterized by giving up meat, sweets, and other delicacies. Originating in medieval Europe, by the 17th and 18th centuries the festivities had become an annual event for the French House of the Bourbons.

On March 2, 1699, French-Canadian explorer Jean Baptiste Le Moyne Sieur de Bienville arrived at a plot of ground 60 miles directly south of New Orleans and named it Pointe du Mardi Gras when his men realized it was the eve of the festive holiday. Bienville also established Fort Louis de la Louisiane (which is now Mobile) in 1702. In 1703, the tiny settlement of Fort Louis de la Mobile celebrated America’s very first Mardi Gras.

Mardi Gras display © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1704, Mobile established Masque de la Mobile, a secret society similar to those that form the current Mardi Gras krewes. It lasted until 1709. In 1710, the Boeuf Gras Society was formed and paraded from 1711 through 1861. The procession was held with a huge bull’s head pushed along on wheels by 16 men. Later, Rex, The King of Carnival, would parade with an actual bull draped in white and signaling the coming Lenten meat fast. This occurred on Fat Tuesday.

New Orleans was established in 1718 by Bienville. By the 1730s, Mardi Gras was celebrated in New Orleans but not with the parades we know today. In the early 1740s, Louisiana’s governor, the Marquis de Vaudreuil, established elegant society balls which became the model for the New Orleans Mardi Gras balls of today.

King cakes at Ambrosia Bakery, Baton Rouge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The earliest reference to Mardi Gras Carnival appears in a 1781 report to the Spanish colonial governing body. That year, the Perseverance Benevolent & Mutual Aid Association was the first of hundreds of clubs and carnival organizations formed in New Orleans.

By the late 1830s, New Orleans held street processions of maskers with carriages and horseback riders to celebrate Mardi Gras. Dazzling gaslight torches or flambeaux lit the way for the krewe’s members and lent each event an exciting air of romance and festivity.

Mardi Gras parade © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1856, six young Mobile natives formed the Mistick Krewe of Comus invoking John Milton’s hero Comus to represent their organization. Comus brought magic and mystery to New Orleans with dazzling floats (known as tableaux cars) and masked balls. Krewe members remained anonymous.

In 1870, Mardi Gras’ second Krewe, the Twelfth Night Revelers, was formed. This is also the first recorded account of Mardi Gras throws.

Mardi Gras costume display © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Newspapers began to announce Mardi Gras events in advance and they even printed Carnival Edition lithographs of parades’ fantastic float designs (after they rolled, of course, themes and floats were always carefully guarded before the procession). At first, these reproductions were small and details could not be clearly seen. But beginning in 1886 with Proteus’ parade Visions of Other Worlds these chromolithographs could be produced in full, saturated color, doing justice to the float and costume designs of Carlotta Bonnecase, Charles Briton, and B.A. Wikstrom. Each of these designers’ work was brought to life by talented Parisian paper-mache artist Georges Soulie who for 40 years was responsible for creating all of Carnival’s floats and processional outfits.

Mardi Gras arts and crafts © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1872 was the year that a group of businessmen invented a King of Carnival, Rex to preside over the first daytime parade. To honor the visiting Russian Grand Duke Alexis Romanoff, the businessmen introduced Romanoff’s family colors of purple, green, and gold as Carnival’s official colors. Purple stands for justice, gold for power, and green for faith. This was also the Mardi Gras season that Carnival’s improbable anthem, If Ever I Cease to Love, was cemented, due in part to the Duke’s fondness for the tune.

The following year, floats began to be constructed entirely in New Orleans instead of France culminating with Comus’ magnificent The Missing Links to Darwin’s Origin of Species in which exotic paper-mache animal costumes served as the basis for Comus to mock both Darwin’s theory and local officials including Governor Henry Warmoth. In 1875, Governor Warmoth signed the Mardi Gras Act making Fat Tuesday a legal holiday in Louisiana which it still is.

Madre Gras display © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Like Comus and the Twelfth Night Revelers, most Mardi Gras krewes today developed from private social clubs with restrictive membership policies.

What was Mardi Gras like in 1898? Arthur Hardy who publishes an annual guide to the New Orleans celebration searched for decades to find out, looking for a film of the parade that year that was only rumored to exist. He finally found it nearly 5,000 miles away at the Eye Filmmuseum in Amsterdam. The footage which was recently shown at the Louisiana State Museum is the oldest-ever film of New Orleans. “This probably, in Louisiana film history, is the most important find,” said Louisiana film historian Ed Poole.

Mardi Gras arts and crafts © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Footage from the 1899 Mardi Gras shows that while Mardi Gras parades from over a century ago are in many ways similar to today’s, the festival has certainly evolved. For instance, while modern revelers often dress casually (and sometimes wear very little clothing at all), parade-goers in 1898 donned formal attire and carried parasols. People riding on floats were not throwing beads or coins into the crowd and no police or barricades were present for crowd control.

Mardi Gras parade © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On the flipside, one tradition from 1898 has since disappeared: The traditional revelry of boeuf gras or fatted ox was once a live bull. The film shows an actual bovine perched atop one of the floats. This tradition ended in the early 20th century when officials decided it was “no longer tasteful.” Today’s parades opt instead for a papier-maché version.

It’s certainly grown and changed a bit but at its core, Mardi Gras is the same.

Mardi Gras costume display © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Future Mardi Gras Dates

February 13, 2024

March 4, 2025

February 17, 2026

February 9, 2027

February 29, 2028

February 13, 2029

March 5, 2030

Worth Pondering…

It’s a great party, and anyone who doesn’t enjoy Mardi Gras is not of this world.

—Franklin Alvarado

How Louisiana At Large Does Mardi Gras

There are unique celebrations in every corner of the state

Common take me to the Mardi Gras
Where the people sing and play
Where the dancing is elite
And there’s music in the street
Both night and day.

—Paul Simon

Even if you consider yourself a New Orleans Mardi Gras expert, you haven’t seen anything yet! The celebrations outside of NOLA are as diverse as the state itself. Louisiana celebrates all of its roots: Native American, French, Spanish, African-American, Cajun, and Creole. Each city in each region of Louisiana has its own way of celebrating Mardi Gras.

Everyone loves Carnival Season—the weeks of parades, feasts, family fun, and revelry. It runs from Twelfth Night through Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday.

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

January 6th also known as Twelfth Night or the Epiphany is the day that the three kings (or wise men) visited Jesus in Bethlehem after following a bright star and presented their gifts to the baby Jesus of gold (to symbolize his royal birth), frankincense (to represent his divine birth), and myrrh (to recognize his mortality). The word Epiphany is from the Greek word to show. This is the day Mardi Gras season begins—hence king cake season.

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mardi Gras and king cakes go hand in hand. Carnival’s beginning, Twelfth Night, is a fixed date, but its ending at midnight on Mardi Gras is movable. This year Mardi Gras is February 21 which means the season will last a little more than six weeks—a month and a half of being exposed to king cakes. The cakes tend to show up most everywhere during the season. Once they were baked so dry and undistinguished that they were easy to ignore; now they are injected with various flavors of globby stuff that make a bust out of New Year’s diet resolutions but that are nevertheless tempting.

Want to join in? Explore the different regions, find a spot that speaks to you, and reserve a camping site. Laissez les bons temps rouler!

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

North Louisiana

At the top of the boot, north Louisiana offers its own unique and distinct take on Mardi Gras. From fishing and game hunting to cards and dice to antiques, wine and culture, you can truly choose your own adventure here. And that’s especially true during Carnival Season.

>> Read Next: 10 Things You Might Not Know About Mardi Gras

Those in east Texas or Arkansas can take a short drive to Shreveport for the festivities. One of their stand-out parades is the Krewe of Barkus and Meoux parade which features a royal court of pets. Past parade participants have included turtles, donkeys, cats, dogs, goats, chickens, and more. Bring the whole family over to Monroe for a kid’s parade, pet’s parade, a Mardi Gras 5K (complete with King Cake), and a traditional Mardi Gras parade with marching bands and colorful floats.

King cakes at Ambrosia Bakery in Baton Rouge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Central Louisiana

In central Louisiana all the wide variety of cultures in Louisiana come together. There’s incredible music to enjoy, Civil War history to witness, and visitors can even walk the same path taken by Solomon Northup during his 12 years as a slave.

The Alexandria Mardi Gras has been formally functioning since 1994. Locals celebrate with a variety of parades including the Pineville Light the Night Parade. The illuminated floats coming over the bridge linking the two cities are stunning.

The Town of Woodworth Parade welcomes any and all entries from go-karts and wagons to horses, tractors, or trikes. The Hixson Classic Cars and College Cheerleaders may be the area’s best-known event.

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Southwest Louisiana

As the home of Zydeco music, fantastic food, and fais-do-do dance parties locals of Lafayette, Houma, New Iberia, and beyond take having a good time pretty seriously. When it comes to Carnival season, the area is most famous for the Courir De Mardi Gras. Though medieval France is where it all began, capitaines of Mardi Gras can still be found leading a courir (French for run) to this day. Each community puts its own spin on the run but across central-southern Louisiana you’ll find hordes of participants all dressed up and running on foot, riding horses or trucks, going house to house, begging for ingredients to make a communal gumbo.

Mardi Gras costume display © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The first recorded celebration of Lafayette Mardi Gras was on February 14, 1869 but the first citywide Mardi Gras observance wasn’t until 1897. All parades end at Cajun Field where the annual Festival de Mardi Gras (February 17-21, 2023) takes place with carnival rides, live music, and more. If you’re a master costume crafter, you may want to partake in the Grand Marais Mardi Gras Association’s annual ugly costume contest.

>> Read Next: Joe Cain, Moon Pies & Mobile Mardi Gras

King cake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If king cake is your favorite part of the season, you’ll find the sweet treat across the state with plenty of delectable options in Houma. No matter where you get your cake, everyone digging in will keep an eye out for the small plastic baby baked in. If you find it in your piece, you’re responsible for buying the next cake—and quick! Along with your sweet treat, you’ll want to hang around for the extensive schedule of colorful parades rolling through the bayou region, both in Houma and nearby Thibodaux.

On the far west end of the state, you’ll find Lake Charles enjoying the carnival season. This family-friendly Mardi Gras celebration includes over 60 krewes participating in their Krewe of Krewes Parade on Fat Tuesday. In addition, be sure to check out how local restaurants and bakeries embrace the season.

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Southeast Louisiana

You will find that this area of the state is rich in history. These days, the diversity of the region can be seen coming together over jambalaya, classic cocktails, and outdoor adventures. 

King cake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the capital city, Spanish Town Parade is a vibrant staple of the Carnival season. Started in 1981 in Baton Rouge, Spanish Town residents partake in a long-time tradition of kidnapping one of the fake lake flamingo decorations and relocating it to their own yard. For locals, the flamingos are a vibrant kick-off to this festive season.

Northshore Mardi Gras celebrations are quirky, creative, and high-energy. Marching bands and ornate floats take to the streets. Fancifully decorated boats ride the waves and costumed pups walk their people.

Mardi Gras costume display © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Founded in 1965, the 300-member Krewe of Olympia is the oldest in St. Tammany Parish. Keeping the identity of King Zeus a secret, members ride on floats, trucks, and horses interspersed with marching bands from across the Northshore. And yes—there is plenty of Abita Beer to be found. The next Krewe of Olympia parade rolls February 11, 2023 in Covington at 6 pm.

>> Read Next: How to Celebrate Mardi Gras in 2021?

A walking parade featuring man’s best friends and their families puts some bark into the Carnival scene. Founded in 1999, the Mystic Krewe of Mardi Paws features dogs sashaying in costume along the Mandeville lakefront.

No matter what your favorite part of Carnival is or your past experience, there’s something for everyone across greater Louisiana. Enjoy it like a local with great food and entertainment. Come experience the most authentic and diverse Mardi Gras you never knew existed.

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Future Mardi Gras Dates

February 13, 2024

March 4, 2025

February 17, 2026

February 9, 2027

February 29, 2028

February 13, 2029

March 5, 2030

Worth Pondering…

Fat Tuesday, last day before Lent’s forty day fast;
Mardi Gras magic exudes from every pore,
Elaborately costumed krewes toss beads off floats,
Give rise to fanciful celebrations of the dead,
Historic carnival steeped in Catholic doctrine.

—Sterling Warner

10 Things You Might Not Know About Mardi Gras

Everywhere else, it’s just a Tuesday

Mardi Gras. Two little words with an infinitely large explanation.  For different people, it means different things—an event, an idea, a day, a way of life, a piece of history, a state holiday, or a million parades, and countless memories. Think you know Mardi Gras? That it’s all about booze and beads? Think again! 

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Of the hundreds of Louisiana festivals, none tops Mardi Gras. Spectacular parades, unbelievable costumes, music, dancing, food, drink—take your pick of places to indulge and enjoy. The biggest celebration occurs in New Orleans but nearly every community in the state and beyond has its own version of the annual party. Wherever you go, you can find the style that best suits you, including tons of family-style celebrations.

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What is Mardi Gras? Do you know the meaning of krewe? Or where to get one-of-a-kind beads? Here are 10 things to know about Mardi Gras to make your Carnival the best!

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Carnival is a Season; Mardi Gras is a day

Sure, we all do it. “Yea, I’m going to New Orleans for Mardi Gras!” we say when we’re actually going to see parades the weekend before Mardi Gras or the weekend before that. Technically, “Mardi Gras” is the last Tuesday before Ash Wednesday and ushers in 40 days of best behavior during Lent, and “Carnival” is the season that begins on the Feast of Epiphany.

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mardi Gras 2022 falls on Tuesday, March 1, 2022. The official start of Carnival Season is Twelfth Night, January 6.

A krewe (pronounced the same way as “crew”) is an organization that puts on a parade and/or a ball for the Carnival season.

Bonus Fun Fact: Mardi Gras is a legal holiday in Louisiana and has been since 1875 when Governor Warmoth signed the “Mardi Gras Act.”

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Your Dog Will Love Mardi Gras

Dogs just want to have fun! And that’s what they get at their very own parades in New Orleans, Baton Rouge, the Louisiana Northshore, and more locations! These animal-dedicated parades show off the fun and revelry from our furriest of friends and do they look cute.

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New Orleans’ French Quarter goes to the dogs at the annual Krewe of Barkus where dogs and their owners dress up in cute, crazy costumes.

Related Article: Joe Cain, Moon Pies & Mobile Mardi Gras

Shreveport goes to the dogs (literally) at the Krewe of Barkus and Meoux Parade. Head to Old Reeves Marine to see the pups strut their stuff and feel free to bring your own. The cuteness of this parade will have you telling everyone “Happy Mardi Paw!”

Start planning your dog’s costume for the celebration.

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Mardi Gras Is for Families

There are many activities and Mardi Gras parades that are family-friendly. In New Orleans, there are a few favorite family parade-watching spots which include St. Charles and Napoleon Streets. As you explore the state, you’ll find that many Louisiana cities host huge Mardi Gras celebrations with brightly colored floats and marching bands that are perfectly appropriate for the whole family.

Lafayette goes big with its Mardi Gras festivities and two of the family-friendly highlights are the annual Children’s Parade and the Krewe of Bonaparte.

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. The Best Ways to Get Parade Goods Aren’t Always Obvious

Sure, you could say, “Throw me something, mister!” or you could stick your cute kid on your shoulders but if you really want to test your suitcases’ weight limit, head to the end of the parade. You’ll be showered by effervescent float-riders with a single goal: chuck all bags of beads off before they get off the float themselves.

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. You never know what they’ll Throw

Bathroom humor never grows old, as evidenced by the irreverent joy of Krewe of Tucks riders including the King’s Throne (a giant toilet) float! The screaming crowds line the street begging for their bathroom-themed throws including monogrammed toilet paper, sunglasses shaped like toilets, mini-plungers, and more.

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In Shreveport, you’ll love the Krewe of Highland who throw a new surprise each Carnival season. The first of Krewe’s famously unusual throws began with candy canes in its founding year. Over the years, throws have included recycled beads, rubber chickens, Beanie Babies, and food, from spaghetti and meatballs in Ziploc bags to pickles, hot dogs, Capri Suns pouches, Ramen Noodles, MoonPies, and even coined money. The throws are as exciting as the floats from which they’re thrown; every year brings a new surprise to parade go-ers, screaming, “Throw me something, Mister!”

Anyone can come home with beads. Only those “in the know” get miniature squirting toilets and dinner.

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. The Best Parades Aren’t Necessarily the Biggest

You can’t get any smaller than ’tit Rex, New Orleans first and only MicroKrewe. A group of artists, business people, teachers, workers, and bon vivants founded ‘tit Rəx in 2009 in a response to the super krewes constantly setting records for floats, throws, and extravagance.

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

‘tit Rəx takes an opposite approach focusing instead of on massive floats that take up entire blocks, the ‘tit Rəx floats are made from shoeboxes and found objects that look like full-size floats. Carnival throws are handed out by krewe members rather than tossed, since—in keeping with the theme of the parade—they are so tiny.

Related Article: How to Celebrate Mardi Gras in 2021?

The parade’s name comes from the Cajun abbreviation of petite, used as a prefix before the name of the smaller or younger of two people who share a first name.

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Why They Throw Beads at Mardi Gras?

Legend has it that in the 1880s, a man dressed as Santa Claus received such fame throwing beads, that other krewes followed suit. Makes sense, seeing as, before that, krewes threw any manner of items including food and dirt. Today, krewes buy plastic beads en masse which parade-goers prefer over dirt! Locals still love to see throws of tiny glass bead strands which are rare and seemed to have phased out in the 1960s and 1970s.

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. The Weight of Revelry

Think your suitcase is heavy? Officials estimate upwards of 25 million pounds of Mardi Gras items get tossed from floats. In fact, locals like to visit the Arc of New Orleans and recycle their beads for next year. It is a 67-year-old non-profit organization dedicated to advancing the independence and well-being of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Royalty is Often Top Secret

Ever see the term “Mystic Krewe” and wonder what that means? Many Mardi Gras Krewes use “mystique” or “mystic” in their titles, meaning krewes will not reveal the identities of their royalty until they’re presented at the royal ball. King, Queens, and Maids are often sworn to secrecy all year until they’re able to make their grand debut.

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Mardi Gras is More Than New Orleans

When you hear “Mardi Gras” do you only think of New Orleans? Think again. Mardi Gras is celebrated around the state! Cajun Mardi Gras (yes, there is a Cajun spin on Mardi Gras) can be found in the Lafayette and Eunice area. In Baton Rouge, parades roll many weekends before and during Mardi Gras. Plan to experience some family-friendly Mardi Gras fun in Alexandria, Lake Charles, Monroe, and many other locations throughout the state.

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Be sure to explore the small cities and towns of South Louisiana such as Houma and Thibodaux as every region has its own way of celebrating the carnival season.

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

And don’t forget where it all began in America. In 1703, the tiny settlement of Fort Louis de la Mobile celebrated America’s very first Mardi Gras, 15 years before New Orleans was established.

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Now that you are well versed in Carnival knowledge, it’s time to plan your trip to visit the Bayou State and “let the good times roll.”

Worth Pondering…

But, after all, if, as a child, you saw, every Mardi Gras, the figure of Folly chasing Death around the broken column of Life, beating him on the back with a Fool’s Scepter from which dangled two gilded pig bladders; or the figure of Columbus dancing drunkenly on top of a huge revolving globe of the world; or Revelry dancing on an enormous upturned wine glass—wouldn’t you see the world in different terms, too?

—Eugene Walter, The Untidy Pilgrim

10 Amazing Places to RV in February 2022

If you’re dreaming of where to travel to experience it all, here are my picks for the best places to RV in February

The past year and a half have been marked by tragedy, upheaval, and loss. Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, our lives have been locked down, our freedoms curtailed, our hospitals brought to the brink, and children forced from their classrooms.

“Freedom is something that dies unless it’s used.”

—Hunter S. Thompson

Hunter S. Thompson refused to be bound by any conventions, especially in his writing. As a reporter in the 1960s and ’70s, he made no attempts at objectivity and often anointed himself the main character in narratives he was dispatched to just observe. This quote derives from one of the last career-spanning interviews he granted, a 2003 conversation with “Salon.” Thompson was speaking not about how he emerged as gonzo journalism’s leading voice but about complacency in general. Exercising our liberties is how we build a better world for ourselves, our communities, and future generations.

Enjoy your journey—RV living is the freedom lifestyle.

Planning an RV trip for a different time of year? Check out my monthly travel recommendations for the best places to travel in December and January. Also, check out my recommendations from February 2021.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Camp at Alamo Lake

Alamo Lake is perhaps the most remote of Arizona State Parks. The lanky piece of water stretches along the base of desert mountains down a dead-end road 37 miles north of Wenden.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A legendary bass fishing spot, the lake is often dotted with boats. This is where you come for peace and solitude. Nearly 250 campsites ($15-$30 per night) and four cabins ($70 per night) overlook the water.

Related Article: 10 Amazing Places to RV in February

Even though there are no official hiking trails, the wild burros will lend you some of their routes. The sparse terrain makes cross-country travel fairly easy. And just about every hilltop affords a beautiful panorama of the lake.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Yet as impressive as the daytime vistas are, the ones at night are even more amazing. Alamo offers an incredible night sky with a canopy of glittering stars stretching from horizon to horizon and punctuated by the frosted river of the Milky Way.

Park admission is $10 per vehicle.

Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Southeastern Wildlife Exposition

The largest wildlife and nature event of its kind, the Southeastern Wildlife Exposition (SEWE) features artwork by 500 wildlife artists, educational wildlife shows, falconry, and retriever demonstrations. SEWE is a celebration of the great outdoors through fine art, live entertainment, and special events. It’s where artists, craftsmen, collectors, and sporting enthusiasts come together to enjoy the outdoor lifestyle and connect through a shared interest in wildlife. The largest event of its kind in the U.S., SEWE promises attendees unforgettable experiences every February (17-20, 2022) in Charleston, South Carolina.

Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Since the inaugural event was held in February 1983, SEWE has become an important event in Charleston, kicking off the city’s tourism season and becoming synonymous with Presidents’ Day weekend celebrations. The original show hosted 100 artists and exhibitors and 5,000 attendees. Now SEWE welcomes approximately 500 artists, exhibitors, and wildlife experts and 40,000 attendees annually.

Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Experience the nation’s premier celebration of wildlife art and the great outdoors at the Southeastern Wildlife Exposition. Hunt for your next piece of fine art, collect handcrafted goods, witness live demonstrations, and get a taste of the Lowcountry.

Palm Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Greater Palm Springs

Surely, this one doesn’t require much convincing. Along with the weather—which stays in the 70s and 80s year-round—and the gorgeous desert vistas, you can basically get anything you want during your visit to Palm Springs. Spa getaway? Check. Hiking adventure? Check.

Palm Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you’re staying in Palm Springs proper, there’s no need to leave Highway 111, which has everything within walking (or free trolley!). If you’re in one of the neighboring cities, you’re probably there for relaxation. Make the quick jaunt out to the trippy paradise that is Joshua Tree National Park and the equally weird town of Joshua Tree proper.

Related Article: The Ultimate RV Travel Bucket List: 51 Best Places to Visit in North America

Tabasco factory © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Avery Island

Louisiana’s Cajun Country is home to the world’s favorite hot sauce. Avery Island is the birthplace of Tabasco Brand Products including TABASCO pepper sauce. Lush subtropical flora and live oaks draped with Spanish moss cover this geological oddity which is one of five islands rising above south Louisiana’s flat coastal marshes.

Tabasco Country Store © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The 2,200-acre tract 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. Although covered with a layer of fertile soil, salt springs may have attracted prehistoric settlers to the island as early as 12,000 years ago.

After the Civil War, former New Orleans banker E. McIlhenny met a traveler recently arrived from Mexico who gave McIlhenny a handful of pepper pods, advising him to season his meals with them. McIlhenny saved some of the pods and planted them in his garden on Avery Island.

Avery Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Around 1866 McIlhenny experimented with making a hot sauce from these peppers, hitting upon a formula that called for crushing the reddest, ripest peppers, stirring in Avery Island salt, and aging the concoction he then added French white wine vinegar, hand-stirring it regularly to blend the flavors.

Jungle Gardens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After straining, he transferred the sauce to small cologne-type bottles, which he corked and sealed in green wax. That hot sauce proved so popular with family and friends that McIlhenny decided to market it, growing his first commercial crop in 1868.

Jungle Gardens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, Avery Island remains the home of the Tabasco Factory, as well as Jungle Gardens and its Bird City waterfowl refuge. The Tabasco factory and the gardens are open to the public.

In addition to the original red pepper sauce, other hot sauces available for purchase in the TABASCO Country Store include green jalapeño, chipotle pepper, cayenne garlic, habanero pepper, scorpion, sriracha, sweet & spicy, and buffalo style. TABASCO hot sauces can also be purchased online.

Tubac Presidio State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Art and History of Tubac

In Arizona, there are several villages that have been preserved in their original state; however, none are quite as untouched as the beautiful artist colony of Tubac. Located on the Santa Cruz River in Southern Arizona, it was founded in 1752 when the Spanish army built the Presidio of San Ignacio de Tubac, in other words, the Fort of Tubac. It was established in order to protect the Spanish missions and settlements which were located around the Santa Cruz River Valley. Today, Tubac Presidio is a state historic park.

Tubac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With a population of nearly 1,200, the town has become famous for the Festival of the Arts in February. As an artist colony, Tubac is home to 100 art galleries, home decor shops, jewelers, potters, and artists of all kinds. You can purchase clothing, paintings, sculptures, and many other hand-crafted items which have been made by the locals.

Related Article: Best Places for RV Travel this February

Kenedy County Courthouse © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sarita, Texas

You may have passed this county seat because you were too busy looking at your fuel gauge. It’s on Highway 77 on route to The Valley between Kingsville and Raymondville. Sarita was once part of the Kenedy Ranch and John G. Kenedy named the town after his daughter Sarita Kenedy East when it was established in 1904 as a center for the ranch and the Kenedy Pasture Company. Kenedy Ranch Museum is worth a visit. Take a picture of the Courthouse as I did, nobody will bother you. Look for gophers on the courthouse lawn. There isn’t much more to do. The population is up from 185 in 1993.

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

Explore the Atchafalaya National Heritage Area

From upland forests to Cypress/Tupelo swamps, to an active land-building river delta, the Atchafalaya has lots to see. The Atchafalaya National Heritage Area, known as “America’s Foreign Country,” is full of opportunities to take advantage of the great outdoors. Whether it’s paddling on the sparkling waters, hiking through the lush greenery, biking on winding paths, or keeping an eye out for that elusive bird you’ve been looking for­—the Atchafalaya National Heritage area has everything to offer. 

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

An American-Indian word, “Atchafalaya” (Think of a sneeze: uh-CHA-fuh-lie-uh) means long river. Established in 2006, the Atchafalaya National Heritage Area (NHA) stretches across 14 parishes in south-central Louisiana. It is among the most culturally rich and ecologically varied regions in the United States, home to the Cajun culture as well as a diverse population of European, African, Caribbean, and Native-American descent.

With a story around every bend in the river and music from every corner, the Atchafalaya National Heritage Area is an ever-changing landscape.

Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Discover the Wild Side of Florida

Meet a manatee face-to-face without even getting wet at Florida’s Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. Underwater viewing stations allow visitors to see the manatees—and other fish they swim with—up close and personal at this showcase for Florida’s native wildlife.

Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Known as a year-round home for West Indian manatees, the park is also an animal education center with mammals such as panthers, bobcats, foxes, deer, wolves, black bears, and otters; birds such as eagles, hawks, flamingos, vultures, and owls; and, of course, plenty of alligators.

Related Article: RV Travel Bucket List: 20 Places to Visit Before You Die

Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visitors enter the preserve by taking a tram or a boat ride. You also can walk to the main entrance via the ¾-mile Pepper Creek Trail. The tram is the fastest way to go and it may be your only option if the weather is not cooperating. If the weather cooperates you can opt for the boat. You may see alligators, raccoons, and deer; birds small and large, such as nesting ospreys; and turtles, including the alligator snapping turtles, painted turtles, and red-eared sliders.

Mobile Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mardi Gras

“But, after all, if, as a child, you saw, every Mardi Gras, the figure of Folly chasing Death around the broken column of Life, beating him on the back with a Fool’s Scepter from which dangled two gilded pig bladders; or the figure of Columbus dancing drunkenly on top of a huge revolving globe of the world; or Revelry dancing on an enormous upturned wine glass—wouldn’t you see the world in different terms, too?”

—From The Untidy Pilgrim by Eugene Walter 

Mobile Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mobile is the birthplace of America’s original Mardi Gras? That’s right, Mardi Gras originated in 1703 in Mobile, Alabama. It was revived after the Civil War when citizen Joe Cain, fed up with post-war misery, led an impromptu parade down city streets. The city has been doing it ever since and marks the annual occasion with spectacular parades, colorful floats, and flying Moon Pies. Mardi Gras celebrations begin two and a half weeks before Fat Tuesday (March 1, 2022) and the Port City comes to life. Elaborately themed floats manned by masked mystic societies; mounted police, and marching bands wind through downtown Mobile and surrounding areas, entertaining nearly a million revelers each year.

Mobile Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Mobile Carnival is a family-friendly time of parties, balls, parades, and revelry. Find your spot and get ready to catch Moon Pies, beads, and trinkets. And not to forget the man who kept Mardi Gras alive, Joe Cain Day is observed the Sunday before Fat Tuesday. 

Start your Mardi Gras adventure in Mobile at the Mobile Carnival Museum. The Mobile Carnival Museum highlights the history of Mardi Gras in its true birthplace—Mobile, Alabama. The museum features 14 galleries, video presentations, a pictorial hallway, and an interactive float area—all in a restored historic mansion.

Padre Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A Slice of Paradise

Get back to nature with an unparalleled experience at the Padre Island National Seashore. With more than 70 miles of unspoiled coastline and 130,000 acres of pristine sand dunes and grassy prairies, it’s fair to say there’s no place quite like the Padre Island National Seashore.

Padre Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From the beach to the bay, Padre Island National Seashore offers countless opportunities to discover and enjoy the amazing recreation and resources of the park. Take a dip in the Gulf of Mexico or build a sandcastle. Swim in the recreation area at Bird Island Basin or in the Gulf of Mexico. Use caution when swimming and never swim alone. Strong currents flowing parallel to the beach, tides flowing to-and-from the beach, and sudden drop-offs in the Gulf floor can be dangerous for swimmers and waders alike.

Padre Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Padre Island National Seashore has access to the Laguna Madre waters through the boat ramps at Bird Island Basin. The boat ramps are located separately from the campground at Bird Island Basin limiting traffic through the campground. There is plenty of parking at the boat ramps for day use but the boat ramp parking can still fill up quickly. Spring and fall usually are the busiest as anglers use Bird Island Basin as a closer entry point to access the legendary Baffin Bay in search of trophy trout.

Read Next: The Best RV Camping February 2021

Worth Pondering…

Always maintain a kind of summer, even in the middle of winter.

—Henry David Thoreau