This Hiking Life

I’m a hiker, hike leader and outdoor writer.

I blog about my outdoor life, mostly in the Southern Appalachians and the Mountains-to-Sea Trail across North Carolina and our national parks.

I’m involved in outdoor and conservation issuEdgy in Montreat Wildernesses. I hope these blog notes will inspire you to go and explore the outdoors, wherever you are.

Hope to meet on the trail! Danny

Poverty Point for Extra credit

Mound C
Mound C

I thought that getting to Cane River Creole NHP in central Louisiana yesterday was complicated but it was simple in comparison to finding Poverty Point National Monument.

I wanted to see the rural back roads of Louisiana and I sure did. The only sign of commerce or people on my way to Poverty Point was the occasional gas station and mini mart.

A few times, I needed to slow down for a cluster of houses. In Europe, they use the word, village, but here there’s no word for tiny town.

The land has been climbing. You can tell because the cemeteries have their graves underground. In New Orleans and even further north, bodies are buried above ground. The altitude here is about 100 feet. Finally Poverty Point, east of Monroe and close to the Mississippi border.

Poverty Point is an archaeological site, where prehistoric people lived between 1730 to 1350 BC. They moved soil to level the land, and then create mounds and ridges. They had no domesticated animals or wheeled carts. The archaeologists never gave a name to these prehistoric people.

Besides the museum, the site offers a tram ride or a 2.6-mile walk past several mounds. I pick up a 12-page trail booklet.

“If you don’t want to walk in the trees,” the woman behind the desk says, “you can walk on the road.” Uhh? Are people that afraid of forests?

Sarah's Mound in Poverty Point
Sarah’s Mound in Poverty Point

The first mound is Sarah’s mound, named that because Sarah Wilson Guier is buried in the mound. Sarah and her husband established Poverty Point Plantation, hence the name of the site.

The trail is well signposted. I figure out that the state mowed a path through the fields since there are no trees for blazes.

On top of Mound A
On top of Mound A

They’re put in stairs up Mound A, which they think was a ceremonial site. The top is at the dizzying height of 172 ft. I feel like the Kenyans who come to the U.S. to race. The trail is so flat that I only stop to read the plaques.

So what happened to these people? Archaeologists speculate that the Mississippi River changed course and may have flooded out the community and they dispersed.

On the web, the site is shown as a National Park unit. When I got here, it was obvious that it was a Louisiana state park.

“Now that it’s become a World Heritage Site,” the state ranger said, “it will never be turned over to the Federal Government.” So I just got some extra credit.

Creole Culture

This morning, I left New Orleans and drove almost five hours to Northwest Louisiana to Cane River Creole National Historical Park. I practiced how to say Natchitoches all morning but I was wrong! The volunteer at Cane River said “Nakatish.”

Cotton everywhere
Cotton everywhere

First stop was Magnolia Plantation, active until the 1960s when mechanization changed the nature of cotton growing. The LeComte and Hertzog family sold 18 acres to the National Park Service in the 1990s and the Magnolia Plantation became part of Cane River in 1994. The family still grows cotton on the rest on its holdings. There’s cotton on both sides of the road as far as the eye can see. If you know Mt. Le Conte, note that this family name is with an “m.”

1950s cabin at Magnolia Plantation
1950s cabin at Magnolia Plantation

When I got to Magnolia Plantation, I met a young woman in a black dress and heels, carrying a notebook and a camera coming across a field from a slave/tenant cabin. She was here for the soft opening of a cabin furnished as 1950s quarters for tenant farmers and family. Ranger Dusty Fuqua was still putting the finishing touches to the effects. They’ll be working on furnishing another cabin, to represent the antebellum period.

“I’m a Creole,” Ranger Fuqua said. “My family came over from France in the 1700s. Creole used to mean, Born in the new world of old stock. It historically referred to those born in Louisiana during the French and Spanish periods, regardless of ethnicity.

Creole is much more inclusive than Cajun. Technically, to be a Cajun you must be a descendant from the 500 people or so who emigrated from France to Nova Scotia and then moved to Louisiana after the America Revolution.

The National Park Service bought 18 acres of plantation land; the site is fenced off to separate it from the original private land. The plantation home is still in private hands.

Oakland Plantation about 10 miles further north, close to Natchitoches, is considered the  main site. The word, Natchitoches, means place of paw paw. The Natchitoches Indians have vanished as a people.

Main house on Oakland Plantation
Main house on Oakland Plantation

Jean Pierre Emanuel Prud’homme began farming the land in 1785 and received a Spanish land grant a few years later. First, the cash crops were cotton, tobacco, and indigo. By 1815, they concentrated on cotton; it was the most successful plantation west of the Mississippi.

Before the Civil War, the family had 3,000 acres. They ran a general store and post office open to the public until 1983. Two old gas pumps are still rusting in front. The daughter of the Magnolia plantation married a Prud’homme and moved to Oakland Plantation. Several families from the area intermarried throughout the centuries and some still live in the area.

I took a tour of the main house, given by Don, a volunteer. Don and his wife have come from Arkansas for the past three years to volunteer at Cane River. They stay in a trailer just outside the park for three months. Don tells me that he’s Cajun French.

“All the buildings on this plantation are original and have not been moved,” Don says several times. The family sold 40 acres which included all the important building, like the main house, store, cook’s house and pigeonnier. A pigeonnier is a structure to keep pigeons so that the family could have squab.

Kitchen in Oakland Plantation
Kitchen in Oakland Plantation

The last person moved out in 1998. The family took whatever furnishings and pictures and the Park Service got the rest.

Don gives us a fascinating tour of the house, built in 1821. The family went to France the next year to buy furniture. But it was obvious that the family was hurting toward the end. Several families could be living here at the same time. The large kitchen dated back from the 1950s, complete with pink stove. Now who wants a 1950s kitchen in the 1990s?

Barataria Preserve – Where is that?

Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve is the only national park named after a criminal.

20141025LAbaratariacypresskneess 027AAfter Congress banned the importation of slaves in 1808, slaves became more expensive, Jean Lafitte, a pirate and privateer, smuggled them in from the islands. Lafitte went to Andrew Jackson and offered to help him against the British during the War of 1812 with the understanding that he and his men would not be prosecuted for their crimes. Jackson agreed though he really had no authority. Pres Madison took some convincing. But now six sites are part of JELA, including Barataria Preserve south of New Orleans.

We walk a mile from the visitor center to Bayou Coquille Trail on boardwalk where we meet Ranger Amber Nicholson. Bayou means slow-moving water. This bayou, with its natural levee, is fed by rainwater.

The ranger starts her walk introduction with “Are you afraid of anything”?

Yeah, one eye, one horn flying purple people eaters. The other visitor with us rattles off “snakes, spiders, gators …” but Ranger Amber redeems herself with her knowledge and casual air.

In Louisiana, elevation is measured in inches. In the mountains, a change in elevation over 1,000 feet is needed to affect forest types. But here changes of a foot can mean the difference between live oaks or swamp maples, between baldcypress and open marsh.

Dwarf palmetto lives on high ground of a swamp but there’s less plant diversity in the marshes on lower ground.20141025LAbaratariamarigold 020A Swamps are forested wetlands with baldcypress and water tupelo tree. Marsh only has plants. Moss, vines, trees, air plants, swamp marigolds envelop every surface and take over every vista. Huge swamp marigolds fill in the canals.

The name, Barataria, comes from a fictional land in Don Quixote. The name has been around since the days of Lafitte and his pirates. We keep our eyes out for any animal life and find an alligator and several turtles in the marsh. Golden silk orb weaver, a large spider also known as a banana spider, builds huge webs on the side of the trail.

The National Park Service protected over 23,000 acres of wetlands in 1978. It should be all fresh water but it’s brackish. Before all the levees, natural levees were created when sediment-laden water spilled over banks during spring floods.

20141025LAbaratariacanal 022ABut after the great flood of 1927, there was a great outcry to do something about the Mississippi River. The Army Corps of engineers built levees almost the whole length of the Mississippi–Levees, dams, weirs, canals, and jetties, lots of structures.

Then the oil and gas industry came in, creating more problems but also created jobs. Several oil companies still own subsurface rights. They could do directional drilling into the Preserve.

Back at the visitor center, Ranger Aleutia Scott explains, “Deltas are a conversation between sea and river. The sea level is also rising. Our wetlands are being lost. We should care!

I finally understood a lot of concepts that were just words before. Interpretation is what the National Park Service does best.

In 1814, we took a little trip …

In 1814 we took a little trip
Along with Colonel Jackson down the mighty Mississip
We took a little bacon and we took a little beans
And we caught the bloody British in a town in New Orleans

Chalmette Monument
Chalmette Monument

I have been waiting for years to use these lyrics in a blog. This song written by Johnny Horton was the no. one song in 1959. I knew the song before I’d even heard of the War of 1812.

Ever since I started this National Park project, I knew that I’d be going to Chalmette Battlefield, part of Jean Lafitte National Historic Park.  Of course, the famous song that came out of the War of 1812 was the Star-Spangled Banner, of course. But the tune isn’t as catchy.

The Battle of New Orleans, January 8, 1815,  was the last significant battle of the war of 1812.  You know, that’s the war that’s almost forgotten in the U.S. but not in Canada. We declared war on Great Britain partly so we could conquer Canada and get rid of the British north of us. Well, it didn’t work but the war did seal our fate as a country. The United States was going to last. We weren’t going to revert to a colony. As the website says, American democracy triumphing over the old European ideas of aristocracy and entitlement. 

Chalmette Battlefield, south of New Orleans, is a quiet site. The battlefield is now a large, well-maintained lawn. There’s a one-and-a-half mile walking and driving loop which 20141024LAChalmettehouse 011Aexplains the strategy of both sides. On the loop, they’ve planted a British flag; after all we’re all friends now.

I climbed the monument put up by the Daughters of the War of 1812. The state actually built it and it was completed in 1908. On the site, we visited the Malus-Beauregard House, a Greek Revival plantation style house. The battle only took two hours and we spent a lot more time at the site.

20141024LAChalmetterefinery 015ABut there’s life around the battlefield site. In particular, we saw an oil refinery with its several smoke stacks. You can only buffer parks so much from the everyday and oil refineries are part of life in Louisiana.

We fired our guns and the British kept a-comin’
There wasn’t nigh as many as there was a while ago
We fired once more and they begin to runnin’
On down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico



Jazz is everywhere in New Orleans

20141023LAJAZZsudan2AIt is impossible to separate New Orleans from Jazz. We’re here to visit the national parks in New Orleans. Usually, I go to the park visitor center, get my bearings, and walk through the actual battlefield or preserve. But at the New Orleans Jazz National Historic Park, the sites are everywhere. They publish a self-guided walking tour but we saw jazz and history in many other places.

First stop, Jackson Park where a pick-up band was playing for tips. A large statue of Andrew Jackson dominated the park. I stopped at the official New Orleans visitor center to ask them where the Jazz visitor center was located. The fellow behind the desk had never heard of it and pulled out his cell phone to google it. That was a test and he failed it.

2014LAjazzsudan3AWe walked up Conti St. with map in hand. Two friendly people going into their apartment said, “You look lost.”

“No, we’re looking for the Tango Belt at 1026 Conti,” and I showed them my map.

“There’s nothing there. We’ve been living here for five years, the woman said. “There might be a plaque.”

She was close. There was a sign for The historic parlor house of Madam Norma Wallace.” It had been a brothel and Madam Wallace was the last madam.

Basin Street Station was easy to find. The building had belonged to the Southern Railroad for over fifty years. It’s now a privately owned visitor and exhibition center. One section was devoted to the jazz gumbo that is New Orleans, a mixture of Africans, Europeans, Caribbeans, and Americans.

20141023LAJazzcongoAAt Armstrong Park, jazz thrives both in the sculpture and music. In the past, at Congo Square, slaves danced, drummed, sang and traded goods on Sunday afternoon. The dances included the Congo.

Now each Thursday, people set up food and souvenir stalls. A free jazz concert started at 5 pm and a crowd had already claimed their seats. an hour earlier. The Sudan Social Aid and Pleasure Club weaved their way through the park. We followed them. A huge statue of Louis Armstrong dominated the park.

Not a bad first afternoon in the Crescent City.