Friday, February 24, 2012

The Atchafalaya Experience

Driving between Baton Rouge and Lafayette, LA, on I-10, we catch views of the Atchafalaya Swamp.

The desire to get closer views of the swamp led us to contact Kim Voorhies (on the left in the photo) and join him and his partner on "The Atchafalaya Experience" swamp tour.

The tour left from the Visitor's Center at Exit 121 on I-10 and presented us with this view of the divided lanes of the elevated highway through the swamp.

We're not sure how to describe the attraction that the Atchafalaya has on us, but this was our third tour company and the third portion of the swamp that we visited.

Given that the Atchafalaya River Basin covers over a million-acre swath of southern Louisiana, making it the largest swamp in the United States and one of the country's most ecologically-varied regions, we could look forward to many, many more tours of new areas.

Kim got us close to this giant blue heron and talked about best times for viewing many of the 300 species of birds that either live in or visit the swamp.

He also described how the dredging by the oil companies (to lay pipes through the swamp) has resulted in built-up "levees" that prevent the free flow of water through certain parts of the swamp. The trapped water can become stagnant behind these levees.

Our guide also pointed these areas in which hyacinths have covered large sections of the Atchafalaya. While noting the beauty of the flowers in the spring, he noted that the amount of the water surface covered by this plant is of great concern to all who love this area.

We five passengers began asking about the feasibility of harvesting the hyacinths and using it to feed animals or grinding it into particles to use in making either compost or a mulch. These and many other uses have been considered, with no solution.

These two fishermen were the only other people we saw on the over three-hour tour.

This was one of the few homes that we saw. Occupied for only a few months of the year, this home met all the re-quirements for safety and sanitation, and while it was interesting to imagine living here, we opted for life on terra firma.

Neverthe-less, the draw that the swamp had on us was strong. On more than one occasion during the tour, we have quoted the opening lines of John Masefield's poem*:

I must go down to the seas again,
to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship
and a star to steer her by,...

Maybe, it's the "lonely sea and the sky" phrase that captures us. Viewing the swamp on a bright, sunny day seems as out of place as filming "Deadliest Catch" in calm seas off the coast of Alaska.

There were patches of blue sky as we began the tour, but as the day wore on, it became more overcast. The lonely quality of the lone tree or small groups of trees creates an air of mystery--and foreboding. Add a coat of heavy fog and a few unusual sounds, and the setting is perfect. The swamp conveys a mood of The Unknown.

The Atchafalaya Experience has been honored by the Rand McNally Company with their "Best of the Road Award 2003."

The Atchafalaya is described in the tour's brochure as Louisiana's answer to the Grand Canyon. It is North America's largest river swamp and ranks among the top 10 wilderness areas in the United States.

Kim Voorhies was recognized by the Lt. Governor of Louisiana for his endeavors to protect the environment and his earnest desire to expose his guests to the complex ecology and astounding beauty of the Atchafalaya Swamp.

A flock of cormorants watched our slow travel among the trees.

We will continue our tour of the Atchafalaya after a break.

* "I Must Go Down to the Sea". In our version, we substitute "swamp" for "sea," "sturdy boat" for "tall ship," and "guide" for "star."

Otherwise, it's the same.

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