Wanderlust… The call of the open road… Mid-life crisis… Insanity.

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Jefferson Island & Rip Van Winkle Gardens

November 29, 2018

When we arrived we were greeted by the resident peacocks. One even posed for us on the roof of the welcome sign.

Given the time of year (late November) we were not surprised that few plants were in bloom. In fact the staff was busy clearing out the plant beds and prepping the soil for the next planting with mulch mixed with manure. Still we had an enjoyable experience.

Jefferson Island is not really an island but a gigantic salt dome whose salt was deposited more than 165 million years ago. Jefferson Island rises about 50 feet above the surrounding area. That qualifies it as a mountain in these parts.

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Avery Island, Tabasco Factory Tour, Jungle Gardens

November 28, 2018

Who here hasn’t heard of Tabasco Sauce? I expect the answer is very, very few. Well, EVERY bottle of Tabasco Sauce that you have ever seen in person or movies was bottled on Avery Island in New Iberia, Louisiana. This is another of the long lived family owned and operated businesses. It passed from father to son to cousin to son and is still in the family today. The family controls the land and mineral rights which include a working salt mine and oil drilling as well as the Tabasco Plant, residential area and Jungle Gardens. At one time they also had an oyster fleet that operated out of the Bayou that circles part of the “island.” Edward McIlhenny was an amateur naturalist and started the Jungle Garden, then added to it… a lot.

Avery Island is not totally surrounded by water so it is not a real island. It is a Salt Dome that rises to around 160 feet above sea level and is surrounded by the flat fields and swamplands of southern Louisiana. This means it hosts flora and fauna that are not normally found in this area. The Salt Dome is one of five evenly spaced mounds that start at Jefferson Island and flow down to the Gulf of Mexico. They didn’t have information as to WHY the salt domes are evenly spaced or even exactly how they were formed. Inquiring minds might want to look that one up. You can actually see some of the salt domes on Google maps.

Model of Avery Island

We chose to do both the self-guided Tabasco Plant tour and entry into Jungle Gardens. With lunch at their restaurant, we were happily occupied all day.


Tabasco Plant Tour – There are ten stops on the tour, you can take as long as you like, do them in any order, or skip some:

  1. Museum – this is a small museum but it gives the history of Avery Island, the McIlhenny family and the growth of the pepper sauce business.
  2. Greenhouse – here you see several different types of hot peppers. The first Tabasco Sauce was made with “patented” Tabasco Peppers but now they have other flavors so they grow several types. They grow peppers on Avery Island but also get pepper mash from around the world to meet the demand for the sauce.
  3. Barrel Aging/Cooperage – here you learn how they recycle used white oak whiskey barrels and fill them with the pepper mash. They top the sealed barrels with a layer of salt that crusts and protects the barrel from contamination. Then they stack them in a warehouse up to six high all the way down the massive buildings. Here the mash ages for up to three years… like a fine wine. Make sure you walk down to the wire barrier where you can see, and smell, the barrels. Whew, fermenting pepper mash. What a smell! They are trying to reduce their waste so the barrels are used until they no longer work then they are cut in half and sold as planters or chipped up and sold as BBQ smoker chips… I wonder how much pepper sauce is infused into that wood? When the mash comes out of the barrels, it is strained to remove the seeds and skin. THAT is then packaged and sold to restaurants for flavoring (small packs available in their country store).

    One little section of one of the huge warehouses

  4. Blending – this is in the plant now. They suck that mash up and into huge vats where they added white vinegar and it gets stirred intermittently for WEEKS. There is a slanted viewing window so you can look down and see the vats in action. Don’t miss the button to the left that turns on a little fan that wafts that serious hot pepper smell up from the blending room below. Don’t sniff too hard, your eyes will water. We saw someone moving through the room checking the vats and wondered how their sinuses were holding up breathing hot pepper air all the time.

    A few of the mixing machines – smell the heat

  5. Avery Island Experience – more history of the island and pepper sauce plant.
  6. Salt Mine Experience – a mini salt mine tunnel demonstrating what is below your feet AND where the salt comes from that goes in the pepper sauce.


    Mastodon tooth found in the salt mine

  7. Bottling Line – Lots of machines capping, labeling, sealing and packaging the hot sauce. There is an electronic counter showing how many bottles were filled that day. At 10:38 am they had already produced 167,540 bottles for the day. We saw them bottling some that was being shipped to Mexico. It was interesting to note a white board on the back wall that listed the lot number and THREE expiration dates for the same batch. It showed the expiration date for 18 months, 2 years and 5 years. I assume it depends on the country it is being shipped to.
  8. Food, Flavors – a bit about their “family of flavors,” marketing, use by famous chefs, etc. Note the little sign by the door that explains the room is painted in “Tabasco Red” and gives the Pantone number (032C) in case you want to paint your man cave to match your hot sauce. With the right camera angle you can take a selfie with the giant mosquito over your head. I especially liked the Tabasco Bottle Chandelier. They could sell those things to their fans.

  1. Country Store – everything Tabasco: clothing, kitchen toys, kids toys, infused chocolate, keychains, bottle openers, gift sets, and more. The bounty includes gallon jugs of Tabasco with pumpers in case you are a serious user. DON’T MISS the tasting bar at the back. We tried their 7 pepper chili and ALL their sauces and pepper jellies. Our tongues were TOAST and there was a weird hot spot in our stomachs.
  2. 1868 Restaurant – Finally time for lunch! We enjoyed their Gumbo and Nachos with 7 pepper chili on top. They have a varied menu and serve alcohol. Adults can enjoy their Bloody Mary bar and children had a Hot Cocoa bar with Santa mugs and every sugar addition you can think to throw in the cocoa (marshmallows, peppermint candies, and so on). I heard they have Jalapeno ice cream but I didn’t see it on the menu and forgot to ask about it.

Jungle Gardens

This is a huge, beautiful garden with a few walking paths and lots of benches. You can also walk or bike the 3 mile loop road. They rent bikes at the very nice garden themed gift shop where you come in. We were off season for most plants but the Camellias were just starting to bloom. Edward McIlhenny loved the Camellias and collected them and created new cultivars. At one time he operated a wholesale nursery where he sold the plants. Part of the nursery is still visible. We thoroughly enjoyed strolling along the rows of large Camellia bushes and checking which ones had the strongest scent (the simple white ones).

You will also find dozens of species of bamboo. This was a cooperative effort between E. McIlhenny and the USDA. There are plant signs here and there but no comprehensive map (understandably) so you don’t always know exactly what plant you are looking at. One stand of bamboo holds the honor of being on their tour map. It is the Timber bamboo which was imported from China and grows a FOOT a day. It is fully grown in 65 days. I love bamboo and don’t understand why we don’t grow it in more places as a substitute for so much little stuff made of wood. It is seriously sustainable; it’s a grass; it is strong; it is rot resistant; it grows fast… what’s not to love? I wondered why they didn’t harvest any of it at the gardens. I could see numerous fallen “logs” of bamboo just waiting to be put to some use (sorry, getting off the soapbox now.)

The Japanese Garden area has a Buddha that is believed to be over 900 years old. It was a gift to Edward from friends that found it in a warehouse in New York and shipped it to him by train. He built a little shrine for it to be housed in and landscaped the area with lily ponds, paths, stone bridges and red entry gates. They say the local Buddhist community holds ceremonies there and I’m sure it is popular as a wedding photo venue.

E. McIlhenny experimented with different arrangements of plants and created drives lined with bamboo, live oak and holly and built a wisteria arch over the road – all of which are very cool to drive, bike or walk through. He also created what he called “Bird City.” Snowy Egret populations had been decimated when they were hunted for their plumes for ladies hats. Edward built a HUGE aviary and hand reared several egret chicks then released them to migrate in the fall. He was thrilled when they returned and made their home on Avery Island as egrets have done for each year since. Anyone who has been in Southern Louisiana knows that the population is healthy again. They’re like southern pigeons – they’re everywhere! There were no birds in Bird City while we were there but we saw a snowy egret and a brown pelican chilling on the bank of the Bayou and one egret posed for John on the marsh trail.

Come spring, the garden will be alive with color and thousands of birds will have migrated back to the area but even without the added garden “bling” we thoroughly enjoyed wandering through it now.

If you can’t make it to the gardens or are planning a trip and want to know what you’ll find there, they have a cell phone tour. Dial 337-606-4063 and choose stop numbers 1 through 15.


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New Iberia, KOC Kampground, Konriko Rice Mill

November 27-29, 2018

New Iberia

This is a small town along Bayou Teche (teche means snake so basically it is Snake River). They have a small old town main street near the river but the spot we enjoyed the most was their city park on the other side of the bayou. We were seriously hiking deprived. When we asked campground hosts if there was anywhere to hike, we got wide eyes and the question “Hiking? You want to hike?” People boat down here. They don’t seem to hike. Maybe it’s the snakes and gators… and swamps. There’s a lot of squishy ground in southern Louisiana. Whatever the reason, no hiking trails were to be found where we camped, BUT we found the beautiful park with full trees and a hiking/jogging trail so we took full advantage. At one point the trail led over a little bridge with happy ducks swimming around… and nutria. We’d never seen them before. A local referred to them as water rats. They are rodents and look a bit like miniature beaver or muskrats. They had a little turf war while we were watching but went back to their own sides of the bridge and settled down. As a side note, one of the Cajun cookbooks I bought as an eBook talked about cooking nutria and said “We even make our rodents taste good.” Maybe that’s what they need to save the wetlands that are being destroyed as the nutria move in – good recipes. Create a demand and it will reduce the supply.

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Acadian Culture Center, Lafayette Visitor Center, Cajun Food, and Frog City RV Park

November 23, 2018

Acadian Culture Center

THIS is where you find out what all this Acadian, Cajun, and Evangeline stuff is. It is ALL OVER this area. Roads, buildings, billboards, company names… you name it, it has Cajun, Acadian or Evangeline on it. To make sense of it all we headed over to the Acadian Culture Center. This is one of six parcels that make up the Jean Lafitte National Historic Park and Preserve. We plan to hit one or two other sections of this park when we roll into New Orleans.

The park visitor center has a good movie (a little over the top with the drama but not bad). It tells the story of the Acadians. You want to watch this FIRST. Then they have a museum area with a really nice timeline so you can better visualize when everything happened. Example: The Acadians were there in what is now Nova Scotia with their communities fully established long before the pilgrims ever got off the boat at Plymouth Rock. The exhibits were well done with clear information as to what you are looking at. They also had numerous panels of just pictures of Acadians hunting, dancing, cooking, working, gathering, and so on. It tells the history but is also a celebration of the people.

Cajuns and their music

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November 21, 2018

The original Vermilionville was named for the Vermilion that grew wild in this area. It was the first town built by the Acadians when they relocated here. The town was later renamed Lafayette. The Vermilionville that we toured was a recreated village along the Bayou Vermilion. It is a beautiful village with full grown trees and walkways. Their flyer calls you to “Explore the living history of the Acadian, Native American and Creole cultures.” They have historic homes, gardens, a church, blacksmith cabin and more. Many of the homes or areas have living historians explaining life during those time periods (1765-1890). They have live music every Saturday and Sunday and there is a restaurant on site.

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Notice – Batch Posting

For those of you trying to follow us chronologically, we have just published posts covering:

–  August 1-3, 2018; Effigy Mounds and National Eagle Center in Wabasha

–  September 28-October 2, 2018; The Land of Lincoln

– October 8-10, 2018; Cahokia Mounds, Melvin Price Lock & Dam, Pere Marquette State Park

You will need to scroll back through the posts to find them or search the subjects.

This notice will be removed when we get caught up and are posting closer to real time.

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Cane River Creole NHP

November 18, 2018

Cane River Creole National Historic Park consists of two plantations – Oakland Plantation and Magnolia Plantation – separated by about 10 miles. We visited both. How could we not?

At each location they have nice maps with short descriptions of each building. Each one also has a very informative cell phone tour. If you do the cell phone tour make sure you use the cell phone tour map as the numbering on that map is different from that on the plantation maps. If you can’t get there and just want to hear about the plantations, the cell tour number is 585-421-7340. Stops 1-10 are for Oakland Plantation and stops 11-17 are for Magnolia Plantation. The narrative is extremely well done and very informative.

Cotton field ready for harvest

On our way to Magnolia plantation we passed several cotton fields, most of which had already been harvested. This field had not. In all our travels this is the first time we’ve seen a cotton field ready to harvest. The ranger told us that cotton is related to mallow plants and has big showy blooms earlier in the year. The recent rains had delayed harvest and we saw cotton “balls” all along the sides of the road. The cotton is machine harvested and is rolled into giant round bales. We watched wads of cotton wafting off the ends of the bales as the cotton trucks hauled down the road.

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