The Louisiana Bayou. The state is famous for its swampy, eerie, desolate terrain. Myths, legends and ghost stories are spun around the dark liquid ground of southern Louisiana.
Lauren and I took a trip to the swamp to see what the fuss is about, and track down some pirate history. We were not dissapointed. We visited Lafitte National Park's Barataria preserve in Marrero, LA, about an hour south of New Orleans. Let's take a little tour of the history and wildlife we found there...
The area of Barataria is associated with one of America's greatest pirates, Jean Lafitte. From about 1805 til about 1816, Jean and his brother Pierre robbed ships in the Gulf of Mexico, and used an island in the Louisiana bayou, Barataria Island, as their base of operations. After a successful pirating expedition they would ferry stolen goods from Barataria up a series of bayous to New Orleans, where they would sell their booty at auction. Booty included everything from gold and silver to fine clothing to slaves. The alley where the Lafittes kept their warehouses and held their auctions is still called Pirate Alley, and is between Royal Street and Charters in the French Quarter.
The National Park holds several waterways where the Lafittes sailed while transporting stolen goods. Here is Bayou Coquille, a waterway used often by the pirates.
The Lafittes aided Andrew Jackson in the 1814-1815 Battle of New Orleans, bolstering the city's defenses against the British with their ships and cannons; many of the Baratarians (Lafitte's sailors) joined Jackson's army and navy. For their efforts, the Lafittes and the Baratarians were granted full pardons. Unhappy with U.S. shipping laws and with the complex route through the Bayou to get their booty to New Orleans, they set sail soon after the battle for Spanish held Texas, where they became spies for the Spanish in the war for Mexican independence. Little is known of the Lafittes after they made their port in Galveston. The dates of their deaths are merely speculated.
Back to the park...As the trail winds through the Bayou, it weaves between dark, thickly wooded cypress swamps, cattail marshes, and the open bayou itself.
Here is the cypress grove. Note the "cypress knees," formed by the tree roots. Lauren and I agreed this place would be very spooky at night!
Above is a huge cypress, which trail signs call the "monarch of the swamp." Many of the largest cypress were logged by the Cajuns to make their homes and their pirogues, the flat bottom boats Cajuns used to move through the swamp. This is one of the few giant trees that survived.
The swamp also holds amazing flowers. The bright colors of growth here were surprising. Here are some of the flowers we found.
The swamp is crawling with wildlife. Here is a little anole (people call them chameleons, but true chameleons are a South American species). They're everywhere.
We saw our first gator as we moved from the cypress swamp to the open bayou. He gave us the evil eye.
They like to lay around the swamp waiting for something to crawl into their mouth. But don't be lulled into a false sense of security: gators can run 35mph, a LOT faster than you can. When devouring humans, their favorite trick is to grab your leg and pull you under water. If a gator chases you, run in a zig-zag; they can't maneuver in a full run.
You think gators are not mean MF's? Here was an awesome sight: a gator eating another gator!
This beast spent several hours chewing up its little friend. The rangers monitored it for the full day. It was just three or four feet from the path, giving the eye to a small group of humans watching it chomp down dinner. It's look seemed to say "you're next..." Or maybe I was just imagining that.
I'll leave you with a few more pics of the swamp. Here is Pirate Lauren standing above Bayou Coquille, where the Lafitte brothers once sailed. Lauren's new life goal is to become a swamp witch!
Here is the open cattail marsh...
And the creepy cypress swamp!
From the pirate-infested Louisiana Bayou, this is Kenny Klein explaining it all.