I recently enjoyed a lovely evening on Bayou Manchac, all thanks to the great folks at Canoe & Trail Adventures. If you haven't heard of them, check 'em out. They offer all kinds of bayou and swamp tours around New Orleans, except instead of riding in a huge airboat, you paddle your own canoe. Quite a concept, and of course, politically correct.
We toured the Manchac Swamp (pronounced man-shack, for all you non-Louisiana people), a quick 20 minute drive from downtown New Orleans. Living in the city, it really is amazing to me how close you are to unbridled wilderness. Less than 20 miles from the Quarter and you are at the mercy of Mother Nature herself.
Once we got past the I-10 overpass, I was absolutely shocked by the beauty of the swamp. It felt like we were traveling back in time. Alligators. Poisonous snakes. Exotic birds. Sasquatch. It didn't take very long to understand that you were no longer at the top of the food chain.
As beautiful as it was, I couldn't help but think of how the swamp must have been 300 years ago, before all the Cypress trees were cut down for their beautiful and soft wood. It was also hard to imagine why the hell anyone would settle here. Besides is strategic location at the bend of the Mississippi River, there are very few other reasons to stake out a city here.
It must have been absolute hell to build this city. Yes, the French Quarter and Uptown are barely above the sea level, but Lakeview, Metairie, and the rest of New Orleans East were built on drained swamps. An absolute marvel of engineering, no doubt, but the leaning houses and crooked streets are testament to the soft land they are build upon.
But I digress. Anyway, we paddled far into the night under a full moon. And it wasn't all out in the open paddling. Half of the trip we were deep in the wooded swamps. Just imagine a flooded Cypress forrest, with nothing but rays of moon light to guide you. Your other senses start to pick it up. Hooting owls, splashes right next to you, tree limbs moving, twigs snapping- and all you can see is a few feet in front of you. If the moon goes behind a cloud, well, hope you have some night vision goggles.
It was awesome. We finally made it out to a wide bayou only to see about 200 alligators (no lie) circling all around us. It is only then you fully realize you are only 6 inches above the water line. But its all part of the package. Paddling in complete silence with nothing but the sound of the swamp is something that just needs to be experienced. It truly brings you back in time.
In short, the wetlands are stunning. We may not have mountains or beautiful beaches in Louisiana, but we do have something just as rare and valuable. Check out some pictures below, and get out there!
I'm not as comfortable sticking my feet in these waters.
Water moccasin with a full belly.
This dude kayaked across the entire gulf of mexico. No joke. It almost killed him.
Byron, our fearless leader.