This trip was inspired by the second season of the television show “Feasting on Asphalt”. We are following driving the Great River Road as it follows the Mississippi River from Venice, Louisiana to the headwaters in Lake Itasca State Park, Minnesota. When possible we will stop at locations featured in the show, however time has found many of them closed.
It was time to leave New Orleans and start making our way up the river. I was tempted to return to Morning Call for another round of beignets and cafe au lait but I found another place on the way out of the city that had highly recommended pancakes, and I love me some pancakes. So with the car packed up, out we went.
We sooj found ourselves at Russell’s Marina Grill. Not only did I see a marina but I also saw a large and shady patio, perfect to enjoy breakfast since the humidity was already noticeable. After I confirmed that the dogs were allowed on the patio, we quickly got ourselves settled. Usually when I go to a new place, I’ll order what the server recommends but when my eye caught sweet potato pancakes with bacon crumbles, banana, and peanut butter, well all I can say is game over man. They were insanely good and so filling. It was almost a fight to finish the plate but I did it. And washed it all down with an ok stream of coffee. We walked around a little bit so the dogs could stretch their legs and I could make room in my belly and then to the road (insert dramatic arm point here).
Now when I had researched the Great River Road, I had thought that there would be placards clearly marking the route. I had possibly seen one as we were heading into New Orleans but had not seen any since. And did not see any as we left the city so I had to guess which roads to take. And for the most part it was easy since I just kept the levee on my right. Every so often I’d lose sight of it and then take the next right and I’d be back.
There was one stretch of road where I could see a trail running along the top of the levee. I wanted to take the dogs for a walk but all of the driveways to the top looked as though they were private. Finally I saw one that didn’t have any signs posted at the road so I turned to go up. Well they put the “No Trespassing” sign at the top. Darn. As I was backing up, well I missed a pothole. Or rather I hit it. Hard. There’s nothing like that solid thump of hearing the underside of your car hitting concrete to really get your attention. Hmmmmm
I drove down a little bit further and saw a sign for a library on the opposite of the road from the levee so I parked in there and did a surreptitious check to make sure nothing was leaking and then got the dogs out for a walk. Piper has a bad leg and sometimes if she sits too long it stiffens up so frequent short walk breaks are in order. She starts out with a bad limp but after a little bit she loosens right up. We made a beeline across the road to go to the levee but with no shade and a midday sun it was soon too hot for all of us we returned to the park next to the library. The park had lovely old trees that kept us as cool as they could and the dogs had a long drink. Leo, of course, rolled. We were parked next to a couple having lunch and we were soon chatting away like old friends. Southern hospitality strikes again. I asked them which side of the river we should drive up and was told that the other side was more metropolitan with lots of places to eat. This side was more commercial and the food would be more like what the locals eat. Well then, we’ll be staying on this side I thought as I loaded the dogs back into the car.
Even though I wasn’t really hungry, I had to stop at B & C Seafood Market in Vacherie since it had been featured on “Feasting on Asphalt”. There was no outdoor seating so I was going to have to get my order to go. With a bag of cracklins in my hand I studied the posted menu before I finally decided on the two most southern things I saw: fried okra and fried alligator. I sat outside with the dogs and enjoyed the cracklins as I waited for our order. And what is a cracklin? Deep fried pork skin. Oh yeah. Pretty darned tasty. Once my order arrived, I sat on the ground at the front of the building in one of the few shady spots and popped open my containers of food. The okra was good but it lacked the crispy coating that one would expect from something fried. Having never had alligator before I didn’t know what to expect. It didn’t taste like chicken. The only thing that came to mind was that it tasted like a dried out pork chop. The mustard sauce that came with it was nice. Our little picnic got quite a few stares from people walking by. I’m used to it by now. The dogs maaaaaaaay have had a little sampling of alligator. And you know they tried the cracklins. With the food situation taken care of, we were back on the road.
We were driving a particularly desolate stretch of road on top of the levee when I saw what looked like a pullout so I parked the car and we went for a walk. It was obvious that the water wasn’t normally as high as it was at that moment. I had heard that there had been serious flooding the week before but up until now I hadn’t seen any signs of it. Now here I was looking at the tops of trees poking out of the waters of the Mississippi River. I was tempted to let the dogs go for a swim but our new friends from the library had mentioned that alligators were thick in these areas and even though I didn’t see any signs of them, we stayed well back from the waters edge.
It was a little after 6:00 pm when we crossed a bridge into Mississippi and found ourselves in Natchez. It was such a pretty little town but I was there for more than sightseeing: I was there for donuts. And I found them. I found them at The Donut Shop, another “Feasting on Asphalt” location. The takeout window had these little jewels displayed for all to see and I stared at them in anticipation while I waited. Finally I stepped to the window and ordered a half dozen donuts. I was taken aback when all I got back were six plain donuts but I hadn’t specified any of the other flavours so that was my fault. Then I felt the box in my hand. It was warm. The donuts were warm. I felt my mind reeling at this and I scurried to the car, the box clutched in my arms like a football. I stared at the crusty goodness as a shaking hand withdrew the first donut. I bit into it and almost shed a tear as it practically melted in my mouth. It wasn’t a cake-style of donut and more like the Krispy Kreme style. But better. Oh so better.
I was planning to spend the night at Natchez State Park and I had finished four donuts by the time I passed the gate. That’s right. I crushed four donuts. I read the rules for the park as I wiped the glaze from my face. As we had arrived after 5:00 pm, we could go find an available camping spot and then pay for it in the morning. However, since only one of the two campgrounds was open, I wasn’t sure what my odds were of getting a site.
We passed the primitive campground first and when I peaked in, I saw there was only one tent so that was going to be our back-up plan. I’m glad we had that plan because all of the other sites were taken. I drove back to the primitive campground and I noticed that they weren’t kidding; there was nothing there except for a few fire rings and picnic tables. It’s ok; I’m a country girl, I’ve spent time in the backcountry. No problem. The other campground had all the facilities that I would need in the morning. It’s all good.
I got the dogs out of the car and set up their tie-out and water before I started to pitch the tent. I felt something on my leg and looked down to see a tick. Now my friends, I’m pretty good with most animals. I have no problem with spiders, I can handle snakes, I empty my own mouse traps. No problems. Ticks….well ticks give me the heebee geebees in a way I can’t even begin to explain. I think it’s the way their bodies swell and turn a disgusting shade of dead-skin grey after they’ve fed on you (barely suppressed shudder). I briefly considered packing back up and trying to find a hotel but I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t let these tiny bloodsucking bugs make me leave. I got everything set up as quickly as I could and even though it was still light out, the dogs were trying to get into the tent. I thought about making something to eat but every time I felt something on my skin, I imagined it was an army of ticks so I ate another donut and we all crawled inside.
That last donut may have been a mistake because with all the fried food, my guts were not happy. In fact, my stomach felt like a solid knot. I tried to ignore it as I looked over the dogs for hitchhikers and then practically killed my data plan looking up the ticks. These were different from the big ticks we have at home. These were tiny and appeared to be Lone Star Ticks, so named because they have a single white dot on their bodies. Fortunately they were not known to be carriers for Lyme Disease which made me feel a bit better. Small comfort as I tried to ease an achy tummy and watched ticks crawl across my tent in the fading light. All I could think about were those movies where the good guys are in a house and they know the enemy is outside… Yup does not make for pleasant dreams at all.
Is it any surprise I didn’t stop to take pictures of our lovely site?