Progressive Swamp Tour
- story by Lisa Monti, photography by Ellis Anderson
When the Gulf of Mexico is your southern border, road trips options are limited to the west, north and east. Luckily, for those of us who live on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, there's an incredible variety in the destinations, excursions and experiences found nearby in those three directions.
For the Shoofly's two-state itinerary "Progressive Swamp Tour" on a mild October day, we began with a morning jaunt through lush Hancock County wetlands, then headed westward to the outskirts of New Orleans for lunch. On the loop back, we enjoyed a respite in an almost hidden bayou preserve before the day's grand finale: a flatboat tour into the fabled Honey Island Swamp.
If you're headed out from Bay-Waveland, the actual drive time for this route will take over two-hours (round trip), but most of the miles are scenic - with lots of opportunities for photography buffs.
The Possum Trail, named for an African-American community, runs from Infinity Science Center to the Pearl River. We took the road near the south gate of Stennis Space Center off Mississippi 607 to the Possum Trail entrance. Follow the signs to start out on the wide, slightly elevated boardwalk through the quiet woods that are home to wildlife, birds and insects. Markers identify native plants and the site of the old Dummyline Railroad, among other features dotting the trail. Be aware that alligators and poisonous snakes reside in the area, and do consider using bug spray before setting out.
After the walk, backtrack to the old Logtown cemetery where the oldest of some 435 headstones dates backs to 1853. Majestic live oak and magnolia trees keep watch over the ancestors of many local families in this peaceful setting.
Then, drive south along the tree-lined two-lane Highway 604, through the community of Pearlington, hugging the state line along the Pearl River. The road ends at Old U.S. 90, where you'll cross the river and head toward Louisiana, over two-lane bridges and past raised camps with playful names. You'll cross the Riolets, the pass that runs between the Mississippi Sound and Lake Ponchartrain. The road runs alongside lovely Lake Catherine for many miles, and the scenery melts away stress with each one.
One standout culinary destination is Dong Phuong Oriental Bakery (14207 Chef Menteur Highway), worth the 30-minute drive because it consistently makes it to the food critic’s top 10 lists. There is an adjacent restaurant for a sit-down meal but for our day trip lunch, the bakery is all we needed.
The first thing you see inside the door is a help-yourself display of French bread, which has been declared the best in New Orleans. The small loaves sell so quickly that they are constantly replenished with freshly baked batches. Light, airy and crispy, it’s little wonder they sell out so quickly. The bread makes for the start of a perfect to go picnic lunch.
Get in line to order bahn mi (Vietnamese po-boys) with the meat filling of your choice - all dressed with homemade aioli, cucumbers, jalapeños, pickled carrots and daikon and cilantro. And pick up some French pastries for a decadent dessert.
Called the nation’s largest urban refuge. Bayou Savage is home to ducks, wildlife and shore birds among 13,000 acres of freshwater marsh, 11,000 acres of brackish marsh plus 200 acres of wooded land.
The Ridge Trail area is considered the best place to enjoy the refuge. The not-quite-mile-long boardwalk loop has a pavilion with tables, the perfect place to enjoy your Dong Phuong sandwiches and pastries.
Each boat carries around 20 passengers and is captained by a knowledgable guide who points out the flowers and creatures close at hand. The captains run the boat engines only intermittently, so you're able to appreciate the peacefulness of the setting.
We also met up with ibis, herons, and rambunctious raccoons and mercenary wild boars begging for marshmallows. Swamp lilies, purple rice, water hyacinths and stately cypress trees, one deemed 800 years old, make the swamp a stunningly beautiful place, one that feels other-worldly. Our tour ended with an exhilarating ride down the West Pearl with the boat's motor running full-tilt boogie, but even after two-hours, no one was eager for the trip to end.
Cajun Encounters Tour Company
55345 U.S. 90
Bayou Sauvage NWR Ridge Trail & Boardwalk
20876 Chef Menteur Highway
Dong Phuong Bakery
14207 Chef Menteur Highway