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#005: In Search of a Great Arch

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arch01 Zion National Park, Utah / October 30th, 2011
Park Ranger Mike Large talks about natural arches in Zion National Park, Utah… On my second night in the park, I attended a ranger lecture titled “In Search of a Great Arch” hosted by veteran ranger Mike Large. Thanks to Ranger Large’s generosity, I am able to present the entire lecture here on the Slices of America Podcast. This is an enhanced episode… To see these images, please open the album artwork on your software or mobile player. Get the enhanced version.

 

Zion: West Rim

Day three in Zion looked quite different form the previous days. The sun disappeared, and in its place were low hanging clouds that spit mist from dawn to about 4:00 PM. The drizzle tamed the dust and generated cooler hiking temperatures. I packed up all of my gear and caught the park shuttle to The Grotto, which doubles as the trailhead for the west rim.

Trailhead 9:15 AM. The first two miles of the west rim trail are extremely strenuous, unforgiving, switchbacks. Most trails level out now and then, but this stretch seemed to be entirely uphill. About a fourth into the 2-mile climb, I caught up with a gentleman from Florida who also seemed to be struggling. His family had gone ahead of him, and they planned to meet up at the end of the switchbacks. We got to talking about flat land, altitude, and fishing. He also told me that his family was on a large tour of the high desert parks. Zion was their second stop. The family had just returned from a hellish tour of the Grand Canyon, where the father had been struck by lightening, frying a cell phone in his hands! Before we knew it, we had commiserated our way to the top of the switchbacks. The climb ended at Scout Lookout. At this junction, most climbers elect to climb up Angel’s Landing, arguably the park’s best view of the canyon. Some hikers, but not nearly as many, continue hiking west along the west rim trail. I would continue west, climbing higher up the west rim, setting aside Angel’s Landing for the next day’s return trip.

 

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Scout Lookout – great resting spot with two pit toilets. The family of four at the bottom are the folks I met from Florida.

At Scout Lookout, I parted with my Florida friends but instantly met two new trail buddies. Long story short, two scout leaders from Las Vegas were tracing the steps of their group in search of a lost camera. I had the camera, and they were very grateful. The two scout leaders and I hiked all the way up to Cabin Spring together, just over three miles. Along the way, they helped pass the time through conversation. One of the scout leaders had hiked the west rim trail many times, and he pointed out features that I may not have noticed. For example, he identified an example of cryptobiotic soil and discussed its importance to the region.

 

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Early morning climbers on Angel’s Landing

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Las Vegas scout leader pointing out cryptobiotic soil

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The wooded area just above that waterfall marks my destination – West Rim Spring and Campsite #2

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Trail up to camp – this will come into play later

Our journey together ended at Cabin Spring. At this point atop the rim of one of Zion’s beautiful, lush plateaus, is campsite #2 (my campsite), Cabin Spring (the only water source around), and the continuing trail west along the rim. The entire group of boy scouts, probably about fifteen in all, were waiting there, and one scout in particular was very happy to see his dad carrying his camera. We all sat under a large tree and ate a late lunch. Afterwards, the scouts continued west, and I walked the short distance up to campsite #2 to set up for the night.

 

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view from campsite #2 on the West Rim

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While obtaining my permits on the previous day, a park ranger tipped me off to the splendor of the west rim, “If you’re going to camp at site #2, you might as well hike a few miles further out along the west rim. You won’t want to miss those views.” I left camp and hiked about two miles further along the west rim. Just like the ranger promised, the views were amazing, beautiful, jaw-dropping, inspiring and every other cliché phrase typically used when attempting to describe the indescribable. I went as far as campsite #4, about 7-8 miles from the canyon floor. There I found an unoccupied one-man tent and benches made from loose rock. From this vantage point, the trees thinned and the view was totally unimpeded. The park’s most majestic peaks and greenest plateaus were highlighted by the sun. I stared out for nearly half an hour as shifting clouds drastically changed the landscape. Each minute seemed to reveal a new image. The most impressive sight from campsite #4 was that of Zion’s painted desert in the far distance. Just then I heard voices coming from the west. Sure enough, four young men in their early 20s came around the trail. They introduced themselves and mentioned that they were hiking to campsite #1, not far from where I would end the day. I told them about my plans for the evening, and they graciously invited me over to their site for dinner. We planned to meet up before dusk, and they went ahead down towards the camps. I sat and surveyed the southern extremities of the park for a few more minutes, taking in as much of the beauty before starting back for camp.

 

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West Rim Spring – had to filter this water with my shirt before sterilizing it with the Steripen device

To reach my remote campsite I hiked about 50 yards along a thin path surrounded by shin-deep vegetation. The path spilled into the campsite which was nestled against a wall of red sandstone. Looking back over the path, I could see the canyon below – another amazing campsite view. I set up my tent and found the accommodations irresistible. It was only 2:00 PM, but a short nap was in order. Out of shape and not accustomed to high altitudes, I was whipped from the morning’s climb – 2,500 feet of elevation gain over five miles. A short nap rejuvenated my body and mind. I woke up to sunshine and fresh legs.

 

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Just as planned, I made my way over to campsite #1 before dusk. The guys were easy to get along with, very upbeat and positive. Each of these local men were young Mormon missionaries that had just returned from trips abroad. On these adventures, they completed their formal missionary service. Now back from their service, they were in college working on various degrees. We ate dehydrated meals and chatted until just before dark. At this point I realized that my headlamp was not on me. I thanked them for their hospitality and made my way back to camp #2. Before hitting the sack I gathered my food items and aromatic cleaning supplies, bagged them in a stuff sack, and hung them from a large tree – the same tree where I had eaten a late lunch with the large group of boy scouts. The tree looked eerie to me against the night sky, so I took a photo. I made my way up the campsite trail, barely visible now, and crawled into the tent. Just before passing out, I thought about where I was and how long it might be before I would have this kind of night sky again. I looked out the rain fly and saw that the cloudy sky was beginning to clear, so I set my watch for 10:30 PM, at which point I would awake and take a few long exposure shots of the starry night sky.

 

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My alarm sounded and I stumbled out into complete dark with camera, tripod, and headlamp. I flipped on my headlamp and began to set up. With the legs of the tripod out and the angle of the camera set, I moved on to adjust the shutter speed, but just as I was going to do that I heard a rather loud rustling sound in the brush to my right. Naturally, I turned my head toward the sound. My brand new, and extremely bright, LED headlamp instantly found a pair of eyes staring back at me. Even with the beam of light, it was hard to discern how far away the eyes were and how large the animal was. Being from south Louisiana, I assumed I was looking at some sort of medium-sized nocturnal rodent that was very close. As ridiculous as it might sound, my initial reaction was – something along the lines of a Raccoon. Then the animal moved. Its body came out from the brush and into the clearing of the campsite’s path. I still didn’t know exactly what I was looking at, but then everything changed. A long, thick tail slowly uncurled, wagged a bit and then froze. My depth perception came into focus. The tail, taller than me and probably as thick as my arm, was no longer moving. The body was very large and not more than fifty feet away. The eyes that reflected straight back at me were from a large mountain lion, and I had its attention! Most guidebooks will tell you to “look large” and “throw rocks” at a mountain lion, but without thinking, I jumped right into my tent and doused my headlamp.

Scared out of my mind, I struggled with the camera – I couldn’t turn it off and therefore couldn’t turn off the light that it emitted. I was ready to crush it with a rock when I finally found the off switch. Then I turned to the door of the tent. I decided to leave the rain fly open. Actually, you have to reach way out of the tent to grab hold of the rain fly zipper. There was no way I was going to hang half of my body out of the tent at that moment, but I did grab the inner zipper. Predictably, the zipped snagged on a piece of tent material. I struggled with it for what felt like forever, finally closed the tent, and then froze. At first I thought my ears were deceiving me, but no, I heard something outside the tent! I couldn’t move. Nothing could have moved me. I just listened in horror as the mountain lion paced through the sandstone gravel of my campsite. Then a thought occurred to me. There was no doubt in my mind – I was going to be eaten by a mountain lion. The steps didn’t last very long, and I thought things might get better. After much waiting, I opened the largest blade on my multi-tool, placed the knife on my chest for easy access, and allowed myself to lay down on my back.

The silence was broken by the sound of rustling in the brush again. “What is it doing?” I murmured to myself over and over. Soon, I started to hear large rocks tumbling followed by more rustling in the grass. The situation was pure torture, and I didn’t think it could get much worse.

Nothing happened for several minutes. Then, a horrible sound, steps in the campsite again followed by sniffing. Sniffing! I can only compare it to something I’ve witnessed my dog do on countless occasions . Angela and I will be in the front room of the house when someone passes by on the sidewalk. Betsy, our dog, barks, sticks her nose right in the bottom crack of the door, and takes repetitive sniffs – three short sniffs in and then a longer sniff out. This happened over and over again, only I was in a tent, and the animal sniffing could kill me in one or two swift moves. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, and again, I thought that this would be the end for me. I started to have thoughts of how I wished that I’d spent more time with family and friends and that I’d done more for my wife. I thought about the people that I was leaving behind, and I felt bad for leaving them. The sniffing eventually stopped. Time went by without incident. I looked at my watch and calculated nine hours until the sun.

After the sniffing incident, I started to shake uncontrollably. I knew that the shaking was not from cold – I was in shock. My mind and body were already exhausted from the day’s hike, and there was no room for this kind of stress. I knew that I should pull the sleeping bag over me, but I couldn’t convince myself to do it. Pulling a sleeping bag out of a stuff-sack is very loud, and I was trying to avoid all noise. I allowed the shaking to continue for at least twenty minutes before finally overpowering my mind. I covered myself with the sleeping bag. The warmth instantly helped and the shaking diminished. Still, I clutched the knife to my chest waiting for the inevitable.

I watched the clock all night, counting the minutes. I heard rocks tumbling and brush rustling all night. At one point, in the middle of the night, the silence was broken by the scariest sound I have ever heard – a large cat shriek followed by the sound of claws ripping something to pieces. It sounded like a cat fight in an alley, if the cat were 300 lbs. and the opponent were some sort of synthetic material like nylon. My initial thought was that the mountain lion had found my food stash and was ripping it apart. My second thought was, “Will it come looking for more here?” My third thought was, “How are the neighbors in campsite #1 doing?”

I continued to watch the clock for the rest of the night, and I continued to hear sounds for the rest of the night, rocks falling, brush rustling, and every now and then, pacing in the campsite. It never ended. I never slept.
Still, somehow I must not have been appealing to the lion. It did not eat me or my food. I would later find out, from a park shuttle driver, that the mountain lion may have attacked and killed a mule deer. That was possibly the roar and ripping sound that I heard. When the sun was up in full force I scooped up all my things and hightailed it over to camp #1. The whole way over I yelled out loud, “HEY! HEY! HEY!” just in case something was still watching me. I entered their campsite and found one of the young Mormons sitting on a hammock.
“Man am I glad to see you’re up,” I said. “You have no idea how bad a night I had.”
“Oh, we’re not up yet,” he said, “I slept out here on this hammock last night.”
I stared out at him, “You’re joking?”
“No, it was too hot in the tent, so I came out here. What was the problem at your site? Was your tent too hot also?”
“No, I saw into a mountain lion! It was in my campsite! It came back over and over again. I didn’t sleep at all.”
“Wow, that’s awesome!”
One at a time, the other campers slowly woke to my panicked voice. I explained what happened in detail and they were very understanding and extremely comforting. Not a single joke was cracked by the group. I informed them that I was not leaving the rim until they left the rim, that I was walking down with them. Thankfully, they were more than willing to accommodate. We would soon walk down to Angel’s Landing together. As they took care of various morning duties, I sat on a log, still shaking slightly. From their campsite I looked out over lush wooded peaks bathed in morning’s first light. This undisturbed blessing stretched as far as my eyes could see. I couldn’t believe how beautiful it was. I couldn’t believe that I was alive.

 

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sunrise from campsite #1

 

Zion: The Narrows

On Monday morning I speed-hiked down the West Rim Trail (see the post from July 24, 2011). On the canyon floor, I shuttled to Watchman campground, set up camp, and filled my belly with a delicious Beef Ravioli MRE – one of the best yet! I crammed all electronics and paper documents into waterproof bags and stuffed those bags into my backpack. Today I would hike The Narrows. The trail would be wet, very wet. The following trail description of The Narrows is from the Zion National Park website:

The Virgin River has carved a spectacular gorge in the upper reaches of Zion Canyon,16 miles long, up to 2000 feet deep, and at times only 20-30 feet wide. In The Narrows, walking in the shadow of its soaring walls, sandstone grottos, natural springs, and hanging gardens, can be an unforgettable wilderness experience.

It is not, however, a trip to be underestimated. Hiking the Narrows means hiking in the Virgin River. At least 60% of the hike is spent wading, walking, and sometimes swimming in the stream. There is no maintained trail; the route is the river. The current is swift, the water is cold, and the rocks underfoot are slippery. Flash flooding and hypothermia are constant dangers. Good planning, proper equipment, and sound judgment are essential for a safe and successful trip. Your safety is your responsibility. Weather forecasts, flash flood potential ratings, and stream reports are available at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center. Permits are not issued when the flow is greater than 120 cubic feet per second.

The following video is a collection of short movies captured in my four hour, out-and-back hike of The Narrows. In this slice, you may receive a better overall picture by viewing the video first.

Hiking the Narrows from Taylor Lasseigne on Vimeo.

 

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The Zion Adventure Company rents out these boots ($25) to hikers looking for a little added foot protection. These “boots” stabalize the ankle area and supposedly keep the foot completely dry – neoprene lining. The woman modeling these boots said they were, “a dream!”

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Zion: East Rim

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Fort Proctor – St. Bernard Parish, LA

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Katrina Memorial Cross

Over a year ago, Chris Esposito and I took advantage of some glorious weather by hauling our kayaks down to Braithwaite in St. Bernard Parish, LA. We paddled around in the canals for a few hours, dodging large alligators most of the time. On the drive back, we detoured south into St. Bernard Parish to find out what was at the end of Hwy. 46 – Shell Beach, LA.

Arriving at Shell Beach, we parked and were immediately drawn to the Hurricane Katrina Memorial. This shrine is in two parts. The Katrina Memorial Cross, designed by Arabi welder and fabricator Vincent LaBruzzo Sr., stands a few feet off shore. This stainless-steel crucifix was a hot-button issue in 2006. Louisiana ACLU Executive Director Joe Cook opposed the erection of the cross in a letter to parish officials, “Government promotion of a patently religious symbol on a public waterway is a violation of the Constitution’s First Amendment, which prohibits government from advancing a religion.” Parish president Henry “Junior” Rodriguez gave a frank and candid response, “They can kiss my ass.” Just in front of the cross on shore, the names of St. Bernard residents who died in Hurricane Katrina are etched into a slab of marble, “Bertha Acosta, Sarah Bosarge, Joyce Fonseca, Gladys Leblanc, Joseph Major, Emile Poissenot” and so many more, totaling 163 in all.

Then, Chris and I noticed a seemingly misplaced structure on the distant horizon. It looked like many of the forts in the region, but I knew nothing about one in this area. Once home, a few seconds of research revealed that this was Fort Proctor, a ruined civil-war era fort reclaimed by nature and only accessible by boat. Ruins only accessible by boat? Can you imagine a more titillating combination of words for a kayaker? The seed was planted. I simply had to get to that fort.

 

 

The thought of paddling out to Fort Proctor festered for over a year. I shared the notion with friend and coworker Woodlief “Wood” Thomas, and he was immediately 110% in. Actually, his tenacity to “storm the fort” is probably what kept the idea alive for so long.

Finally fifteen months later on May 15, 2011, Wood, Chris, and I set out for Fort Proctor. To reach the fort we would cross the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO and pronounced “Mister Go” by the locals), navigate a small stretch of Bayou Yscolskey, and finally paddle a few hundred feet into Lake Borgne. Aside from the strong wind gusts, modest chop, and constant marine traffic on the MRGO, the real challenge was moving three people with two kayaks. Plan A, Wood riding in my aft compartment, was nixed as soon as we saw the turbulence of the MRGO. Plan B required Wood to swim alongside my kayak – also thrown out by the group. Plans C and D escape me, but Chris at last developed an ingenious Plan E – Chris and I would paddle across the MRGO. Upon reaching the banks of Bayou Yscolskey, we would then tie his smaller boat to my boat, and I would tow his boat back to Shell Beach, where Wood would then paddle across the MRGO. The plan went off without a hitch. Once the group was fully assembled on the banks of Bayou Yscolskey, Wood was then able to walk and swim along the bank, all the way to the fort.

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Launch at Shell Beach, cross the MRGO, navigate Bayou Yscolskey, and paddle a few hundred feet into Lake Borgne to Fort Proctor.

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General P. G. T Beauregard

Designed to defend New Orleans from the Union Army, Fort Proctor was constructed under the supervision of General P. G. T. Beauregard in 1856. Also known as Fort Beauregard and Beauregard’s Castle, the fort was originally located about 150 feet inland with a rail yard on its northern end. Today it is approximately 230 feet from the shore, surrounded by Lake Borgne. The stronghold never got a chance to prove its might. In its day, the fort was created with cutting edge building technologies such as poured concrete and rolled iron I-beams, but by the outbreak of the Civil War, the building was already nearly obsolete. There were plans to outfit the fort with twelve 32-pounder seacoast guns, three 18-pounder guns, three 12-pounder guns, eight flank Howitzers and eleven 8″ heavy seacoast Howitzers, yet construction was never completed due to hurricane damage. Fort Proctor was never even officially garrisoned, and in desperation, Confederate soldiers blew the levees near the fort. Water rushed into the structure and rendered it useless.

Before Lake Borgne fully claimed the fort and before the construction of the MRGO, Fort Proctor was still accessible by land. Easy access made this abandoned shell a teen hangout in the 1940s and 50s. Maybe one of these teens is responsible for crafting the wooden ladder we found in the fort. Searching through Louisiana fishing message boards, I found that Fort Proctor is a great place to catch Redfish and Speckled Trout, especially between the rocks and the marsh. In 1978 the fort was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Today, a large-stone levee protects the entire perimeter of the fort from large Lake Borgne waves, but the water finds its way in. We slugged through about a foot of water throughout the fort, occasionally sinking shin-deep into mud. Besides the rock wall, the only other things protecting Fort Proctor are alleged ghostly lovers. In a New Orleans Times Picayune article dated December 28, 1975, Chris Segura notes that, “According to local legend, the fort is now defended by the ghosts of a one-armed soldier and his bayou-born lover. They dance upon the aged walls in the forms of blue flames.” Segura continues, “Scientists say that the balls are gases rising from the marsh. Believers say spirits take many forms, use any vehicle – even the natural gases of the marshland.”

Today we explore the mysteries of Fort Proctor. However useless it was to the Confederacy and however futile its construction, I will say that this fortress has stood up to time quite well, considering geographic location. Proctor didn’t see action in the Civil War, but wind, hurricanes, storm surge, and teenagers continuously breached the fortification. With that in mind, I think she looks amazing for her age – 154.

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Chris Esposito (left) and Woodlief Thomas (right) approach the ruins.

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Chris Esposito is first to scale the wall

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"1856" photo by Woodlief Thomas

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Taylor Lasseigne - photo by Woodlief Thomas

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Woodlief Thomas

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This column is connected to the base by one brick!

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Chris Esposito

 

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Chris Esposito

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photo by Woodlief Thomas

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After some time in the fort, we began the one-mile trip back to Shell Beach. Knowing that we would have to repeat the kayak relay, three guys and two boats, we started back long before sunset. Wood, on foot, went ahead of Chris and I. We paddled up Bayou Yscolskey as Wood scampered along the bank. When the brush became impassable, he took off his shoes, waded into the bayou, and swam 220 feet to the other side. Wood commented on how strong the current was in Bayou Yscolskey and how the swimming was a lot harder than it looked. Once across, he returned the shoes to his feat and again began to traverse the bank. It was at this point that the Wildlife and Fisheries boat, carrying three uniformed men, approached our party. The agents surveyed our one if by land and two if by sea situation and probably assumed we were in trouble, “Do you guys need some help?” Chris clarified that we were OK, that we were simply short a boat, and he explained the kayak-towing relay that was about to take place. The Wildlife and Fisheries agents paused and then offered Wood a ride back in the boat. There wasn’t much hesitation on our part. The three of us exchanged what I believe was a look of slight relief, and Wood jumped in the boat. Normally, I wouldn’t want a marine adventure to end with a team member in the custody of Wildlife and Fisheries, but this wasn’t an arrest. This wasn’t a rescue. This was simply a more convenient way to get back to the car, and we were all fine with the decision. The lift cut our return time in half.

 

As I loaded my boat onto the car, a thought surfaced. I thought about how impossible the trip seemed in the beginning – too few boats and extremely windy conditions. There was talk of scrubbing the whole thing, but we didn’t. We made it happen, and the payoff was immense. This Fort Proctor adventure is my favorite Louisiana daytrip to date. Still, there is at least one reason to return. Next time we’ll visit the illuminated one-armed ghost and his lover, after sunset.

#004: Football Stories

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Football StoriesBiloxi, MS  – April 27th, 2011

Slices of America Podcast 004 – Coach Holmes of Tallassee, Alabama (now residing in Biloxi, MS) talks about his career in football – both as a player and as a coach. Recorded in the food court of the Edgewater Plaza Shopping Center in Biloxi, MS on April 26, 2011. Great football stories!

Biking New Orleans, LA to Biloxi, MS

This is the story of a hastily thrown-together cycling trip from New Orleans, LA to Biloxi, MS on April 26th, 2011, the Monday after Easter. As usual, I underestimated the amount of time it would take to pack for such a trip, a mistake that results in little sleep – maybe four hours! My day begins long before dawn – 5:00 AM. I stuff everything on my checklist into two large panniers, kiss my wife, and roll out.


View NOLA to Biloxi by Bike in a larger map

Yellow indicates main route. Orange and blue mark last-minute changes to the plan. Click, double-click, and drag the map to interact or open the larger map.

As a cyclist, the thing that troubled me the most about my route from New Orleans to Biloxi was the crossing of the Industrial Canal into New Orleans East, a hindrance that would make or break me within the first half hour. After much deliberation on the subject, I decided to take the route that was longest yet safest – the Seabrook Bridge near Lake Pontchartrain. This turned out to be very easy, and I had a good laugh upon reaching the other side. Still, I was quite relieved to be in New Orleans East. Then, the wild dogs showed up!

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Seabrook Bridge - easy crossing for a bike

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From the Seabrook Bridge

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From the Seabrook Bridge

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From the Seabrook Bridge

The first wild dog attack happened on Franklin Avenue, before crossing into the East. Three tiny but menacing pups pounced onto the road. With a bloodthirsty look in their eyes, these small Ewok-like creatures nipped at my ankles for no less than six blocks.

Wild dog encounter number two was thankfully only a very scary close call. In New Orleans East I passed an Autozone store and took a left onto Morrison Ave. I remember exchanging morning greetings with a gentleman hanging out outside of the Autozone. Moments later, I lifted my head to survey the road and I spotted a pack of four extremely large pitbulls trotting towards me! Had these dogs been lifting weights? These could have been the nicest dogs in the world, but I wasn’t sticking around to find out. I turned the bike around and headed back towards the Autozone. The gentleman was still standing outside. I warned him about the wild pack of dogs, and he started for the store. I attempted to make a block around the problem, but only ran into dead ends. I had to try Morrison again. I carefully made my way back to the Autozone where the man, still outside, assured me that the dogs had gone into a neighborhood, “You’re all clear!” Well, that’s good for me but bad for someone else in that neighborhood. How do the folks out here deal with these wild dogs roaming their streets? I continued up Morrison, but not until after I had crossed the canal median. The pack had moved on.

About a half an hour later, on Hwy 90, a very large mutt came screaming across an abandoned lot, charged right up to me, and nipped at my heals very briefly. Luckily, he was not interested in my very loud yelling. My heart was pounding, and I stopped to gather myself. I thought very seriously about calling it quits. I thought about buying a can of mace. Then, I thought about how I was wasting time, and I simply kept going.

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Vietnamese-owned shops in New Orleans East

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Venetian Isles from Jerry and Charlotte's deck (thanks for the coffee)

As I continued east on Hwy 90, I passed over several bridges. Some of the bridges were small, leaving little room for a cyclist. Luckily, these small bridges were typically also short in length, so I simply waited for traffic to pass and quickly crossed.

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Hwy 90 bridge crossing at Chef Menteur Pass

Pictured below is Fort Macomb at Chef Pass. The purpose of the fortress was to protect the Chef Menteur Pass which connected Lake Pontchartrain to Lake Borgne and consequently, the Gulf of Mexico. This stronghold was built in 1822, garrisoned by the Confederate States of America in January of 1861, and then retaken by Union forces the next year. The following is from the Fort Macomb Wikipedia entry:

In 1867 the barracks caught fire, after which the fort was largely abandoned. It was decommissioned in 1871. The fort and its land are now owned by the State of Louisiana. While some efforts were made to open it to limited tourism in the late 20th century, the decaying condition of the fort was judged too hazardous for public visits. The similar but better preserved Fort Pike some 10 miles (16 km) away at the Rigolets has been the regional example of a coastal fort open to visitors. A portion of the fort’s old moat has been turned into a canal as part of a small marina. Unfortunately, the wakes from incoming and outgoing boats is wearing away the outer wall of the fort and accelerating the structural damage.

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Fort Macomb, as seen from the Chef Menteur Pass bridge

Saint Catherine’s Island/Petites Coquilles (see images below) is a spit of land between Lake Pontchartrain and Lake Saint Catherine on Hwy 90. On this narrow tract, sometimes less than 800 feet wide, many new post-Katrina fishing camps and homes are under construction. * Side-note: This also happens to be where 1950’s blonde bombshell Jayne Mansfield met her untimely end on June 29, 1967, as her vehicle struck the back of a stopped tractor-trailer.

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new post-Katrina construction

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bridge crossing Rigolets Pass

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Fort Pike (pictured below) is located at the northeast corner of Saint Catherine’s Island/Petites Coquilles, just before the Rigolets Pass. Like Fort Macomb, Pike was constructed to protect the water routes into New Orleans.

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Fort Pike from the Rigolets Pass Bridge

The following is from the official Fort Pike website:

Begun in 1819 and completed in 1826, Fort Pike was named for the explorer and soldier General Zebulon Montgomery Pike (1779-1813) whose name is also attached to Pike’s Peak in the Rocky Mountains. Fort Pike is the first of the Third System fortifications, a group of brick and masonry structures built between 1816 and 1867. The fort was designed to withstand attack from land or sea.

The original armament of Fort Pike consisted of 32-pounder and 24-pounder cannons; the exact number of each type is unknown. At various times the fort held other types of cannons. The wartime garrison was approximately 400 men; in peacetime it varied between one and 80 soldiers. Fort Pike’s role in the military affairs of the United States prior to the Civil War varied considerably. During the Seminole Wars in the 1830s, Fort Pike served as a staging area for many troops en route to Florida, and also as a collection point for hundreds of Seminole prisoners and their black slaves who were being transported to Oklahoma. Cannons were removed from some of the casemates to convert them to cells. At one point in this conflict, only 66 soldiers guarded 253 Indian and black prisoners.

Similarly, during the Mexican War in the 1840s, Fort Pike was a stopover for soldiers bound for Texas and Mexico. In between these wars, Fort Pike was largely abandoned and left in the care of a single ordnance sergeant.

In 1861, the silence of Fort Pike was broken. Before the actual start of the Civil War, the Louisiana militia captured the fort. Confederates held it until the Union forces took New Orleans in 1862, whereupon the Confederates evacuated Fort Pike. Union forces then reoccupied the fort, using it as a base for raids along the Gulf coast and Lake Pontchartrain area and as a protective outpost for New Orleans. The Union also used Fort Pike as a training center, where former slaves were taught to use heavy artillery. These troops became part of the United States Colored Troops, who played an important role in the outcome of many battles, including the siege at Port Hudson. Yet, in spite of all this activity, not a single cannonball was ever fired in battle from Fort Pike.

Fort Pike was again left to the care of an ordnance sergeant from 1871 until it was officially abandoned in 1890. In 1972 it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, an honorary designation for significant historic sites.

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Fort Pike with Rigolets Pass in the foreground and Lake Saint Catherine in the background

The trip continues east into Mississippi, towards Pearlington. The terrain gets very swampy resulting in many more small bridge crossings. Also, I noticed a trend as I passed through places with “Island” in the name: Prevost Island, Weems Island, Honey Island, Desert Island, and Brown’s Island. After the trip, I looked up these locations on a map. To my surprise, not a single one is an actual island, simply low-lying marsh riddled with bayous and canals.

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Islands? Click to elarge.

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Just past Pearlington, MS, at trip mile #45, I turned off of Hwy 90 onto Lower Bay Road. This stretch was gorgeous with smooth roads, heavily wooded forest on both sides, and no cars in sight. The route meandered down into Bay St. Louis, where I ravenously tore into chicken and biscuits at Kent and Sue’s Quick stop.

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Kent and Sue's Quick stop - Bay St. Louis, MS

In Bay St. Louis, MS, I paused on Lakeshore Drive, just before the train tracks, to take a photograph of Lakeshore Baptist Church. The church steeple stood oddly on the ground beside it. A very nice woman, tending to her garden across the street from the church, explained that Hurricane Katrina had destroyed the original church, and all that was left was the steeple. The building pictured below is a temporary home for the congregation, and when construction on the new church is complete, they will place the old steeple back on top. The woman across the street asked where I had biked from, and I briefly explained my trip. She unflinchingly offered me a bottle of water, as if we’d known each other for years. Some might say, “It’s just a bottle of water”, but I was stunned by her trust and generosity. I had pointed my bicycle east, left the comfort of my home, biked 60+ miles into a still-devastated community, and I was being offered free water. Maybe I was feeling the effects of an extended cycling trip, but this simple offering touched me deeply.

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Lakeshore Baptist Church

The images below are depictions of the Lakeshore Baptist Church before/after Hurricane Katrina, images are from the website Rebuild Lakeshore: a ministry of Lakeshore Baptist Church

 

And finally, at approximately trip mile #62, I reached the beach near the Silver Slipper Casino in Bay St. Louis. The remainder of my trip would be spent biking the wide beach sidewalks – all the way to Biloxi (with the exception of the Bay St. Louis Bridge). With the winds steady at 10mph and gusting to over 20mph, sand quickly found it’s way into everything: water bottle, shoes, eyes, pants, gears, phone, and camera. With the probability of 40 more miles of this sandblasting, I decided to change into long pants.

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beach near the Silver Slipper Casino in Bay St. Louis

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Following the beach in Bay St. Louis was easy at first, and then I ran into a bit of ongoing construction. Crews are still working on the road, seawall, and sidewalk. With that said, the road is open, and the path is also navigable by bike. The beach road leads all the way up to the brand new Bay St. Louis Bridge. Another victim of Hurricane Katrina, the Bay St. Louis Bridge is an example of how to make the best out of a bad situation. In short, Bay St. Louis rebuilt the bridge, but they widened it significantly, adding a protected, separate ten foot wide lane for pedestrians, turning this two-mile stretch of concrete into a park. Every tenth of a mile, a marker reports how far you’ve traveled. This is accompanied by permanent artwork depicting local sea life. I was fully impressed. Louisiana, take notes.

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Bay St. Louis Bridge or the Leo W. Seal, Jr. Memorial Bridge

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mile marker and art work / each marker has a different scene

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Bay St. Louis Bridge - cyclist's dream!

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Bay St. Louis Bridge - cyclist's dream!

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more Katrina-related ruins in Pass Christian, MS

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Shaggy's in Long Beach, MS, where I had some very tasty fried catfish strips for second lunch.

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from Shaggy's back porch

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Gulfport, MS water tower

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Union Pacific / Water Tower / School Carnival

If you were to pick up a Long Beach/Gulfport/Biloxi paper, or tune in to local talk radio, you might notice that “sand” is currently a buzzword in the region. Here’s what I learned. The sand on the Mississippi coastline is not Mississippi sand – it’s Florida sand. We’re talking over 30 miles of beach, from Pass Christian to Biloxi alone, covered in Florida sand – that’s a lot of sand! Now imagine that you’re a taxpayer in Mississippi, and you’re being told that clean, white sandy beaches attract exponentially more tourists than naturally occurring, not so shiny Mississippi beaches, like the ones that I remember seeing here as a kid – which were quite an improvement over Louisiana beaches. The taxpayers are sold on white sand as an investment for tourism, and sand is brought in from Florida. But then something happens in the spring. The wind blows, and the sands move onto the road. Quagmire initiated.

Sand on Hwy 90 is a problem. Cars don’t handle sand well. Wheels slip, cars turn without warning, brakes become less reliable, and air systems clog. Secondly, the sand must be removed from the road, which means that construction crews working around the clock, block entire sections of a very busy, sand-covered highway. Thirdly, the sand being scooped up off the road can not simply go back on the beach, not with all those toxic car chemicals, so the sand is loaded into trucks and dumped into a Mississippi landfill. This Florida sand has quite a life cycle, right? By the way, we’re talking about a lot of wasted sand. One Gulfport news story reports up to 6,000 yards of sand hauled off per day. While I don’t quite understand why anyone would want to measure sand by the yard, I do know that it sounds like tons.

In my humble opinion, I wonder why there is so much sand on the beach. In some of the images below, you will notice stairs that lead from the sidewalk by the road, down to the beach. In many cases, these stairs are completely covered. Why so much sand? Engineers are attempting to plant dunes and erect special fences to block some of the runaway sand. Hopefully, something proves useful. Until then, maybe Mississippi should hold off on the importing of sand and shift that cash to something more useful, like pumping in pretty Florida water. Good luck, Mississippi!

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Florida sand in Mississippi

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Here, you can see the stairs.

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Here, no stairs, but the'ye down there.

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Crews work to remove sand from the road.

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Too much sand!

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Bird sanctuary

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Day one ended at the home of friends Jinger and Dave in Gulfport, MS. It was so nice to see them again and tons of fun to get some time with the little ones. Also, I was super excited when Jinger cooked up black eyed peas, smothered greens, and okra for dinner. Shock and awe!

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Friends Jinger and Dave, with their kids Henry and Ruby.

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Henry and Ruby

On day two, my dream of taking a boat out to Ship Island was crushed by inclement weather – thanks again, wind. Instead, I cruised up the beach to Biloxi to see what I could find.

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Many of the area trees were killed by Katrina, so they became a sculptor's blank canvas.

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I bet they didn't care what color the sand was.

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Beau Rivage

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Mary Mahoney's, one of the oldest restaurants in the country - circa 1737!

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I had lunch here, at the Ole Biloxi Schooner.

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Interesting interpretation of a Catfish Po-boy at the Ole Biloxi Schooner - fish was great, but the bread was hard.

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"Antique & Streetrods For Sale"

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Deer Island; about 600 feet from shore - I really wanted to swim out there.

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Katrina Memorial

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Carved and painted oak

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A home in Biloxi. Notice the Katrina-related sign on the upper right reading, "water line".

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Highway 90 bridge leading to Ocean Springs - maybe next time.

I recorded a conversation with Coach Holmes of Tallassee, Alabama (now residing in Biloxi) as he discussed his career in football – both as a player and as a coach. The Edgewater Plaza Shopping Center in Biloxi, MS was a little noisy, but the stories are worth it. To hear this story and others please subscribe to the Slices of America Podcast.

Funny Tombow One Man Band

Street performer on Bourbon Street that calls himself “Funny Tombow One Man Band”. The guy ROCKS by employing all appendages. Here’s what he says on his website, “When I Was travering in US & Canada for looking for my future, then lot of people said me ‘You’re FUNNY.’ When I w…as kid, my nick name was Tombow (mean’s ‘Dragon fly’) So I decide to my One Man Band’s name is. Future + Past = FUNNY TOMBOW”

Grand Isle, LA – Day 47 of the BP/Deepwater Horizon Disaster

by Dave Rhodes and Josh Pitts / June 5, 2010 /

A trip down to Grand Isle, Louisiana, to see how things are developing, contribute a bit to the local economy, talk to locals, show some support, and try and make a surreal catastrophe happening a few hours away more tangible. Timing was interesting, sandwiched between Obama’s visit & Jindal’s.

Photographs by Dave Rhodes and Josh Pitts.

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The worst part is the part you can’t get from the photos… the smell of oil and dispersants. It’s awful. Imagine what the marine life are going through.

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You can see the different stages of oil coming into shore. And it keeps coming. While camping, we talked to a girl who has been cleaning twelve hours a day for three weeks straight. But until the leak is completely stopped, the oil is going to keep coming ashore.

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We talked to a bunch of locals while on Grand Isle. They are scared the media is going to leave and everyone is going to forget them. Some can’t fish and are out of a job. Other’s just want there beach and way of life back.

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Dave Rhodes moved to New Orleans via Los Angeles in the fall of 2009. He is focusing on his visual art career and currently has a screenplay in negotiations back in Los Angeles. To see his art you may visit RhodesArt.com.

Josh Pitts is a freelance web designer. Visit his website at sideways-designs.com.

BP / Deepwater Horizon Disaster – Oil Reaches Grand Isle

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Approximate size and location of the oil slick on May 22nd, 2010. Image taken from NOLA.com. Slick sizes are based on flyover information and NOAA trajectories.

A month after the Transocean / BP / Deepwater Horizon oil rig explodes, burns, and begins to perpetually leak oil into the Gulf of Mexico, I walk onto the beach at Grand Isle, unprepared for what I am about to witness.

In the first weeks of the disaster, I tracked the mass of oil on the internet. In the Gulf South, we’re quite proficient at tracking events along our coast. Tidal fluctuations and strong winds pushed the tragedy north and east, painting the wetlands of Plaquemines, St. Bernard, and the Chandeleur Islands. As a native of lower Lafourche Parish, I couldn’t help but think, “At least the oil isn’t traveling west of the Mississippi River. At least the people of Jefferson, Lafourche, and Terrebone are safe.” Then on May 7th the winds changed, and my moment of optimistic naiveté returned to haunt me – oil moved west of the river and into the aforementioned parishes.

Approximate size and location of the oil slick on May 22nd, 2010. Image taken from NOLA.com. Slick sizes are based on flyover information and NOAA trajectories.

Today, the beaches of Grand Isle are officially closed to the public, but our team finds a way in. I am part of an impromptu oil sample gathering mission spearheaded by Andy Baker (Coastal Programs Assistant for the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation). Joining us are Dean Wilson (very committed activist for Atchafalaya Basinkeeper) and Christopher Esposito (background in Coastal Oceanography and currently a Masters Student of Coastal Sciences at the University of New Orleans). I’m tagging along with these environmental experts to document the day’s work through photographs and GPS data.

 

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Andy Baker reads the morning's headline, "Original Plans for Dredging Changed".

With the oil coming ashore, Jefferson Parish sheriffs were trying to clear the beach. They were very nice to citizens while obviously increasingly desperate and forceful. On the right you see a Jefferson Parish deputy trying to explain the situation. They are obviously the foot soldiers on the ground representing the local interests. It was just hours after this that the Jefferson Parish sheriff’s office began to commandeer BP’s idle boats.

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Before we even reached the shore, we ran into Mrs. Louise Anne from Atlanta, GA (left) and Brenda Bertrand from Gonzales, LA (right). Both women, originally from Leeville, were in town for their 50th high school anniversary. Louise was very proud that all but six of her remaining Golden Meadow High School classmates were in attendance. She also noted, “We didn’t cancel because of the oil. In fact, we had a great time on the island!”.

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I thought we would spend most of the day looking for tar balls, when in fact the beach was littered with them. It was almost impossible to walk on the shore without stepping on a tar ball. The misplaced oil droplets were abundant and varied greatly in consistency and size.

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Andy reports, “Part of it was solid and part of it dripped onto his my hand. The oil is weathering, being changed by the sun and water and waves as it comes ashore from floating in the Gulf. There are a lot of light hydrocarbons that are evaporating in the heat. In some cases, the tar balls really look like mud or clay. Actually last month on Ship Island we saw beached balls that WERE actually clay. This is not clay. It’s somewhat mixed with sand and mixed with floating biological material, marsh and sticks and other things get mashed up in there. Some of them were like clay and some were less weathered.”

There are hundreds of oil rigs very close to the shore. At night, the horizon lights up like a city on the water. Any one of them could have an accident, but it’s much easier to contain in shallow water. The disaster is one hundred miles away from Grand Isle, but the extreme depth makes all the difference.

 

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A caravan of officials whizzes by.

The most appropriate description I’ve heard for this kind of tar ball came from an NPR correspondent who referred to them as “melted caramels”. This is an appropriate comparison due to the color and texture.

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Liquid oil – Generally the more liquid and less weathered the oil is, the more toxic it’s going to be and the more it will mix with sand and vegetation. This is an example of an emulsion – when two liquids are not chemically mixed but finely divided into droplets like mayonnaise.

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In this photograph, you can see several layers of weathered crude, including a light sheen on the water.

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Andy explains our presence to a Grand Isle policeman. Once he found out that we were interested in sampling the crude, the officer was very pleasant and allowed us to continue our observations.

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Burned and light for a rock, but solid. The fires, or controlled burns, are changing the oil also. Andy Baker noted, “We found some of those styrofoam-like blocks that I’m sure were burned oil. The burning of the oil basically burns off the lighter hydrocarbons and leaves the asphaltenes, the heavier hydrocarbons, but they can only burn when they’re on the surface and concentrated enough.”

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More tar balls further down the beach. Andy indicates that these photos, “show clumpy tar balls that are standing up, showing that they are solid and mixing with sand.” If you didn’t know better, you might think that the beach was littered with rocks.

These beach-goers came from New Iberia to rent a camp for the weekend. Bad timing. They didn’t seem to care that the beach was closed.

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Dean Wilson, with the non-profit Atchafalaya Basinkeeper, met us just before noon. We convened at what is typically the Tarpon Rodeo Pavilion. Now, the pavilion acts as headquarters for BP, Jefferson Parish Deputies, EPA, national guard, and other government entities.

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Earlier on the beach, we were given a hard time by Jefferson Parish deputies and Grand Isle police. We came to the conclusion that gaining access to sensitive areas of the island might come easier with credentials. Attempting to become bona fide on Grand Isle might be the most fascinating aspect of our trip. First we spoke to national guardsmen. They denied us entry to the pavilion and suggested that we check in at the community center, with BP representatives. We rolled the dice with the BP reps but were denied again and directed to find “the major” at the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. We found no major, but two gentlemen there informed us that their hands were tied. BP was calling the shots on Grand Isle. The Wildlife and Fisheries workers urged us to return to the Tarpon Rodeo Pavilion and request to speak to a Jefferson Parish sheriff’s deputy. Two representatives from the Sheriff’s office came out to meet us. They seemed to sincerely want to help us, but in the end, “The system is not yet available for generating passes on site for scientific and media-related entities.” We were basically told, “Come back tomorrow”. Andy sums it up well, “Exploring the different agencies by trying to get permission to go on the beach was really the most interesting part of the whole day and the most illuminating part about what was really going on.”

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Returning to the pavilion for another go at attaining credentials. The Jefferson Parish Emergency Management mobile command center is visible on the right side.

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I was very surprised to find Grand Isle State Park open to the public. With that said, the beach was still off limits, leaving only the pier and observation tower fully accessible. On the steps to the observation tower we met AP photographer Patrick Semansky, out of New Orleans. Sadly, even this professional photographer was getting some of the same run-around that we were! On the pier we witnessed many pelicans and dolphins, both in great danger as the coastal waters turn red with crude.

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View of Grand Isle from the Grand Isle State Park pier, looking west

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AP photographer Patrick Semansky

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We noticed these men earlier, wearing hardhats and life jackets. Now, off of work for the day, they were kicking back and enjoying the beautiful weather. Andy worried about their well-being, “I hope the guys doing cleanup are keeping notes about what they encounter everyday as they may need it in future lawsuits. I’m glad people are getting work, but you know these guys are being exposed to poisonous toxins with really minimal protection.”

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After completely failing to obtain credentials we decide to hit the beach “guerilla style”. Upon returning to the same beach from the morning, Andy noted, “There was noticeably more oil in the afternoon. The oil at the wrack line was much more foamy and red”. The wrack line runs along the shore and is marked by debris that washes up from the gulf. In the afternoon, the beach was littered with even more tar balls, waves with a red hue crested and crashed ashore. Andy began taking samples of solid oil on the beach and floating red oil from the water.

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Christopher Esposito walks the beach at Grand Isle, looking for new forms of washed up oil.

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If you look at the waves on the left, below the rig, you can see red oil.

 

 

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Some of the oil is going to sink and some is neutrally buoyant. This is partly due to the dispersants, and partly due to emulsification.

 

After collecting samples from the beach, we started back for the car. When we crossed over the levee, a gentleman greeted us from his raised porch. Before long his wife appeared and they invited us up for a better view of the approaching red tide.

Marline and Tommy Chappell own and manage the Blue Dolphin Inn on Grand Isle. Like most residents and business owners on Grand Isle, their property was devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Just as they were completing repairs from that storm three years later, Hurricane Gustave came barreling through and erased most of their progress. Many people would call it quits right there, but the Chappell’s are tough as nails. Completing all the repairs themselves, they picked up the pieces one more time. The last rental unit was completed about a month ago, but the Chappells didn’t even have time to celebrate. Who wants to rent a room with a view of tar balls? In the last month, Marline says that she has cancelled at least one hundred reservations. At approximately $100 a night, that brings their losses to $10,000. Marlene said that this was supposed to be the season where everything would be fixed.

Before the Chappells called us up to their porch, they were using binoculars to view a very large patch of oil as it floated closer and closer to shore. They were wondering if this was the final blow to drive them and Grand Isle out of business, maybe even the whole coast. Somehow, they were still smiling.

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Blue Dolphin Inn

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Marline and Tommy Chappell

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Tommy Chappell shows Chris Esposito where to look to see the large sheen of oil in the Gulf.

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Tommy and Marline Chappell are in fact "salt of the earth", but as the good book says, "if the salt has lost its flavor, with what will it be salted? It is then good for nothing, but to be cast out and trodden under the feet of men."

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As we left the island, we crossed the bridge and observed oil floating in the pass. Notice the boat filled with absorption pads and the booms only cutting off part of the pass.

Word had gotten around that a tanker truck was sucking up oil on the other side of the bridge, and this marked our last stop for the day. We pulled off the highway to see what was going on. Indeed there was a large tanker truck, marked “Liquid Vac”, taking in oil from the pass. Also, this was the only place on the whole island where we witnessed cleanup in progress. After a few photos and an attempt to take samples we were ushered to the national guardsmen across the street by the foreman. Andy was able to acquire a few samples from the other side of Highway 1.

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Liquid Vac tanker sucking oil from the pass.

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The business end of the tanker's hose is a messy situation.

“This is the only cleanup we saw all day, near the bridge on the west side of the island. This cut is the tidal pass. I got shut down from actually sampling on the job site. I could see some red oil between the containment boom and the absorbent boom. You can see in the picture of the plastic bag that it just coats everything, so even the stuff you use to clean it up has to be cleaned up. The tanker was sucking up oil and probably processing it and possibly refining it back down. Some will be hazardous toxic waste and some is going to be processed and turned back into industrial material” – from Andy Baker’s notes.

Andy acquires and bags his last sample of the day. In my final conversation with Andy he sums up our final stop, “We did actually get the last sample legitimately. The tanker guys sent us over to the other side of the road to the national guard, and they allowed us to simply grab a sample. The samples went to Pace Analytical in St. Rose, LA.”

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This stop at the west end of the island was our last attempt at taking samples. We did try to reach Fourchon Beach, but we were turned around at the final bridge by a harbor policeman. In our last ditch effort to obtain credentials, we stopped in at the Port Commission office. A cop eating an early dinner with three inmates in orange jumpsuits pointed us up a flight of stairs. There, we got the same run-around as before.

On the drive back to New Orleans, Andy, Chris, and I talked about some of the options that officials were currently weighing, as the oil continues to spill into the gulf. The booms are not working, certainly not as a permanent solution. Every time I see a boom, it has oil on both sides. More drastic solutions to the problem are being looked at at right now such as: the creation of one solid barrier island wall and the stoppage of tidal inlets. Chris Esposito talks in depth about these methods in his notes:

First, some background. Offshore of the barrier islands, the sea floor takes on a characteristic steepness, or slope, which is mostly dictated by the prevailing wave climate and the type of available sediment. If the system undergoes some shock that changes the slope of the sea floor, but the wave climate and sediment remain constant, the sea floor will eventually return to its original slope.

One of the worst parts to the original plan was to dig a large trench offshore of the barrier islands and use the excavated material to build this berm. This trench would be the shock that I talked about above, and the result would be for the system to return to its equilibrium shape. Exactly how the island would return to its equilibrium shape is not something that I know how to predict accurately, but there’s a serious risk that the island would basically sink into the sea as the system borrowed sediments from uphill to fill in the trench. To the best of my knowledge, this trench is no longer a part of the plan.

Tidal Inlets. A second potentially risky plan would be to close large numbers of tidal inlets. The tide comes in because the water level in the gulf is higher than the water level behind the barrier islands. Closing the inlets doesn’t change that. It just maintains the difference in water level because the tide can’t come in. But the situation wouldn’t be stable any more, meaning that the high water would eventually, somehow, find a way to the low water. Would it break through the new barriers? Would it break through an existing island? Would it scour existing tidal channels deeper to accommodate the extra flow?? Nobody knows! But it’s a guarantee that the tide would come in somehow.

I should point out here that the reason that so many scientists are not behind this plan is at least in part because we have no idea what’s in it. There are some inlets that it would probably be completely harmless to fill in, such as cuts caused by recent hurricanes. But nobody seems to know whether the plan is to just fill in those cuts, or to fill cuts in on a wider scale.

My biggest worry about this plan is not that it will directly harm the barrier island system. I think that there are people out there in the various agencies (DWF, USGS, USACOE, etc.) making sure that “do no harm” is priority number one. I’ve heard that the trench idea, for example, was nixed by USGS pretty quickly. My biggest worry is that a poorly thought out plan like this will set back any real progress towards developing a barrier island management strategy by years. If we spend $250 million building some goofy pile of mud now, and it washes into the sea without offering a single bit of hurricane protection, and without helping the oil situation very much either, how are we supposed to convince anybody at any level of government that we can do this properly next time? I would think that this plan effectively kills a properly thought out barrier island management plan for at least a decade.

This oil spill could actually provide a great opportunity to develop a well thought out, properly funded plan for managing the barrier island system. Right now BP owes a great deal to coastal Louisiana. In addition to paying out fishermen for lost catch and compensating oystermen for spoiled beds, BP is going to be responsible for an enormous cleanup. It’s not that big of a stretch for Louisiana to decide that the money that BP would spend on a cleanup might be better-spent jump-starting a coastal management plan. If BP had already shelled out $250 million for a plan that didn’t work, it would be an awful lot harder to squeeze more money out of them for a workable plan.

After a day at Grand Isle, I am left with more questions than answers. Who is in charge of Grand Isle? Why hasn’t BP descended on the disaster with a blitzkrieg of environmental clean-up crews? What is the future of Grand Isle, Louisiana, and the Gulf Coast? How do you measure a disaster of this proportion? How do you explain to your children and grandchildren why people don’t fish anymore? Can you replace a lost heritage? Hopefully, we’re on the cusp of a solution, yet I can’t help but feel that irrevocable damage has already been done.

Check out BP/Deepwater Horizon Disaster – Report From Plaquemines by Woodlief Thomas for an account of events in Plaquemines Parish just a day after our Grand Isle trip.