Thursday, November 8, 2012

A Visit to the Atchafalaya River Basin!

Adventures can come at any moment. A few weeks ago on a Friday evening I was about to cook myself some dinner when the phone rang. It was Donna's brother-in-law Jonathan, inviting me to spend the weekend at his hunting camp in South Louisiana. I jumped at the chance, and within an hour Hart and I were ready to roll. I keep a lot of camping supplies permanently stored in my car for situations just like this!

The destination for my adventure was an off-the-grid (to remain unnamed) hunting camp deep in the Atchafalaya River Basin. (When I first showed up in these parts I mistakenly thought it was pronounced ATCH-afalaya. I was quickly corrected that the pronunciation is At-CHAF-alaya. My confusion I guess is because we pronounce the Mississippi River MISS-issippi and not MissISSippi.) The funny name "Atchafalaya" comes from two Choctaw Indian words: "hatcha" meaning "river" and "falaya" meaning "long." I like to joke that "Atchafalaya catfish" sounds a lot like "watch you filet a catfish!"

The Atchafalya River is a unique river for several reasons. First of all, it is what's called a "distributary" river, in that instead of originating from a source and then joining a major river, it actually peels off of the Mississippi River and flows toward the ocean. (It also receives the waters from the Red River near the Old River Control Structure.) The Atchafalya River is one of only a handful of distributaries in all of North America. Another unique characteristic is that because of it's distributary nature, the Atchafalaya River is controlled by a dam at the point where it separates from the Mississippi, at a place called The Old River Control Structure. The reason for this dam absolutely fascinates me. Over the decades and centuries, more water had started to flow through the Atchafalaya River than through the Mississippi River, threatening to turn the Atchafalaya into the actual course of the Mississippi River. Why is this a problem? If this happened, it would strand both the ports of Baton Rouge and New Orleans and in the process decimate the Louisiana economy. By the 1960's, everyone realized something had to be done and the result was the The Old River Control Structure, which regulates the flow of both rivers by diverting 30% of the Mississippi River water flow into the Atchafalaya River.  Here is a pic of the control structure.

What does this have to do with the hunting camp trip? The entire Atchafalaya River basin is basically a spillway because in the circumstance of major flooding on the Mississippi River, the Old River Control Structure can be opened entirely, flooding the valley to the south and alleviating the water levels in the Mississippi. Jonathan's camp lies right smack dab in the middle of that flood zone. The result is that per the US Army Corps of Engineers, no permanent structures can be built in that area (except for grandfathered structures). The result is PRIME hunting country.

I arrived late Friday night and spent two nights. I enjoyed getting to know all the guys who hunt there and hearing their stories. I think its always important to remember -as a person who loves nature - that the people are a result of the land - and all customs and culture inherent to a group of people are born from a way of life which came from - you guessed it - the land. South Louisiana, if you have never been, is colorful. The way people talk is inherently entertaining. Combine that with fishing, hunting, and all the various traditions and you get a wildly fascinating culture. This was highlighted the second night I was there when a cajun named Kearney LeFleur cooked up a pot of something called "Catfish Coubion" (pronounced "koo-bee-AH") in a pot that he made with is own two hands. Coubion is basically stew and simmers and warms until it's ready. The best part was the catfish in the catfish coubion came from the Kearney's other camp - a fishing camp. It is a sight to behold, if you ever get the chance: A group of cajun's sitting under the stars deep in the Atchafalaya Basin gathered around a fire, swapping stories, swatting mosquitoes, and chowing down on a pot of catfish coubion.

My stay at the camp was short - too short - but I did get a chance to explore a little bit. I took Hart and we meandered through the woods and explored Bayou Cortableau which bisects the camp. Sadly, I still have yet to see an alligator in the wild in Lousiana, which frustrates me immensely. Although, Jonathan assured me there were some in Bayou Cortableau. The temperatures were warm during the day and the mosquitoes were vicious. But it's Louisiana. And in Louisiana, mosquitoes are part of the deal.

Sunday morning, I rolled back to Shreveport. I fully intend to return to the camp as I have already been invited back by Jonathan. As a momento of my visit, Kearney gave me some red squirrel tails. I have one on my hat (which you can see on the title page of my blog) and one hanging from my rearview mirror in my car. The tails are a fun reminder of my Atchafalaya adventure!

Hart guarding the camp

This cabin is called The "Hilton"

Hart still guarding the camp

He finally gave up on guarding the camp

An unnamed native, who informed me that he couldn't
face the camera because it would steal his soul

Until the next adventure...

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