Without a doubt, February 20th was the best travel day of 2018…so far. On that day Ruth & I traveled from New Orleans west to Raceland/Mathews and followed Highway 1 south. For a long time the road paralleled Bayou Lafourche, but then at Leevillle it rose and we crossed miles of wetlands on a thrilling tollway/bridge called the Gateway to the Gulf Expressway that took us almost all the way to Fourchon. Highway 1 ended near Grand Isle State Park. The only way back to I-90 was to repeat this road…not a problem.
Luckily for us, we stopped at the Visitor Welcome Center at Exit 15 and met Melissa Chiasson Durocher. In 15 minutes Melissa, born in Larose, taught us more about the area than we would learn for the rest of the day. For one thing, she told us that Bayou Lafourche, also called the Cajun Bayou, is 105 miles long.
We saw hundreds of boats as we traveled south to the Gulf of Mexico. Many of them harvest shrimp, and I defy anyone who has seen Forrest Gump not to think of this movie as they travel down Highway 1. However, the water shots in Forrest Gump were filmed near very scenic Beaufort, South Carolina. Bayou Lafourche has seen its share of cinema activity. As we traveled south, The Highwaymen starring Kevin Costner & Woody Harrelson was shooting near Thibodaux. We also saw lift bridges and live oaks is almost every town. Many of these spreading trees are more than 300 years old.
The toll on Gateway was $3.75 but the experience of crossing to Fourchon on it made it worth much more than that and there was no toll going north. If you want an excellent meal while in the area, stop at the Leeville Seafood Restaurant. It’s opened all day. Say “Hi” to Michelle for us. Another noteworthy stop was the Center for Traditional Louisiana Boat Building in Lockport, our chance to see some authentic Cajun pirogues. Also worth doing in Grand Isle State Park is climbing the spectators’ tower for fine views of the Gulf of Mexico.
Surprisingly, there was almost no evidence of the Deepwater Horizon disaster along this coastline. The Mark Wahlberg movie, Deepwater Horizon, is factual and fine; but it doesn’t deal with the aftermath of that oil rig explosion in 2010. Some of the early scenes in the movie were shot in the port of Fourchon. After the oil rig collapsed into The Gulf, it took 3 months to cap the leak. In the meantime an estimated 134 million gallons of oil leaked into this body of water, becoming the largest oil spill in United States history. In 2016 British Petroleum agreed to a settlement, the largest civil one ever awarded at $8.8 billion, to pay for the restoration. This is according to the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, a federal agency in the Department of Commerce.
Today Fourchon bustles, not with oil removal personnel but with economic activity, and the year-round community on Grand Isle has returned to a quiet town on stilts. Gary Chouest is a name heard in many conversations in this part of Louisiana. He’s the billionaire shipbuilder who runs Edison Chouest Offshore. Four years after Deepwater Horizon sank, he had 250 ships in oilfields all over the world.