Canoeing the Man-Eating Swamp: Atchafalaya Basin, Louisiana

(State #4/50) “You know what Attakapas means right?” a man asked over the phone. “No, what?” I answer. “It means Man-eater in Indian,” the man said. “Cool!” I said because, well, I say whatever dumb thing comes to mind in lieu of nothing. “Just stay away from the trees.” he added. Okay, I thought, just stay away from the trees, out of the water and avoid anything that might eat man. I was ready to canoe South Louisiana. DSC_0250

I arrived at the Myette Point boat launch at the Attakapas WMA in late afternoon. In the parking lot, I spoke to two older, but energetic Cajun brothers. Without prompting, the eldest brother began telling me about the ruined ecosystem. “Where are all the birds? Where are all the snakes? This echo-system is ruined. Tell you what, I’m 72, I’m glad I’m that old because I don’t want to see what happens next.” Intrigued, I listened closely. “It’s the pollution!” the Cajun exclaimed. “Pollution? From what?” I asked. “Well… from up north!” he answered. “Iowa!” his brother chimed in. Iowa? I thought.

DSC_0221From there, the conversation spiraled into a diatribe about government conspiracies, the evil EPA and, finally, chemtrails (the theory being, roughly, that condensation trails left by planes are actually chemical agents released by the government to control weather, minds, human populations, etc.). “It’s true! It’s all over the internet!” the man insisted. Well, if it’s all over the internet… I thought, planning my escape from his rant. The younger brother, feeling left out, cracked a beer and brought up the black bears. Somehow, call it a keen intuition on impending bigotry, I knew a racist joke was coming. Insert racist joke here. I took my leave and walked back to my canoe — the man-eating bayou now seemed more appealing than talking to those two jackasses.

DSC_0359I put Rider in the water and canoed past a series of small, one room house boats. With chipped white paint, little porches and grills, they floated only inches above the water. I stayed on the left side of the main channel, passing cypress trees draped in long wisps of gray Spanish Moss. I thought of a picture from my childhood Rand McNally State atlas. The Louisiana page featured a U-hual-esque watercolor of a man and a woman in old-timey clothing, poling a wooden canoe through a dark cypress swamp. That painting represented quintessential Louisiana and now, I was there.

DSC_0230An errant rain cloud spit tiny flecks onto the water. Beside the sprinkles, the bayou surface teemed with the ripples and splashes from all manner of insects, fish, turtles and monsters, I presumed. I didn’t see many gators due to the cloud cover. But, I caught a glimpse of a single alligator head. As I neared, it sank, slower than the downing sun, back from whence it came. It’s always unsettling to watch an alligator disappear below the surface. Why, it could be racing this way right now to flip the boat and eat me! How would I know? I canoed on, wondering, in earnest, whether I could out paddle a large swimming alligator. My gut told me no and my mind hoped I’d never have to find out.

As twilight approached, I turned around knowing I’d have more time to explore in the morning. I opened a beer and watched the sky turn as the sun closed in on the bayou. The surface calmed and reflected the sky show with clarity. I took some great pictures that evening, if I may say so. I mean, I didn’t do anything but point and press a button, but I’ll take the credit. A sunset over still water never gets old.

DSC_0353I camped near the boat ramp. The first boat-hauling truck rumbled by my tent at 3:37 a.m. By first light the launch was crawling with Cajuns. “Where you going Cher?” I heard one call around 7 a.m. I shouldn’t have been surprised. I have never come across people more serious about their fishing than the folks of South Louisiana. Every crawfisherman from New Iberia to Morgan City seemed to be at that launch that morning. I crawled from the tent into the dewy cool morning. “Sleep good?” A man called from his passing truck. I made breakfast and spoke to several more people. Thankfully, all conversations were pleasant, friendly and void of governmental conspiracies and racism. These were the Cajuns I knew.

Feeling good, I loaded the boat for another swamp canoe trip. “Braver than me!” a man with long hair, shades and wide brimmed hat called out with a smile as he guided his fishing boat past my canoe. I laughed and as I watched him disappear around the cypress laden bend, I wondered if the rest of Lynyrd Skynyrd knew their lead guitarist was crawfishing in Louisiana?

DSC_0440Canoeing out to the main channel of the Atchafalaya I found a muddy swollen river carrying debris and massive logs. A hundred swallows zoomed over the churning surface. Spooked by the intensity, I returned to the calmer bayou and saw a dozen alligators, a little blue heron and swamp lilies. For all the inherent creepiness of a murky man-eating bayou, the Attakapas was a gorgeous place to float. Though, I didn’t see many other birds, turtles or any snakes. I wonder if it was because of years of poaching and over-exploitation. A voice in my head, however, told me that Iowa was behind it.

River Stats and Fun Facts:

  • Atchafalaya River Basin (Attakapas Wildlife Management Area), Louisiana, 4/13-4/14/17
  • Weather: Warm, humid, mostly cloudy. 60% mosquitoes at dusky
  • Miles canoed: 6 at least, tough to tell
  • Songs Sung on Water: Born on a Bayou by CCR, Swamp Music by Lynyrd Skynyrd and most of the Princess and the Frog Soundtrack.
  • Launch/Pullout Point and Camp: 29.879913, -091.45232 Myette Point (actual campground on other side of the levy)
  • Thanks to Bayou Teche Experience for advice (337-366-0337 ). Thanks to Iberia Travel (New Iberia tourism board) for all their help (337-365-1540). Also, thanks to Guy with the Louisiana WMA (Attakapas) for all his guidance for the trip.
  • Wildlife Spotted:

    DSC_0402

    Little Blue Heron

  • Birds: Little Blue Heron, White Ibis, red-winged blackbirds, Belted Kingfisher, Blue Heron and a few duck species.
  • Reptile/Amphibians: A few turtles, a dozen American Alligators
  • Noted Species: American Woodcocks, many Neo-tropical Migratory birds, Roseate Spoonbill, Black Bears (swamp bear) in the area.
  • Ecoregion: Mississippi Alluvial Plain, (73n) Inland Swamps
  • Dominant trees: Bald Crypress, Tupelo, Black Willow
  • Current Threats: Habitat fragmentation, saltwater intrusion, invasive species (Chinese Tallow Trees, Giant Salvinia, Water Hyacinth, Hydrilla, Silver Carp and Nutria, which kill Cypress saplings), altered hydrology and sediment delivery and Iowa.
  • Trash collected: a few cans, plastic bottles, oil can single glove and styrofoam cup. Found most by the landing, didn’t want to stick my hand in bayou.
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4 Responses to Canoeing the Man-Eating Swamp: Atchafalaya Basin, Louisiana

  1. Anonymous says:

    Beautiful pictures Eric!

  2. Shannon Carr says:

    I can’t help it but I had to say how thrilled I was to see you were singing to the Princess and the Frog soundtrack!

  3. Celine Alis says:

    You’re welcome, beautiful pics!

  4. Pingback: Corn Diplomacy & Russian Ties: Canoeing the Middle Raccoon River, Iowa | Shameless Travels: Canoe 50

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