We left Homochitto National Forest because we did not like the atmosphere, but we were not quite ready for New Orleans. We stopped at another Louisiana State Park a bit north of the city, Tickfaw State Park.

At every park we visit, I read the interpretive signs to learn about the local flora and fauna, and this park has some of the best signs that I’ve seen. The writing is entertaining while being educational and informative. In addition to three interpretive trails, they offer an extensive nature center with many animals on display – living ones in aquariums and taxidermy ones comprising a forest scene.

We spent a lot of time looking at the fish in the largest aquarium – whiskery catfish and grumpy looking fish trying to bite us through the glass. I am sure glad there was glass separating us – those things had teeth! We also watched two turtles trapped alone together in another aquarium; one appeared to be attacking the other, scratching the other’s throat with long claws and biting the other’s foot when it folded into its shell. John asked about the behavior and learned that this is the way turtles flirt, but being both male and of different species, the flirting only leads to frustration.

Beaver! Unfortunately, we cannot get this close to a living beaver, this one is a taxidermy beaver. My favorite sentence from an interpretive sign is about beaver dams: "The dam makes a pond which is really a big beaver restaurant stocked with tasty branches."

Beaver! Unfortunately, we cannot get this close to a living beaver, this is a taxidermy beaver. My favorite sentence from an interpretive sign is about beaver dams: “The dam makes a pond which is really a big beaver restaurant stocked with tasty branches.”

Fun fact: An ostrich eyeball weighs more than its brain!

Fun fact: An ostrich eyeball weighs more than its brain!

The trails are teeming with squirrels and birds, but they do not cooperate for pictures. This is the best I could do to shoot a cardinal; there were many eating this evening.

The trails are teeming with squirrels and birds, but they do not cooperate for pictures. This is the best I could do to shoot a cardinal; there were many eating next to the trail this evening.

Fun trumpet-shaped lichen.

Fun trumpet-shaped lichen.

Heidi <3's berries.

Heidi <3’s berries.

And more berries.

And more berries.

Do not feed the alligator. Why is this sign necessary?

Do not feed the alligator. Who feeds alligators to necessitate this sign?

Somebody got fed, and left  a mess of feathers behind.

Some creature fed itself and left a mess of feathers behind.

One of our days at Tickfaw State Park we spent paddling a rented canoe on the namesake river. We had a great time and saw many animals. We are pretty sure we saw a river otter – we know the area has them and we spotted a mammal on the shore next to the river that we think is a river otter. The animal was dry so it is hard to recognize compared to pictures, which are all of wet otters, but I don’t know what else it could have been. We also spotted many, many birds, including a flock of hawkish birds too high up in the trees to see more than the silhouettes. The bird we came closest to was perched on a log across the river; we didn’t notice it was there until we floated within a few feet so it squawked at us, commanding our attention. It then stretched out its wings, pooped into the water, and finally flew away just as John got the camera into position; so unfortunately missed the photo opportunity. Searching online later, the only bird I could find that looks like it is a reddish egret, an uncommon species. We also saw a smallish opossum, the second we spotted in the area; both opossums were oddly out and about before sunset.

Paddling John.

John taking a break in the canoe.

How will we navigate through all this vegetation?

How will we navigate through all this vegetation?

We had to duck under a few logs, skirt around many others, and finally one completely blocked our way and forced us to turn around and head back.

We had to duck under a few logs, skirt around many others, and finally one completely blocked our way, forcing us to turn around and head back.

One tree species has confused me since John first told me that the lumps of wood sticking out of swamps in Florida are “cypress knees”. The leaves on the swamp trees did not look like cypress to me. I finally read about the cypress trees that live in the swamps, called baldcypress because they are deciduous and hence “bald” in the winter. It turns out that baldcypress is an ancient species more closely related to sequoias than to common forest cypress, cedar or juniper trees. The ancient baldcypress forests were heavily logged in the 1800’s, leaving few old-growth specimens. Tickfaw State Park is home to one long-lived tree, named the “Grandma Tree” and recognized as part of a Cypress Legacy Project that aims to identify trees alive since at least 1812, the year Louisiana became a state.

Sign marking the trail to the Grandma Tree.

Sign marking the trail to the Grandma Tree.

Grandma tree across the water.

Grandma tree across the water.

John tickling a cypress knee.

John tickling a cypress knee.

Looks like a beaver enjoyed a cypress knee meal.

Looks like a beaver enjoyed a cypress knee meal.

Cypress Knee Portrait.

Portrait of a cypress knee

In addition to the wild creatures, we were visited by a few cats and one dog at our campsite. They were very friendly, probably hoping we would feed them. We expect they are abandoned pets and were sad to see them in the campground.

Another fact of life of van/campground living is that we are excited to shower in campground showers, because it is much better than showering in the van! We each have a shower-kit bag. Mine is very small with only the bare essentials; John’s is a little more extensive.

John's shower kit. Normal people do not bring their own shower head around with them.

John’s shower kit. Note the shower head.

[ John here: Why are we excited about the campground showers rather than our own? Well there are many many reasons, and I’ll go over just a few. First, the campground showers have ‘unlimited’ water. That’s not to say that it’s unlimited *hot* water, but at least it flows for quite a while and *most* of the time it’s at least warm. Our van hot water heater is five gallons. You do the math, it doesn’t take long to run out.

Secondly, I can stand up! Most of our readers are probably used to this whole standing up in the shower thing, and understand why, given the choice, you’d rather stand than sit so I won’t go over this in detail.

Thirdly, I don’t have to worry about my limbs hitting the sides of the shower when washing. No bumping the side of the fiberglass enclosure in the van with my elbow when I try to wash my hair, no hitting my funny bone when I try to wash my feet, and no smashing my knees. You get the picture.

And lastly, we don’t have to “carry” the grey water with us if we use the campground showers. When we use any water in the van it is stored in a holding tank and this quickly fill up. Once it’s full we must empty it. This involves driving to the dump station, hooking up a hose that goes between our van and septic tank and draining our tank. It’s not a huge deal, but it’s a big enough pain not to want to do it all the time. Especially if this means packing up everything in the van and putting away our awning, just to drive a few hundred yards to the dump station. ]

Leaving Tickfaw State Park, they want you to know how far your destination is, for all destinations.

Leaving Tickfaw State Park, they want you to know how far your destination is, for all destinations.

13 Thoughts on “Nature Education at Tickfaw State Park

  1. Having a shower at a campsite would be tops on my list for all the reasons John mentioned! That multi-informational sign is the first one I have seen of its kind. I finally read this on my big computer screen and clicked on the map to make it bigger. I was pleased to find info that tells me where you are now because I am an avid weather watcher. Every time I hear about weird weather patterns I stop and wonder where you are. What a pair of hardy souls you are! Ramon is with Ketan, Jeremy and assorted partners and friends down in a Hilton Head mansion for New Years. Ramon texted last night that he had a king size bed, a jacuzzi and a fireplace in his room (Kris is there too). So you can see we are not the tough people you are. Just amazing. I hope that you have a terrific New Years Eve. Are you planning anything special? I’m picturing a nice fire with roasted fruit and mulled wine. Love you both.

    • Hi Rita!

      I update that map about once a week, so it’s not exactly real-time, but it is faster to update so it is more up-to-date than the blog. We are currently headed into Big Bend National Park to ring in the New Year in a desert wilderness. As for being hardy souls…it’s just a difference of what we enjoy. A fancy hotel room is a comfortable place to sleep, but being in the wilderness for me makes me feel connected to and at peace with the world.

      Have a happy New Year!
      Heidi

  2. in reply to Heidi: Ramon gets the fancy accommodations; on the road I stay in fleabags because I am out taking in the sights and museums. By time I get back I usually have a buzz-on and my head hits the pillow. Room service is the food I brought back in a plastic box from wherever I ate the night before. I am going now to check out Big Bend National Park. I think I told you that I always wanted to sit in the desert around a fire like one sees cowboys in the old movies. If you get to do that take a pic for me!!!

  3. I just checked Google images for Big Bend National Park. YOU LUCKY DOGS!!!!
    I just know that this will be the best New Years ever for you.

    • It absolutely was the best New Year’s ever! We don’t have internet access here, except right now where we are filling up on propane. I am taking the opportunity to load up posts from the past several stops, which will be published over the rest of our stay at Big Bend. We are leaving on the 10th, and then I will share the details of our New Year’s here! 🙂

  4. Rich Lehne on December 31, 2013 at 3:52 pm said:

    Tickling tree knees indeed. Sounds naughty, John. Or, maybe nice. We’ll see which when Santa visits.
    I hadn’t thought much about your shower situation (deprivation). But I will from now on. In fact whenever I laze in my hot tub (a few times a week), I’ll be sure to think of you and be grateful for one of the small joys of life without wheels.

  5. Faedra on January 9, 2014 at 9:29 am said:

    Was the Grandma Tree larger than the pine tree that you hugged in the Homochitto National Forest? It doesn’t look bigger, but sometimes hard to tell in pictures. Glad you both are having a great time still and I still enjoy reading the blog – good stuff! 🙂

  6. Aw, poor abandoned pets at the campsite. But I bet a lot of people feed them, and I know I’d be happy to run into a cat if I were traveling for a long time. Wuzzle would be the hardest part of my current life to give up if I ever was going to do what you guys are!

    • It was nice to pet a cat, but also very sad. The kitties looked like they were doing well, but the dog had not adapted as well. Depending on Wuzzle’s temperament, (s)he may be adaptable to van life. John’s favorite van-dweller (see To Simplify blog in our side bar) had a cat when he first moved into a van.

  7. Pat Jones on January 31, 2014 at 8:00 pm said:

    I’m glad I finally zoomed in on your map because I was beginning to wonder how you covered EVERY SQUARE INCH of the eastern half of the country! 😉

    I find the facts about Lake Michigan sign when leaving Tickfaw pretty funny.

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