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.
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.
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.
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 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. ]