"Summit" selfie!

Couturie Forest | 52 Hike Challenge 2017 | Hike 5

Elevation

New Orleans is known for its below sea level status, so naturally we had to go find the highest point in the city. This point happens to be in City Park, a can’t miss sight in the Crescent City. NOLA’s highest elevation (43′) is the summit of Laborde Mountain on the Couturie Forest Trail.

The Hike – Couturie Forest

We prepared for our arduous journey by having a lovely Sunday brunch and casually deciding to go for a walk. The weather was perfect for a stroll along the well-kept mile-long path. Right off the bat we see a turtle train, sunning on a log. I love seeing wildlife while hiking so this was a great start. The rest of the trail to the summit wasn’t very crowded and it looked like there was some trail maintenance going on. The trail mostly follows the bank of some marshy water, surrounding hikers with green. We stopped at one point to check out a huge pile of snail shells on the bank. Not sure what, but some critter had a feast here!

We headed to the high point and hung out to chat with a friend for a bit, then headed back to the car through the forest and some impressive and beautiful palms. While this was a super quick hike, it was a nice way to get outside and move while staying conveniently in the city.

Have you hiked in the New Orleans area? Tell me about it in the comments!

 

Relaxing in the warm midday sun

Barataria Preserve | 52 Hike Challenge | Hike 4

When you think about wild animals and Louisiana, what comes to mind? Gators, of course. So for Hike 4 of my 52 Hike Challenge I headed to Barataria Preserve, part of the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve, to look for some of these local reptiles.

 

The Barataria Preserve

The Barataria Preserve is a large area of protected wetlands just south of New Orleans. The area is rich with plants and wildlife, especially birds and alligators. The preserve is part of the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve, a group of six sites that highlight ecological, historical and cultural treasures of southern Louisiana.

 

The Ranger Walk

The Barataria Preserve offers free ranger-led walks five days a week, so I started my visit with one of these short hikes. Our ranger was extremely knowledgeable about the history, plants and animals of the area. He was also great at spotting tiny, camouflaged snakes along the boardwalk path. We walked the short Visitors Center Trail and learned about native plants, invasive animals and wetlands creation. Most interesting to me was the effect of Mississippi River flood control on these wetlands.

Guiding and controlling the river helps avoid the flooding of populated areas. When the river and its streams flow naturally, the waters deposit silts that build up wetlands areas. By redirecting water, sediments are not deposited and wetlands sink. As wetlands sink, the vegetation changes dramatically, which also effects animal life. The short Visitors Center Trail displays this change in a short and dramatic way. The beginning of the trail is lush and green, full of cypress trees and palmetto palm. By the end of the quarter mile boardwalk trail, you are standing in what looks like open grassland. Seeing this shift over such a brief distance had a big impact on me. It also highlighted the complexity of human impact on our environment. How can we protect people and property while maintaining these important wetlands?

Along this eye-opening trail we spotted several snakes. We heard there was an alligator further up the path it was gone by the time we reached the reported spot. Major bummer, although we did see a trail where an alligator had pulled itself through the grass, leaving a narrow, flat path. After this walk I decided I wanted to see a little more of this park and try to catch a glimpse of a gator, so I headed to the Bayou Coquille Trail.

 

The Bayou Coquille Trail & Marsh Overlook Trail

Bayou Coquille Trail and Marsh Overlook Trail combine to form a 1.8 mile out and back hike. The Bayou Coquille Trail has several markers along the path pointing out important historical and natural occurrences along the path. Beautiful old oaks and giant palm fronds line the wide, clear rock path.  This path seems to be popular with birders. While this trail was beautiful and interesting, the real action started once I reached the March Overlook Trail.

I had heard at the Visitor’s Center that a lot of gator sightings had occurred recently along this trail. I had read that you typically only see an alligator’s eyes peeping over the surface of water, so I was scoping things out, hoping to just get a glance of one. Turns out it’s not that hard.

About halfway down this path I had my first gator encounter. A sunbathing gator just off the boardwalk path, maybe about four feet long, kinda skinny. I also saw one swimming/crawling through the aquatic plants.

 

 

About 3/4 of the way down this path was a much larger alligator, maybe 6-7 feet in length and much broader. This guy/gal was sunbathing directly next to and parallel to the boardwalk. This one made me a little more nervous as I cautiously walked by. I would have loved a photo more at ground level of one of these prehistoric beasts, but gators judge others by height so it’s dangerous to make yourself look any smaller than necessary.

I completed this path, ending at an overlook point over a grassy marsh where I saw a feral pig running through the very tall grasses. These animals are a real problem for parks and hikers. They are destructive, eat just about anything and can be aggressive to humans who get too close.

 

The Return Hike

When retracing my steps to return to the beginning of this trail I heard a low growling sound. I stopped on a bridge with many fellow hikers to watch a pair of alligators growl a bit before settling back down in the marsh. It seems like this growling is part of a mating/territory ritual, but if you know any more about it, please leave me a comment below!

 

 

A bit further down the path I got a good look at an alligator climbing out of the water to sun itself. I could really see how it used its stubby little arms to crawl, and watching it swish its long tail was like being in a prehistoric time machine. They really are like living dinosaurs. Getting an up close look at the sunning gators was cool, but watching some in action was even more interesting.

 

 

The last creature I noticed was a turtle, hanging out in the water. Nature’s camouflage is really incredible and I’ve found that the only way I really notice these critters is to slow waaaay down. I was stopped along the trail, chatting with some fellow hikers about the growling gators when I noticed the turtle. It’s almost like when I slow down or stop my eyes can “adjust” and I’m able to see all kinds of new things.

 

The remainder of the hike on this gorgeous day was uneventful. Have you explored wetlands in the southeast US or Louisiana? Ever had a gator encounter? Scared of wild pigs like me? Tell me about it in the comments!

It is Louisiana after all...

Lake Pontchartrain | 52 Hike Challenge | Hike 3

Ah, New Orleans. Great place to eat. Great place to drink. Not the best place to hike. For Hike 3 of my 52 Hike Challenge I had to get creative. Luckily I’m staying close to a wonderful pedestrian path along Lake Pontchartrain which became the site of this week’s hike! It may not be your typical hike through forests, mountains and waterfalls, but urban hiking can be just as fun!

 

 

Lake Pontchartrain

This “lake” is really an estuary in the Mississippi River delta. It features very large wetlands, swamps and marshes. The lake measures about 40 miles east/west and 24 miles north/south. Unfortunately the lake area has been affected by logging and pollution. Nevertheless, it’s a great place to view pelicans and bald eagles and is home to many types of fish.

The Path/Hike

Lake Pontchartrain is a popular place for outdoor recreation and features a great pedestrian/bike path along its south shore. I’ve become spoiled after spending so much time in the west and in Atlanta. In these places, hiking trails are easily accessible, even in urban areas. New Orleans doesn’t have as many super accessible hiking trails. I needed to get in a quick hike and realized I could walk to this path from my Airbnb, so I was off!

The path is nicely maintained and clearly gets a lot of use. There is a lot of green space surrounding the path for running, playing and picnicking. I didn’t see much wildlife while walking, but you can’t always get lucky! There were lots of families enjoying the warm Sunday evening weather, and the area felt quite safe. While I won’t be able to count future visits to this path towards my 2017 Explorer Series, I think I’ll probably be spending quite a bit more time on this great trail!

How do you get your hikes in when you’re in an urban environment? Tell me in the comments!