January 21, 2015 – We’d never been to Louisiana, and today was our day to go explore the western edge of the state. Wednesday morning we got on the road around rush hour, but fortunately we were heading way from Houston. The drive quickly got us outside of the Houston outskirts and into long flat stretches of marsh grass, oil refineries, and lots of water. There are bogs, swamps, and rivers seemingly everywhere in this part of the country. By the time we crossed a large bridge into Louisiana we were admiring large flat plains, tall prairie grass, and the little rivers and ponds. Our plan was to head to the Sabine National Wildlife Refuge, just south of Lake Charles, LA. But first Louisa made a u-turn in town to go check out some cool geese who were in a tiny puddle pond by the post office.
Then we were off into the wildlife refuge. There’s a single road going through the refuge, with pulloffs for walking, wildlife viewing, fishing (where permitted), and boat-launching. As a side note, there’s decent cell phone reception inside the refuge, just in case you need it for navigation (for instance, where should you eat lunch in Lake Charles, or what time does the restaurant open). The highlight of the morning was spotting a spoonbill wading through the water. We also enjoyed a brief (and very mosquito-filled) stroll down a nicely paved path.
For lunch we headed back to Lake Charles and Steamboat Bill’s on the Lake. Yes, it might look a bit like a tourist trap, but the food is fantastic. When you go inside you grab a menu and order at the window, are given an order number and then seated. We decided to order the shrimp gumbo and the fried shrimp with fries. The meals also came with a lightly fried roll that was more like an unsweetened doughnut. We probably could have made a meal out of the rolls and the fried shrimp. The shrimp gumbo was good, but not exactly my favorite thing (but Tony enjoyed it!). The fried shrimp and fries, though, were fantastic. The shrimp was very, very fresh, and fried perfectly.
After lunch we drove back into the wildlife refuge and stopped at a little hiking loop. There were some mosquitoes at the beginning and end of the loop, but otherwise we weren’t bothered by the insects. Instead, we were the ones bothering a great egret who was trying to hunt along the path. We’d walk within 15 feet of it, then it would fly another 15-30 feet up the path. Eventually we gave up trying to sneak past it without disturbing it since it didn’t seem to want to deviate from the paved trail and fly into or over the 8-10 feet tall grass that was growing in the rest of the refuge.
We continued driving through the refuge, and then into rural south-west Louisiana. We saw houses and schools built on story-high cinder block risers (in case of hurricane-induced flooding), and stopped at a little town where most of the residents came in for the weekend, living in campers on cement slabs. The town did have nice Gulf access, and Louisa couldn’t resist sticking a foot into the cold water.
The way back to Houston involved driving past massive oil refineries, and ended with a great dinner at Rudy’s Country Store. Green chile (with chopped brisket), moist brisket and airy white bread, and creamed corn were on the menu. As were two local bottled beers. Rudy’s may be our favorite BBQ chain, the food is consistently very good. Tonight the brisket was perfectly caramelized on the ends, and melt-in-your-mouth perfect.