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Cajun, Creole and Zydeco

Traveling on Interstate 10 we experience the natural beauty and wonder of Southwest Louisiana. We crossed the "Ole Muddy", the Mississippi River. through Baton Rouge continuing west. A good part of the highway takes you across extensive expanses of swamp, bayou and meandering rivers. One such area is the Atchafalaya Basin, or Atchafalaya Swamp. It is the largest wetland and swamp in the United States. Located in south central Louisiana, it is a combination of wetlands and river delta area where the Atchafalaya River and the Gulf of Mexico converge. The river stretches from near Simmesport in the north through parts of eight parishes to the Morgan City southern area.

Between Baton Rouge and Lafayette, Louisiana we decided to take a break and stop in the heart of the Atchafalaya Basin, the nation’s largest river swamp. The Atchafalaya Welcome Center contains a variety of exhibits showcasing the unique flora, fauna, and cultures found throughout the Atchafalaya National Heritage Area. Amenities at this Welcome Center include complementary coffee, restrooms, a short film about the area, walking trails, and picnic areas.

The Atchafalaya is different than other Louisiana basins because it has a growing delta system with wetlands that are almost stable. The basin contains about 70% forest habitat and about 30% marsh and open water. It contains the largest contiguous block of forested wetlands remaining (about 35%) in the lower Mississippi River valley and the largest block of floodplain forest in the United States. Best known for its iconic Cypress–Tupelo swamps at 260,000 acres, this block of forest represents the largest remaining contiguous tract of coastal Cypress in the United States.

We eventually arrived at Sam Houston Jones State Park in Lake Charles, Louisiana; our campground for the next two nights. Originally named for the Texas folk hero who traveled extensively in the western reaches of Louisiana, Sam Houston Jones was given its current name in honor of the state's 46th governor, who was instrumental in setting aside this tract of land for the public to enjoy for both day-use and overnight visitors. The park is home to more than 70 acres of longleaf pines, the oldest living southern pine species. They were once one of the most abundant tree species in the United States, stretching across 90 million acres from Virginia to Texas. Over time, land-use practices such as logging, farming, development, urban encroachment, and fire exclusion have diminished the longleaf pine, leaving less than 4 million acres of longleaf forest and less than 10 percent of their original presence in Louisiana.

Remember when we visited Nova Scotia and traveled through the Acadian settlements? Well here's the rest of the story... the roots of Creole and Cajun culture.

They are synonymous with Acadiana, a 22-parish region settled in the mid-18th century by exiles from present-day Nova Scotia. About 3,000 Acadians arrived in South Louisiana from 1764 to around 1785 and now, more than 250 years later their creolized name, Cajun (derived from the French Acadien), can be found everywhere. There’s the Ragin’ Cajuns, the athletic moniker of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette (ULL). There’s the Cajun Heartland State Fair, held annually (pre-COVID) on the grounds of the Cajundome. And there are countless small businesses, from Cajun Power to Cajun Fitness, Cajun Broadband, and Cajun Mart, who use the term to ground their names in a sense of place.

Cajuns were—and are—a subset of Louisiana Creoles. Today, common understanding holds that Cajuns are white and Creoles are Black or mixed race; Creoles are from New Orleans, while Cajuns populate the rural parts of South Louisiana. In fact, the two cultures are far more related—historically, geographically, and genealogically—than most people realize.

The region is probably best known for its incredible cuisine and special music. Cajun and Creole food are both native to Louisiana and can be found in restaurants throughout South Louisiana. One of the simplest differences between the two cuisine types is that Creole food typically uses tomatoes and tomato-based sauces while traditional Cajun food does not. Examples of some of the culinary delights include Gumbo, Jambalaya. Shrimp Creole, Crawfish Étouffée, Red Beans and Rice, Creole Stuffed Bell Peppers. and Creole Bread Pudding.

This is the regional origin of Zydeco, a music genre that was created in rural Southwest Louisiana by Afro-Americans of Creole heritage. It blends blues and rhythm and blues with music indigenous to the Louisiana Creoles such as la la and juré, using the French accordion and a creole metal washboard instrument called the frottoir.

We enjoyed our campsite atmosphere with the sights, sounds and smells of this wonderful and unique region of the south.


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