The Boom Boom Blues
CHASING THE BLUES, CHAPTER 5: Houma, LA to Broussard, LA
Our big plans for a swamp tour were drowned in a lingering thunderstorm on Thursday. We ended up spending the morning doing laundry at the hotel and driving the short distance to Morgan City in the afternoon, counting raindrops rather than gators.
But Friday brought back blue skies, and Morgan City (pop. 12,091), situated on the eastern bank of the Atchafalaya (uh-CHUH-fuh-LIE-uh) River in a distinctly Cajun region, offered some interesting sites of its own. In the early 1800s, federal government surveyors sent to this area to map out the uncharted Louisiana territory spotted what they thought was a tiger on the river bank and dubbed the place Tiger Island. The name stuck until 1860 when a permanent town was established around the large sugar cane plantation of Walter Brashear, a transplanted Kentucky surgeon. The town was called Brashear in his honor.
By 1876, the town had become a trading center and had been renamed Morgan City as a tribute to steamship and railroad entrepreneur Charles Morgan, who spearheaded the dredging of the river as a way to open the city's port to ocean-going vessels. Ever evolving, Morgan City later transformed itself into a commercial fishing stronghold, building a special reputation for its jumbo shrimp. More recently the offshore oil industry has become a major player in the local economy.
Riding down the elevator at the local Hampton Inn, we were reminded of the city's focus on the petroleum industry. With a little help from a marker, some clever local had transformed one of the hotel chain's standard feel good elevator signs into one uniquely branded for Morgan City.
|Standard Hampton Inn version (top); Morgan City redo (bottom)|
A.J. LaBorde conceived the idea of building the entire drilling operation on a transportable barge and floating it to the identified location, where water would be pumped into the barge to sink it until it rested on the ocean floor, becoming a stable platform. When that well was tapped out, the water could be pumped out and the rig floated to a new location.
Faced with an ocean of skepticism regarding the viability of his radical idea, LaBorde was so excited when the fledgling Murphy Oil Company's CEO, Charles Murphy, finally became the rig's first investor, the engineer gave him naming rights. After the rig was built and proved its worthiness, Mr. Charlie drilled hundreds of offshore wells for many major oil companies and revolutionized the industry. By 1986, however, drilling was moving to waters deeper than Mr. Charlie's 40-foot legs could reach and he retired to Morgan City.
|"Johnny" lowers the boom|
"So you just swing, roll, swing, tighten. Boom! That's how that works."
"If the geologist says it's +5 or -10, these guys have to build it up to—boom!—whatever is needed."
After 90 minutes of this enlightenment, we left the rig and Morgan City and drove 50 miles west to Avery Island, famous as the home of Tabasco sauce. Named for the Avery family who established a sugar plantation on the site in the 1830s, Avery is not really an island but a massive salt dome—a dry mound surrounded by wetlands. It is said that the salt, from an ancient sea, runs eight miles deep below the dome.
|Who knew so many products were made with Tabasco sauce?|
After learning about the history of Avery Island— where salt meets pepper, as the locals boast—we couldn't leave without sampling some of the product. The Tabasco General Store offered many choices, and we opted for some crackers and a praline—yes, that sugary candy with pecans—made with Tabasco sauce. Both were quite tasty, but we harbored no regrets about not stocking up.
Before leaving Avery Island, we chipped in $8 each to visit Jungle Gardens, a 170-acre garden with tropical plants and abundant wildlife—not to mention a stolen centuries-old statue of Buddha. In the late 1800s, snowy egrets were being hunted for their plumage. Understanding the risk of extinction, Edmund McIlhenny established this sanctuary and started a bird colony to save the species. Thousands of migrating egrets and other water birds nest at this refuge each year.
|Nesting platforms offer refuge to migrating birds.|
|Shrine to an unusual gift|
Leaving this tropical sanctuary, we drove the 25 miles to Broussard and checked into a newly constructed Hampton Inn which just opened six days ago. After a bit of grocery shopping, we put together a lavish salad and began plotting our visit to nearby Lafayette tomorrow.
Chapter 5 Stats:
- Miles driven: 132
- Weather: Rainy to cloudless blue skies, 47° to 73°
- Letterboxes found: 1
- Industrial tours: 2
- Gators on Avery Island: 27
- Nesting birds: 318
More Photos from Chapter 5
|Downtown Morgan City (photo from Louisiana tourism web site)|
|Stopped at this Morgan City Little Free Library to leave book picked up in a Charlotte, NC LFL.|
|Part of Morgan City's fishing fleet|
|Long-Allen Bridge over the Atchafalaya River at Morgan City|
|Everything's better with Tabasco on it—or in it!|
|Stone bridge in Asian garden at Avery Island|
|Gator hanging out in the Asian garden|
|A Chinese Buddha far from home|