Happy Happy Happy in Louisiana

“Happy, Happy, Happy” – Phil Robertson

After almost six weeks exploring the great state of Texas it was time to head east toward home. We were sad to leave Texas but happy knowing we would soon be home. Our first stop in Louisiana was a place where we had camped on another trip four years ago. I had such fond memories of our first visit there I’ve been looking for an excuse to go back. I even made reservations for site 12, the same one we had camped in before.  With a deck and a fishing dock right in front of the site, it was a perfect place to chill for a couple of days.

Lake Bistineau State Park is located about 20 miles from Bossier City. I remembered how friendly one of the rangers at the park was when we first visited and I was happy to see the same ranger greeted us at the office and checked us in. I have to say he is one of the nicest, friendliest, and most helpful park staff member we have ever met. We had a beautiful view of the lake from our deck and spent a lot of time just chillin’ and watching the herons and egrets fishing in the shallow water along the banks of the lake.

Great Egret in Lake Bistineau
Great Egret in Lake Bistineau
Great Blue Heron at Lake Bistineau
Great Blue Heron at Lake Bistineau

I was way behind on doing laundry and was happy to find a small laundry right there in the park. And it was free! There was also WiFi at the park office and I could do a little catching up on the blog while we were there. We did a little shopping in Bossier City and got our fix of more Cajun Food at Shane’s Restaurant. Crawfish Etouffee and some Boudin to go and we were happy!

But it wasn’t all work, shopping and eating. We’re pretty good at sitting and chillin’.

Lake Bistineau
Lake Bistineau
Turtles at Lake Bistineau
Turtles at Lake Bistineau

Did I mention we had the campground almost all to ourselves? There were only two other campers there the first night, and the next two nights there was only one other camper in the park. Perfect!

But eventually we had to move on. When we made the decision to go home via I-20 we could not miss a stop in West Monroe, Louisiana to see the headquarters of Duck Commander.

Duck Commander was established in 1972 by Phil Robertson. After an outstanding football career in college Phil had an opportunity to play professional football in the NFL. He turned down the offer because he didn’t love football. He loved hunting and fishing and wanted to make a living doing what he loved. He was unhappy with the duck calls that were available at the time and in 1972 started selling his own design.

Phil is now retired and his son Willie Robertson is now the CEO of the family run company and Duck Commander products are sold worldwide. Members of the Robertson family star in the popular A&E reality show “Duck Dynasty.”

Lake Bistineau State Park is located near Doyline, Louisiana. The sites have paved water and electric hook ups, pads, picnic table, and fire pit. We had a premium site with a wooden deck overlooking the lake. There are several fishing docks located in the campground. The park also has a boat launch.

To visit Duck Commander we stayed at Ouachita RV Park in Monroe, Louisiana. The full hookup park had gravel pull through sites with free WiFi that actually worked, a nice laundry room, a meeting room, and a small pond.

More of the beautiful Texas Hill Country around Inks Lake

Bluebonnets lined the roads around Inks Lake
Bluebonnets lined the roads around Inks Lake

Inks Lake State Park in Burnet (pronounced BURN-it DERN it) was our home for the 4 nights before Easter weekend. Thanks to my friend Tim in Arlington for recommending this park.

We arrived early in the day and were able to get a beautiful waterfront site. The bad news is we would have to leave on Good Friday because the park was full for Easter weekend. I knew we would love the area when we saw bluebonnets lining the roads to the park.

Our waterfront campsite was a great place to watch ducks, geese and all the water activities. We saw people paddling canoes and kayaks, floating on tubes,  and fishing from motor boats. The sunsets were gorgeous.

I love talking to locals to find out the best places to see. We stopped at Longhorn Caverns State Park one morning to ask about the tours. The ranger had seen me taking pictures of bluebonnets beside the road and he told us about a great scenic drive south of Llano. We were headed to Llano for lunch so we were off on a bluebonnet hunt after we stuffed ourselves with brisket and ribs.

Cooper's Barbeque in Llano, Texas
Cooper’s Barbeque in Llano, Texas

One afternoon we toured nearby Longhorn Caverns. During prohibition the cavern was privately owned and the cavern was run as a honky tonk and restaurant. In one of the large rooms was a bandstand with tables set up all around. When prohibition was repealed the owner gave the land to the state of Texas.

One morning we took a hike on the Valley Spring trail in the state park. The trail started out beside the lake and wound through the woods with wildflowers growing beneath the trees.

Inks Lake State Park has moved up near the top of my list of favorite state parks. Our site was a back in paved pad with water and electric hookups, a picnic table, fire ring, and lantern hook. We had a huge area beneath shade trees to set up our chairs and watch the world go by. There are two fishing piers, a marina and boat launch, canoe and kayak rentals, playground, camp store,  and several hiking trails. Click to read my campground review of Inks Lake State Park.

Magnificent Endangered Whooping Cranes

Our main reason to visit Goose Island State Park was to see the endangered Whooping Cranes. They are the tallest birds in North America and stand nearly 5 feet tall with a wingspan of about 7.5 feet. Beginning in September or October each year, the cranes migrate south about 2,500 miles from Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada to Aransas National Wildlife Refuge about 35 miles north of the state park. After wintering in Texas, they begin their migration back north to Canada about mid March each year.

In the 1940’s, the Whooping Crane population had dwindled to about 20 individuals. Today, according to the International Crane Foundation, there are about 599 (captive and wild). A survey conducted in 2013-2014 estimated about 300 of the wild population winter on and around the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.

A few of these spectacular birds sometimes make their way to a farmer’s field near the state park. There they feed and hang out with the cattle. There were sometimes as many as 11 Whooping Cranes at one time scattered around the field. Many thanks to Ingrid over at Live Laugh RV for the heads up on where to see them.

We went by the field every day to see what the Whoopers were up to.  With their large size and brilliant white feathers with a rust colored spot on their head they are easy to spot.

Whooping Crane
Whooping Crane
Whooping Cranes running and splashing
Whoopers going for a run

Sometimes there would be Sandhill Cranes hanging around in the field, too. They are smaller than the Whoopers and have darker feathers.

Whooping Cranes and Sandhill cranes share the field
Whooping Cranes and Sandhill cranes share the field

One afternoon the Whoopers kept us entertained flapping their wings and jumping around.

I though he was just eating
Then he started to jump
High jump
Splashing around
Splashing around
Sandhill crane flapping with a whooper watching
Whooper watches a Sandhill Crane showing off

When they took off it was sad to see them go but spectacular to watch.

Whooping Cranes in Lamar, Texas
Whooping Cranes in Texas

The Whoopers were the star of the show but all around them there were a lot of other things going on in the field.

I’m happy to know that due to the work of many people, the population of these birds continues to grow. I feel privileged to be able to see them in the wild.

Whooping Crane
Whooping Crane in Texas

Goose Island State Park, Rockport, Texas

What a fabulous 3 days we had at Goose Island State Park!

We had plenty of things to see to keep us busy. The first morning I spotted these Roseate Spoonbills in the nature viewing area at the end of road in our campground.

Everything is bigger in Texas! A must see in Goose Island State Park is the Big Tree. This 1,000 year old Texas Live Oak  is the largest of its kind on public land in the state of Texas. The live oaks here are not as tall as the ones in coastal Georgia because the gulf breeze affects their height. The tree measures 11 feet across the trunk, 5 feet around, is 44 feet tall, and 89 feet across the crown.

The tree is surrounded by a fence and is well taken care of. While we were looking at the tree we met a delightful native Texan who has been coming here all her life. She remembers when her 15 year old son could climb on the tree. She also told us a story of her grandfather or great grandfather (I don’t remember which) caught a record sting ray and has  a picture of his record catch hanging in the big tree! These days no climbing on the tree is allowed.

Fishing is very popular here and we enjoyed going to the dock when the boats came in. We saw White Pelicans hanging around the docks waiting for a handout every day.

One pelican got a free lunch.

There was a lot to see in the state park.

We enjoyed seeing the sights around Rockport and Fulton. Our favorite drive was along Fulton Beach Road with homes on one side of the road with their docks jutting out into the bay on the other. Many of the homes were beach cottages with windswept oaks in the front yard. It felt like we had stepped back in time before condos and highrises became the norm along the coast.

Of course we had to try some of the local restaurants. Lunch at Moon Dogs on the docks in Rockport was fun. My fried soft shell crab salad was delicious. Our last night we had a feast of boiled crab, heads on shrimp, crawfish, sausage, potato and corn cooked with a Cajun seasoning. The servers poured it all on the butcher paper covered table like we serve our low country boil back home. Delicious and fun!

Our main reason for coming here was to see some endangered Whooping Cranes. We saw them every day and they are so spectacular they deserve their own post. Here’s a preview of those magnificent birds. Look for another post coming soon.

Pair of Whooping Cranes
Pair of Whooping Cranes

We camped in site 34 of the Bay campground near the nature viewing area. There are more sites near the fishing pier The sites are on hard packed sand right on the water. Each site has water and electric hookups and a shelter with a picnic table. Many people fish right from their campsite.

Lake Chicot State Park, Arkansas

We continued exploring the Mississippi Delta at Lake Chicot State Park in Lake Village, Arkansas. Traveling south on Highway 165, a section of the Great River Road, we passed fields of cotton on both sides of the road.

The largest natural lake in Arkansas, Lake Chicot is also the largest natural oxbow lake in the United States. Our campsite was surrounded by wild pecan trees with a nice view of the lake. Our first day there, we drove across the mighty Mississipi River to Greenville, Mississippi to bring home 3 dozen delicious hot tamales.

Located in the Mississippi Flyway, the park is a great place for bird watching. In addition to egrets, herons and ducks, we were surprised to see a huge flock of White Peliicans on the lake.

We took a self guided driving tour along the Mississippi River levee. Most of the 20 mile tour was right on top of the levee. On one side of the levee were borrow pits with cypress trees, lily pads and many birds. On the other side was farmland.

We camped at Lake Chicot State Park in site 7 on October 21-22, 2014. For my review of this campground click here.