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Bucket List

Short trips away from home

Ship Island

photo courtesy ship island

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There are things and places in this world that everyone should see and/or experience at some point in life – the ocean, the Grand Canyon, the Empire State Building, the Lincoln Memorial. Yet there are other places closer to home that everyone in Acadiana should see or experience, as well.

But life gets in the way sometimes, doesn’t it? Even with the best of intentions, come Saturday, there are clothes to wash, towels to fold and yards to mow. Although we may visit a few of the regional hotspots regularly, others just a few hours away remain as unknown as the road to Timbuktu. All the while, many of us continue planning trips and taking flights to faraway places while some of the roads closer to home remain less traveled.

As one of the coldest winters on record turns to spring, it’s time to take the road less traveled – and we’re making it easier for you to do just that. We’ve created the Acadiana Bucket List, and we’d like to recommend that you take action.

Tick some boxes off that list. To be clear, we are not recommending you take yet another trip to New Orleans to do the same things you do every time you take out-of-town visitors or go yourself. We want you to experience some new things. Consider this Acadiana’s version of New Yorkers visiting the Empire State Building or the Statue of Liberty.

We recommend that you visit at least one new place each month. Or go to a festival you’ve never attended in the past. If you’re in a rut and want to shake things up (and are feeling energetic and ambitious), visit two … or three … or even four new regional places each month until you mark off every one on the list.

Take pictures. Document what works for you and what doesn’t. Let us hear from you.

Yes, we know there are a few places we may have left off – and we’d love to hear about those from you. We may create a follow-up list in the not-so-distant future.

In the meantime, go ahead and check off the ones you’ve already done. Don’t fudge. Tell the truth. If you went by it once when you were a kid but didn’t stop, it doesn’t count. The time has come to do it right.

Go. Visit. Soak it in.

Mark items off your and Acadiana’s bucket list.

Close to home

• Atchafalaya Basin tour

If you don’t have a friend with a boat (which is always a good thing to have), hire a private tour such as Atchafalaya Experience or jump on one of the group tours at McGee’s Landing in Henderson.

Get up close and personal with Spanish moss-draped trees, bald cypress and water tupelos. See alligators gracefully submerging. The Atchafalaya Basin is the largest swamp in the United States. If the only way you’ve seen it is driving over it on Interstate 10, you owe it to yourself to see it from a different perspective.

Want to learn more? Go to www.theatchafalayaexperience.com, or call 337/277-4726. You can also check out www.mcgeeslanding.com, or call 337/228-2384. The tours, depending on which one you pick, range from $20 to $50 for adults and $15 to $25 for children.

• Blue Moon Saloon & Guesthouse

If you need a refresher on what Acadiana is all about, go hang out on the Blue Moon’s back porch on a Saturday night – or any other night live music is playing (generally Thursday through Sunday evenings). The setting is as unpretentious as old-fashioned fais do-dos. The music is right. The drinks are cold. The air is sweet. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself smiling and thinking for a moment that all is right with this world.

Want to learn more? Go to www.bluemoonpresents.com, or call 337/234-2422. The Blue Moon is located at 215 E. Convent St. in Lafayette, and the cover charge most evenings is $10.
 
• Dance on a levee by the light of a full moon.

Check a lunar calendar, and figure out when the next full moon will be shining. Pick a levee, any levee. Invite six or seven folks to join you – or at least one. If you have musician friends, invite them. If you want to get swanky, hire them. On the other hand, you could grab an iPod or boombox and your favorite tunes. (If push comes to shove, a car with a decent sound system and a good battery will work, too.) Drive to the levee of your choice; let the music play. And dance.

• Lake Martin

In recent years, Lake Martin’s spring bird migration hasn’t been what it has in the past. But birders and naturalists have high hopes for spring 2011. The site of bald cypress trees filled with nesting roseate spoonbills, great egrets, snowy egrets and blue herons, with a bald eagle thrown in for good measure, is breathtaking. From early February through July, birdwatchers from around the world flock to Lake Martin to see the spectacle. While there, keep a keen eye out for alligators, along with the many other types of reptiles and amphibians that call Lake Martin home.

Lafayette’s Pack and Paddle offers guided canoe trips through Lake Martin year-round. Some parts of the lake are closed throughout nesting season, but most of the lake and its cypress-tupelo forests are accessible to paddlers year-round.

Lake Martin’s new visitor center, hosted by The Nature Conservancy, along with a picnic pavilion and boardwalk are open weekend days from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. and occasionally during the week, but the walking trails and Rookery Road are open year-round.

You can find Lake Martin and the Cypress Island Preserve by using either Highway 353 from Lafayette or Highway 31 from Breaux Bridge.

Want to learn more about visiting Lake Martin? Call 337/342-2475.

Want to learn more about the Pack and Paddle tours? Go to www.packpaddle.com, or call 337/232-5854.

Visiting Lake Martin is free. Pack and Paddle tours are around $30 each including guide, boat, paddles, life jackets – and usually even a meal.

• Vermilionville Living History Museum/Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve’s Acadian Culture Center

Although the two sites are not formally connected, Vermilionville and the Jean Lafitte Historical Park share a look into the region’s past.

Surprisingly, a high percentage of locals have never visited Vermilionville or the National Park Service’s ode to the Acadians. At the Jean Lafitte site, rangers offer tours and visitors watch a short movie telling the sad story of the Acadians leaving what is now known as Nova Scotia and finding their eventual way to Louisiana.

At Vermilionville, historic re-enactors authentically demonstrate a variety of aspects of life long ago – including spinning cotton, cooking over an open fire, blacksmithing, basket-making and more. 

Want to learn more? Go to www.vermilionville.org or call 337/237-8360 for Vermilionville, or go to www.nps.gov/jela/new-acadian-cultural-center.htmor call 337/232-0789 for Jean Lafitte National Historic Park.

Find Vermilionville and Jean Lafitte National Historical Park at 300 and 501 Fisher Road, respectively, in Lafayette.

Jean Lafitte National Historic Park is free. Admission to Vermilionville is $6 for students 6 to 18 and those 62 and older and $8 for adults 19 to 61, with special rates for groups.

Alabama

• USS Alabama Battleship
703 Battleship Parkway
Mobile, Alabama
251/433-2703
For more information, go to
www.ussalabama.com.

Tickets range from $6 to $12.

Florida

Sometimes called the Redneck Riviera. Sometimes called the Emerald Coast. Call it what you want, but there’s little doubt that the Florida beaches closest to Acadiana rival any beaches in the world: Perdido Key, Pensacola Beach, Destin: the white-white sugar sand, the blue-blue water, the mild waves and warm sun. They are barely five hours away, and life doesn’t get much better. Hotels run the gamut from the basic to the sublime. Find one that suits your needs.

Chances are you’ve already marked this one off your list, but it’s worth a repeat visit.

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