What the rocking chairs lack in colour, they make up for in comfort. And sitting here on the porch of the Atchafalaya Welcome Center, they seem to beckon you to sit down and forget your worries for a while. As we come into the center, two smiling ladies give us that friendly southern greeting, “Welcome, how y’all doing?” and we feel welcome indeed.
This visitor center is a lovely place to stop before exploring the Atchafalaya region. All around the center are displays explaining the high season, low season, and “somewhere in between” season of the largest river swamp in North America.
You can learn about the animals that make their home here, the types of food preferred in these parts, and see a few historic artifacts from the people who were here long before the Europeans arrived. And of course, a Southern display wouldn’t be complete without an alligator skin.
The displays are interesting, but they’re not the best part of this place. The mechatronics show delights children and adults alike, as a friendly raccoon and a wise tortoise talk about the customs, food, and music of the region. An alligator makes an appearance too, of course, but he doesn’t have much to say. After a while, the raccoon and tortoise invite you to watch a movie about the Atchafalaya, and a door to the right of the mechatronics display opens.
As we enter the room, the kids are delighted to see that the white on their clothing is shining brightly, and it doesn’t take G-boy long to figure out that the black lights above him are causing the effect. Before the movie starts, a bird announces that this was supposed to be a 2-hour feature, but they’ve got an alligator for an editor who “really chopped things up.” So we sit down for the 4-minute film about the Atchafalaya region, and we learn about the animals that make their homes here, as well as about the popular activities in the area (including an adventure race that sounds like a lot of fun).
After watching the film and looking around at the displays some more, we are intrigued. So we tell the ladies at the front that we were planning on heading to Texas today, but we were open to staying in the area another day. What would they recommend?
The staff at the center is highly knowledgeable about the region, and it’s pretty clear that they love their job. They give us some advice on places to visit before we cross the state line, including very clear directions, and off we go. Before leaving the center, we check out the sculptures in the back.
After leaving the visitor center, we go to a nearby playground in Breaux Bridge, and the children have a lot of fun. There, we make conversation with a guy who’s at the playground with his son, and he highly recommends we check out a restaurant called Buck & Johnny’s. It’s Louisiana after all, and no visit would be complete without a gumbo meal.
So we have a delicious dinner at the restaurant, which used to be a car garage. Dan has the gumbo, I have the crab cakes, K-girl eats spaghetti and meatballs, and the little ones try some fish/shrimp and fries. It’s all a little too spicy for the little ones, but knowing what I know about Southern cuisine, I think it’s actually pretty mild. We’re all a little surprised when Dan puts a few dashes of Tabasco sauce on his gumbo, right after announcing that it’s spicy. But he enjoys his meal, and so do I.
The kids are getting a little antsy as Dan finishes his food, so I decide I’ll take them for a walk. We find a nice park that’s been decorated for the season, and the children run around for a bit.
As the kids continue to run and I look around at the park, I notice the Breaux Bridge Library to my right. I tell K-girl, “look at what I found,” and the squeal I get in response is a pretty good indication that we should stop in. It’s a gorgeous day, so I encourage the kids to run around a little more before we go indoors again. And then we go to the library.
As we walk in, a librarian makes a tick mark on a piece of paper and smiles at us. We find the children’s area right away—a colourful section full of books, iPads, and the best part—a secret passage into the children’s program room.
As usual, the little ones play lots, we read books together, and K-girl reads a pile of books on her own. A pile of books… literally.
We love finding all these wonderful libraries along our route. Libraries are wonderful places, and we are privileged to be able to visit so many of them.
After a great day in Breaux Bridge, we return to the Welcome Center—you are allowed to park overnight there for free. Tomorrow, we’ll visit Lake Martin and check out the swamp.