Category Archives: hiking

Always going back to the swamp: Jean Lafitte Barataria Preserve

 

Cajun bridal bouquet Black bayou Small Louisiana alligator Louisiana banded water snake

photo by Ryan Sparks

photo by Ryan Sparks

what does duckweed look like Palmetto

I know, I know. Another damn post about the swamp. Every few months I try to get out to Jean Lafitte to snap some new photos and fantasize about fulfilling my childhood dream of becoming a park ranger. I can’t stop taking pictures of where I grew up. I even dedicated an entire zine to it (ahem, click here to buy).

Lately I’ve been working seven days a week between two  jobs, which leaves me with little free time. So when I got an unexpected day off from work recently, I called up my good friend Ryan Sparks and we high-tailed it to the West Bank. Just don’t tell maw maw and paw paw I went on “that side of the river” without visiting them. I kind of feel bad that I didn’t swing by their house. Old Cat’lic guilt dies hard, y’all.

Springtime is the perfect time of year to make the trek to Lafitte. March through May hits that sweet spot; the temperature is delightful, plus you can spot gators sprawled out on the banks without getting eaten alive by mosquitos. I’m also that weirdo that gets really, really excited to see snakes. Copperheads are my favorite, but as a former card carrying member of the Gulf Coast Herpetological Society, I appreciate all things scaly. Insects are another story. I want nothing to do with anything that has more than four legs. Banana Spiders, however, do not phase me. Go figure. If you want a reptile free experience, go in the cooler fall and winter months.

A torrential downpour let up right as we ponied up to the Bayou Coquille trailhead, which allowed us to play around with our cameras without worrying about getting our gear soaked. Be warned: I wore my shit kickers and I still almost ate it on the slippery board walk, so make sure to wear sturdy shoes. I do love the swamp after a good rain though. The duckweed turns the color of pea soup and the air shrugs off the tension of humidity. The canals were especially chocked full of vegetation on this trip, which created an illusion of carpeted clearings throughout the swamp. I wonder how many tourists try to step out and land knee deep in mud. I wonder how many of them know better.

Worth the Drive: Mississippi’s Forest Retreat

forest retreatIMG_6631

forest retreat Mississippi

homochitto national forest

 

I haven’t been to Forest Retreat, a secluded trio of cabins in Mississippi’s Homochitto National Forest, since 2013. Forest Retreat was me and Thomas’ secret spot when the urge get out of the city for a few days would arise. There is no cell phone reception, no internet (the cabins do have wifi now), and the only noise that cuts through the silence is the rustling of leaves and an occasional dog howling in the distance. We used to make the three hour drive at least twice a year with Nadia, our retired racing Greyhound, in tow. The reason I discovered Forest Retreat in the first place was an ad in Urban Dog Magazine that touted dog friendly cabins. We weren’t sure our timid city pooch would take to being out in the country, but I’m pretty sure Nadia had more fun playing in the creek and going on hikes than we did.

Sadly, Nadia passed away two summers ago due to an inoperable tumor on her spinal cord. Her ashes are sealed in a large plastic bag, tucked away in a wooden box on a bookshelf in our living room. I’ve never been able to bring myself to look at her remains, and I didn’t want to go back to Forest Retreat for the same reason that box sits unopened two years later. We only had Nadia for three years, but she was the love of my life, the first dog we owned as a couple, and just like many rescued animals, we had to earn her affection. Most retired racing greyhounds aren’t accustomed to what we think of as a “normal home life” since they grow up around the race track. The dogs can be slightly skittish at best and scared of their own shadow at worst. I worked with Nadia to overcome her fear of the dishwasher, taught her how to climb up and down stairs, and eventually she stopped being petrified of the wind. Skateboards, on the other hand, were the devil incarnate. She would hyperventilate at the slightest hint of a thunderstorm, but fireworks were inexplicably okay.

After Nadia passed we waited a few months before getting another dog. So when we got two – Izzy, another Greyhound, and Beignet, a terrier/Catahoula mix – it just didn’t feel right to rush back to our old vacation spot with our new crew. I equated it with the awkwardness of bringing a new beau to the restaurant you dined at all the time with your ex. How do you explain to your new fling why you know so much about the menu?

So when Thomas recently suggested we plan a weekend getaway to Forest Retreat, I surprised myself and said yes. We ended up going this past weekend and my only regret is that we waited so long to go. The dogs loved it, we enjoyed the break from our day to day lives, and we both had to ask ourselves “What took us so damn long to get back here?” I’d like to think that Nadia is somewhere in that big dog park in the sky, running her skinny little butt off and being as stubborn as ever. I think she would agree that it’s finally time to move on and give some other pooches their turn to run through the forest.

For more pictures from Forest Retreat check out my Tumblr: christylorio.tumblr.com

If you decide to go on your own Forest Retreat weekend, here are a few things to consider:

  • GPS will only get you so far, so make sure you print out the direction given to you upon your reservation. That said, the directions aren’t the clearest (we get turned around every time) and cell phone reception is spotty on country roads. Give yourself ample time to backtrack. Trust me, you don’t want to traverse forest service roads at night.
  • The owner recently added wifi in the cabins but there’s  no cell phone reception, unless you stand on the parking hill, cross your fingers and make a wish. You’ll want to unplug but do keep this in mind in case of an emergency.
  • You’ll need to bring all of your food with you. The nearest store is several miles away and once you start to unwind you won’t want to see an ignition switch until vacation is over. The two cabins are furnished with essentials such as bed linens, towels and kitchen gadgets. You’ll need to bring your own toiletries and if you’re going in the summer bug spray is a godsend. I like to bring a good book, a board game or two, a flashlight, appropriate shoes for wading in the creek, my camera, and my laptop for playing music and watching movies at night.
  • Bring your dog’s bed and a blanket for the sofa if you have a four legged couch potato.

Worth the Drive: Tunica Falls

Tunica Hills Campground

Clark Creek Recreational Area
Tunica Falls
Tunica Falls
Tunica Falls
I desperately need to get out of town as much as I can but unfortunately, my schedule dictates that I’m stuck in the city seven days a week. Since I had fall break this week, we threw the dogs in the car, put some extra food out for the cats, and headed to Tunica Falls (aka Tunica Hills aka Clark Creek Natural Area), a two hour drive from New Orleans. Waterfalls, slight changes in elevation (read: not flat like NOLA) and shaded trails make for a quick yet satisfying weekend getaway. I’m not sure who had more fun, us or the girls.
 
 Four dollars gives you access to Tunica Falls’ 1.78 miles of “improved” trails and 2.6 miles of primitive trails. I’d suggest doing a little of both. Be sure to pack shoes appropriate for wading through creeks. You’ll want to splash around and explore. There are six waterfalls marked on the trail but the 700 acre Clark Creek Natural area boasts 50 waterfalls total, ranging in height from 10 to 30 feet. There are bathrooms at the trailhead and a water fountain. Be sure to stop at the Pond Store, located up the road, to stock up on snacks. 
 
If you’re in need of cheap lodging, Tunica Hills Campground is nearby and provides cabins and primitive tent sites. The campground is small, which ensures you’ll be greeted by fellow campers but it’s more private than than some of the larger RV campgrounds that I’ve been to. We opted to spend the night in the A frame cabin; for $52 a night you get a queen sized bed, air conditioning, a microwave and a coffeepot. There’s also a loft to stow your stuff and enough space for the dogs. Just make sure to bring your own bath towels and toiletries; you’ll be sharing a (relatively clean) port-a-potty and outdoor shower with the other guests. 
 
For more pictures of Tunica Falls and Tunica Hills Campground check out my Tumblr: christylorio.tumblr.com. 
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Worth The Drive: Jean Lafitte National Park

The last time I made it out to Jean Lafitte National Park was in April. I grew up in the area, with the swamp butting up against our house. Armadillos frequently tunneled into our backyard and if we stood atop the levee we’d find gator eyes staring back at us. Going outside after dusk during the summer was crossing enemy lines, diving head first into a mosquito combat zone. I remember my family went to an outdoor performance of Camelot at Loyola University once, and my adolescent, humidity soaked brain couldn’t comphrend that one could sit in the city at 8:00pm and not be eaten alive by the little blood suckers. When you live next to the swamp, bugs are just a way of life. 

My mom still lives near my childhood home, and once in a while I like to stroll through Jean Lafitte when I’m on that side of the river. I know a lot of people are squeamish when it comes to reptiles and insects (minus the mosquitoes), but I look forward to these encounters. I spotted a rat snake, two alligators, a handful of banana spiders and an unending supply of katydids on my last trip. That said, I’ll jump through the ceiling if I see a cockroach in my kitchen. Hey, even this tomboy from Southern Louisiana is allowed to have her buggy fears, right?

More pictures on my Tumblr: christylorio.tumblr.com

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Born on the Bayou: Jean Lafitte Park

Some of you who follow me on Instagram (here too) might know that I’ve been taking photography lessons for the past two months. I’ve wanted to improve my skills, or lack thereof, essentially since I started Slow Southern Style back in 2009. SLR cameras always frightened me, but I finally got myself one this past December and now I practice whenever I can. Annie Leibovitz I ain’t, but hey, I’m getting better. Just don’t look at any of my old, cringe inducing photos, which is basically every single picture taken before oh, last week. These photos were taken in Jean Lafitte Park just a few days ago. I didn’t run into any wildlife this time, but the alligators and snakes usually start poking their heads out around this time of year. This park was my backyard growing up, and I still enjoy trekking out there sometimes for a little solitude.
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Road Trip: A Mississippi Getaway

Make no mistake, I’m sort of a country girl at heart. Growing up with a swamp for a backyard, I prefer to spend a little time in the woods vs. visiting big cities when I go on vacation. So January 1st we packed up the truck and headed to our little hideaway in the Homochitto National Forest.  A Mississippi getaway definitely isn’t a shabby way to ring in 2013. You can catch up with my woodsy adventures in the archives here.

Hitting up the apps hard- no shame.

Needlenose and a tranquil pond
Udon noodles, goat cheese pear crustini, liquid bread
Reading material+ a good fire= heaven
Princess prissy pants aka love of my life aka Nadia
Other love of my life, besides the cats and the ball python
Performance wear is the hottest trend, not really.
Merrell jacket, Hardtail skirt, Celine sunnies via Buffalo Exchange
Ralph Lauren over the knee socks via TJ Maxx
Lululemon leggings c/o Life Boutique (last year)
Keen boots via REI
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Road Trip: Outfits for the great outdoors

Make no mistake, I’m a city girl girl in the sense that I prefer to have everything I need within walking or biking distance. I enjoy the comforts of having a coffee shop a block away and making a quick jaunt to my neighborhood corner store.  However I also crave the woods, and the luxury of solitude, if only for a few days.  My idea of a vacation is getting away from it all, whether it’s a romantic weekend getaway or a strenuous hike, I enjoy both equally. I shared an outfit post a few weeks ago from our Thanksgiving weekend at Forest Retreat, a magical little spot tucked away in the Homochitto National Forest in Mississippi. While what I was going to wear was the last thing on my mind that weekend it’s always nice to feel confident in what you are wearing, whether you are in town people watching at a big event or enjoying some solo star gazing with a cup of hot chocolate.

plaid button down & charcoal grey sweatshirt: J. Crew via Buffalo Exchange
 jeans: Seven for all Mankind via Buffalo Exchange
 Keen winter boots via REI
rain jacket: Land’s End Canvas
orange waterfall cardigan: Velvet via Buffalo Exchange
charcoal heathered tank: Alternative Apparel via Buffalo Exchange
sexy hiking pants: REI brand

For more photos from Forest Retreat go to my Facebook profile.

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lululemon athletica- Working out in style

Today’s post is courtesy of a new friend of mine, Christine Ditri. To call her a lululemon fanatic would be an understatement. Having recently moved to New Orleans from Boston you’d swear she owns stock in the company but she’s really just a loyal customer with a love of all things lulu. I asked Christine to explain what makes this company so great and to tell NOLA readers why they should shop the new show room.


lululemon athletica has finally come to New Orleans in the form of an Uptown showroom. Nestled in at 802 Nashville Avenue. This Canadian company providing quality workout clothing and accessories, has opened up a showroom offering some of lululemon’s best products and cheeriest help and has already begun to make its mark on the Nola community.


lululemon athletica makes quality yoga and running products including tops, bottoms, bras, underwear, yoga accessories, bags, dvd’s, and more. The clothes literally last for years and have great features including flat seaming (for no chaffing), triangle gussets (to derail any riding up in the crotch), hidden pockets (for keys, phones, music players, and gelpacks), thumb holes and cuffins (warm hands warm heart) and four way stretch (comfortable and will never stretch out). The clothing is made from quality fabrics including running luon, silver luon, luxtreme, merino wool, and coolmax which makes the products all soft, amazing at wicking sweat, and even have anti-stink properties.

Besides great products lululemon atheletica is a company that you can feel good supporting. Their website boasts a goal page which helps you create, define, and meet your goals- whatever they may be! There are online and phone staff at the Guest Education Center who are always available to help out with any questions. A blog keeps customers updated on a large variety of topics. If you ever can’t find what you’re looking for in the showroom the company provides free shipping for all phone and internet orders.

In addition to all of this great support lululemon stores and showrooms offer one complimentary yoga class each weekend in the community. Go to www.lululemon.com/neworleans to find out the details on the class this week!

Since lululemon athletica does not do any of its own advertising, but relies solely on word of mouth, it is up to me to let you know about this gem of a store.If the showroom continues to do well, lululemon will open an official store in about a year. The store would have full hours and provide more options. But, with two rooms full of clothing and accessories, the showroom isn’t leaving us with wanting for much! It should be noted that the New Orleans showroom is only open Thursdays through Sundays from 10am to 6pm and only accepts credit cards.

Happy Shopping!

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Grand Canyon

I promise I’ll get back to musings on southern style but for a moment I’d like to share photos of what I did on my winter vacation. Before Katrina my husband and I visited the Grand Canyon once a year  until the time we moved to Arizona. We even took a working vacation in 2003 and spent 3 months working for Xanterra at the restaurants on the rim. In 2004 we got married at Havasupai so clearly the Grand Canyon is a special place for us.
I’ve stood in front of this sign at the trail head more times than I can remember but have never taken a picture. We hiked to Phantom Ranch, my favorite place in the world besides New Orleans. Note the drop in elevation from the trailhead to the river. That is a #$!@ on your knees on the way down and a %$#@! of a climb on the way out. Imagine being on a treadmill at the highest incline for 7.1 miles and subtract the ability to get off.

Speaking of steepness check out that trail! We trudged through ice and snow for about 1/2 of the hike in. Some might call me crazy but I actually enjoy this and nothing makes you appreciate walking on flat, dry ground than a steep walk through the snow.

Sis and I at Cedar Ridge.

The bottom of the canyon looks quite different from the top. This was taken standing on a little bridge next to the Bright Angel campgrounds. The large bridge in the background is the black bridge.


Where Bright Angel Creek spits into the Colorado River.

My sister and I both got the memo about black North Face jackets and gray Target yoga pants. We didn’t even realize we were outfit twins until the second day. How dorky.

Here I am getting ready to hike out after spending 3 nights at the bottom.

My husband
If you are interested in planning your own Phantom Ranch trip I highly recommend scoping out Hit the Trail, a comprehensive guide about hiking in the Grand Canyon. I’ll leave you with a few quick tips.
  1. Know what you are getting into. Canyon hiking is like climbing a backwards mountain. While the descent might seem easy at first remember you have to take the same way back up. Everything in the Grand Canyon is steep but some trails are harder than others. The descent is harder on your body but the ascent will really get your heart racing.
  2. Be prepared. I really can’t say this enough. You never know what the weather will be like or if you will get injured. Bring plenty of water, snacks, sunscreen, and appropriate clothing. If you really want a lesson in what not to do Over the Edge: Death in the Grand Canyon is a good start.
  3. Be aware. How close is that edge? Is that a branch lying across the trail or a rattlesnake? What’s that big horn sheep doing over there? 
  4. Don’t be the $#@!^%#@! that feeds the wildlife. Don’t take anything that isn’t yours and hike out all of your trash.
  5. But most importantly have fun! You are here to experience one of the natural wonders of the world. Take lots of pictures, attend a ranger program, soak in the sights, and just sit back and comprehend how incredible your surroundings are.

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Vacation

I’m taking a bit of a breather from life and blogging to go on a much deserved vacation. I haven’t taken a proper vacation since August 2008 so I am long overdue.

 Next weekend I have my sister’s college graduation, the Nola Eats holiday party, my work holiday party and then I hop on a plane the next morning for three nights at the bottom of the Grand Canyon followed by visiting friends in Jerome, an ex ghost town, as well as Phoenix. Phew!

I plan on making a few posts from now until Friday to hold y’all over.

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