Category Archives: outdoors

Mammoth Cave: Watch out for that dinosaur

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s the day after Thanksgiving and a Tyrannosaurus Rex the color of Cheetos is threatening to pluck our Honda CRV right off the highway and throw it over the fence that surrounds Dinosaur World. This is how we know we’ve reached Cave City, a town half way between Louisville, Kentucky and Nashville, Tennessee. We speed past the plastic brontosaurus and teradafcyls and safely make our way to Mammoth Cave which, we are informed, does not actually house live mammoths. We buy tickets anyway and descend into the dark, cool cave.

 

 

My brother moved to Louisville a few years ago after a post-Katrina stint at the Grand Canyon. He and his partner work at the best restaurant in Louisville; Chris is the kitchen manager, Ruben is the dining room manager. We started a tradition of Thanksgiving at their house (hello, professional chef) and now we make the drive up there every year. This year, after a deliciously languorous six course meal, hours spent watching The Goldbergs and RuPaul’s Drag Race and eight bottles of wine split between four people (don’t judge…okay judge), we opted for a little post-Turkey Day outdoor activity and made the hour and a half drive to Mammoth Cave National Park.

Mammoth Cave is the world’s longest known cave system with over 400 miles explored and counting. In its colorful history it was a salt mine, a tourist attraction with slave-guided tours, a short lived tuberculosis hospital and in the 1920s the locals incited a cave war for tourist dollars. Mammoth Cave was deemed a national park in 1941 and today there are a slew of tours ranging from a casual stroll to serious spelunking.

Since our underground escapades were spur of the moment, we were only able to book the self-guided tour, which took about 30 minutes. Interpretative rangers were stationed throughout the cave to answer questions and make sure visitors didn’t stray off the paved pathway. Aboveground, there are several miles of nature trails and a visitor center with an interactive cave museum that touches on both the natural and human history of Mammoth Cave. I wish we could have seen Frozen Niagra or the Ruins of Karnak but all of the tours were sold out.

Cave City itself is a curious place. There are lots of roadside attractions including kayaking, putt putt and other caves, however most of the amusement parks were shuttered when we went. Some looked closed for the season, others looked abandoned. Guntown Mountain is supposedly slated for a comeback, so hopefully it will be open next year; I’m particularly interested in the Haunted Hotel. Regardless, I’m looking forward to exploring this area more next Thanksgiving, with or without a hard hat.

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.

Catahoula Zine

 

Catahoula Zine

Catahoula Zine

I’m excited to announce a project I’ve been working on called Catahoula; the first issue of this quarterly zine features words and photography by yours truly. I’ve toyed with the idea of creating a zine for several years, so I am ecstatic this project has finally come to fruition.

The first issue features “Allons,” a story I wrote this past summer about what it was like to grow up with a swamp for a backyard. I grew up in a typical Westbank subdivision, but my experience was slightly different than my neighbor’s thanks to the proximity of my parent’s house to the levee. Living next to the swamp was fun, but it wasn’t easy. Snakes, armadillos, wasps, and a slew of other animals constantly invaded our home and yard, and the threat of hurricanes was ever present. Growing up in this environment really shaped the person that I am today: someone who yearns for the outdoors and tries not to place too much value on material things since you never know when a storm might take them away. I haven’t lived on “the other side of the river” for 15 years, but I try to make it to Barataria Preserve, the location the essay centers around, at least twice a year. All but one of the photographs (the squirrel photo was shot at Audubon Park) were taken there.

Order a print or digital copy of Catahoula through MagCloud by clicking here. Print copies are $8.00 and digital is $2.00. I’m also giving away two digital copies of Catahoula to two lucky readers. Leave your email in the comments section for a chance to enter. I will pick two winners at random. Winners will be contacted early next week.

A kiddie pool for adults? Yes, please!

kiddie pool set up

A kiddie pool for adults? Yes, you need one in the worst way possible.

The summer months are downright miserable in New Orleans. The only way to remain comfortable is to stay indoors and blast the air conditioner until late October, or get proactive about cooling off and get creative with staving off the heat.

Last summer I made the best decision of my life (only a slight exaggeration) and invested in a kiddie pool. They’re relatively inexpensive, a good excuse to have friends over, and if you’re in need of some solitude all you need is a good book, an ice cold Le Croix, and you’ve got yourself a backyard oasis on a budget. I’m not talking about those glorified puddles of water in the shape of a turtle; you need something that your grown ass self can sit down in, chest deep, or fit a pool float in.

Interested in setting up your own? Since I did my homework last summer you don’t have to. Here’s everything you need for your own adult kiddie pool, ice chest full of beer not included.

 

Not too big, not too small

Buy the largest pool you can. I wanted mine to fit on my covered back patio, so a five feet wide by three feet deep framed pool was the best option for me. I purchased it for $60 from Big Lots, but there are plenty of options out there online as well as in stores.

 

The setup 

You need a flat surface – such as an even patch of grass or a level spot on the patio – otherwise you’ll risk puncturing the bottom. I also recommend purchasing two tarps, one to go underneath the pool (for added protection) and one to cover it. If you can buy a pool cover designed for your model get that instead. Even with a cover bugs and debris will sneak in. A leaf rake or net is a must for keeping your pool clean.

I definitely recommend buying a kiddie pool with a built in filter. You want to keep that water moving, unless your goal is to start a mosquito breeding facility. In that case, keep that water nice and stagnant. My pool didn’t come with a filter, so I purchased a pond aerator via Amazon in lieu of hiring neighborhood kids to blow bubbles via silly straws 12 hours a day.

 

Crystal clear 

It takes a lot of water to fill up a pool. Mine holds about 350 gallons, so instead of putting more money into New Orleans Sewage and Water Board’s pockets, I fill up my pool once and maintain the water quality on a weekly basis. Pool supply manufacturers don’t make products for kiddie pools (if you find some let me know) so I wing it with spa products. I like Fresh n’ Clear from Leslie’s Pool Supplies.

You’ll need to figure out how many gallons of water your pool holds to make sure you are using the proper amount of product. Search for online swimming pool calculators that will figure out your pool’s volume based on the height, width, and depth.

I don’t bother with chlorine tablets but I do put two or three capfuls of bleach in the pool and let it sit for a day or two before my next late night dip. Every other week I scrub down the sides and bottom with a sponge to prevent slime buildup.

Packing it up

Unless you want to maintain that puppy during the winter I’d suggest packing it up and storing it away. I give my pool a good scrubbing with soapy water before I store it or after I unpack it from the previous year. You’ll also want to let it dry completely before stashing it away, unless acrid mildew is your thing.

 

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.

The levee and life

uses for tires

new orleans levee
chain link fence
rusty cables
Louisiana sunset
Sometimes you just need to put life on hold and go watch the sunset from the levee. My brain is a pile of midterm exams and research paper mush, beaten with a whisk until frothy and spooned out into a leftover Mardi Gras go cup. My last spring semester (I graduate in December) has reached the midway point and I’m pretty sure I’m starting to develop a case of senioritis. I just want to read books that aren’t served up on a syllabus, take my girls to the dog park, and relieve some of my stress load by trying to get downtime in any way I can.
One thing I told myself this semester is that my sanity is more important than my grades. I never like to get uncomfortably personal on my blog, but after having several panic attacks last semester, I promised myself that I won’t compromise my mental health for the sake of getting straight As. Running the campus newspaper, taking 16 hours, and working a part-time job on the weekends can be a crippling workload. So I didn’t feel too bad about catching the sunset on the levee on Friday instead of starting a paper that’s due on Monday (yea, some things never change, even as a grown ass woman) then so be it.

Flash Nonfiction: Guts And Glory

   Guts and Glory is a flash nonfiction story I wrote just as a writing exercise. It captures the spirit of childhood summers spent next to the swamp. I hope you enjoy it.
Guts And Glory
 
       “They look like sin dipped in misery,” Mom said. We called them katydids, science calls them Romalea guttata. They invaded our yard in biblical proportions; their bodies shined like freshly cooled lava.

         “I think they’re pretty when they flap their little red wings,” I responded.
The black grasshoppers copulated on our front yard at dusk, sometimes sneaking into the garage like lusty teenagers. One sweat soaked evening me and my brother invented our own pest control with Dad’s golf clubs- katydid hockey.
“Take that, sucker!” Chris yelled as a katydid skidded into the storm drain.
“Yeah, Chris, yeah!” I screeched with delight. Thick yellow guts painted the pavement like a Passover door. We stayed out until the mosquitoes launched an aerial attack, their needle noses drilling the napes of our necks. We were unaware that our game was a grasshopper massacre; our consciouses only existed in those fleeting moments of sunlight. We forgot our insect graveyard, oblivious to it until it was safe to resume our game the next evening. 


katydids
Bastards.
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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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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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