When entering a new state, our first stop is the Visitor's Center. There's a nice one at exit 29 along I-10 in Lake Charles, and we loaded up with information. We also got our first look at some of the finery of Mardi Gras.
Right behind the visitor center we could see the body of water that Lake Charles is named after.
We also got a view of an enclosed area that plays host to several of the area's famous alligators. Denisa wanted to warn this turtle that she had seen an alligator eating a turtle recently. But the three of them seem to be on friendly terms without her warnings.
We saw a snowy egret, and actually got a picture of those bright yellow toes. We don't know this alligator's intentions, but he certainly isn't hiding his devilish smile.
We are camped at Sam Houston Jones state park just north of Lake Charles, Louisiana. We are surrounded by water! While walking the river trail we can see the Calcasieu River on one side . . .
and the swamp on the other side of the trail.
We are getting used to words like bayou, swamp, and marsh that describe much of this part of the state. We have learned that the difference between a swamp and marsh is that swamps have trees while marshes do not. A bayou is different from both, because the water in a bayou is moving. So by definition, this is the swamp in our backyard at the state park.
Besides walking the state park trails, we also biked some of them. We thought we had learned our lesson to not to bike in the mud, but you have to expect mud when you are living in a swamp. You also expect signs warning you about alligator nests with protective mama gators if you get off the trail.
We have been exploring the city of Lake Charles. Some of the first citizens of this city are buried in a cemetery beside the lake. We enjoyed the statues in the middle of the very old gravestones.
We walked the historic downtown with its Victorian houses that are over 100 years old. In the middle of that walk we visited the Mardi Gras museum. This museum is filled with the costumes that have been worn by the Mardi Gras royalty in Lake Charles since they started their celebration in 1964. These elaborate costumes were donated by the kings and queens of Mardi Gras, and can cost thousands of dollars. The one pictured below is from 2012, with the theme "Decades of Time."
The women's gowns are beautiful, but the men's costumes can be even more elaborate. Mark is standing beside a costume that was worn by a Mardi Gras King of 1995 when the theme was "Native Rhythms." The part of the costume that is above Mark's head is a complicated combination of wire and sequins that is worn on the shoulders. This costume would make even a short man feel like he's ten feet tall.
There were hundreds of costumes in the museum. The two facing lions were part of the head dress for a Mardi Gras king. The large white trains hanging from the ceiling were parts of two different queens' ensembles.
We were experiencing sequin-overload, but kept snapping pictures. This snake head would tower over the king by four feet. We couldn't help but wonder how comfortable these elaborate costumes were. Troubling questions kept running through our minds. What if it's windy the day of Mardi Gras? What if the ceilings at the ball weren't tall enough? What if it rains? How do you go through doorways? and of course, how would one get into the bathroom wearing this?
The museum started several years ago when the local kings and queens cleaned out their closets and donated all these costumes to be displayed. Some of these took a lot of room in those closets! After looking at all these beautiful dresses, Denisa was wishing for one of her own. Then she found that the museum also had an opportunity to play dress up. She was feeling a little like a queen herself.
We are visiting Lake Charles during the Mardi Gras season, but we will actually be leaving town before the balls and parades take place in this city. Our current camping spot at the state park is already reserved for the merry-makers coming for the festivities in town. As we head on down the road, we have decided that living in a swamp can be a very entertaining place.