Of all of the many unique places to visit in the state of Louisiana, only one of them is the perfect mixture of wonder and fear. I'm talking about the Atchafalaya Swamp, or Atchafalaya Basin as many people refer to it as. The Atchafalaya is the largest swamp in the United States, and also a great source of income, recreation, and mystery for the state of Louisiana.
The swamp sits roughly in the southern central part of Louisiana, snugly surrounded by cities such as Grosse Tete, Morgan City, Ferriday, and Henderson. Lafayette and Baton Rouge are the largest cities nearby, and an eighteen point two mile bridge that crosses the swamp connects Grosse Tete and Henderson via Interstate Ten.
Oil is a huge industry in the basin as is crawfishing and alligator hunting. Alligator hunting has taken center stage recently with the popularity of the show Swamp People on The History Channel.
The many lakes and rivers that flow through the basin provide plenty of recreational activities. Hunting, fishing, and water sports are there for the taking.
Guided tours (highly recommended) can be found throughout the basin, and anyone who wishes to partake in one will see numerous animals ranging from egrets to alligators and nutria to black bear.
The southern portion of the basin features brackish water (water with too much salt to be considered fresh, but not enough to be considered salt water), which opens up the opportunity of catching a number of salt water fish such as red snapper and even shrimp and crabs.
While they are rare, bull sharks have been captured in many of the basin's rivers and lakes, giving many fishermen quite a surprise. There's even supposed to be a Sasquatch-like beast roaming the swamps as well, but there's no substantial evidence so far.
The Atchafalaya is very beautiful, but due to its immense size and numerous twists and turns, it can also be a very dangerous place. Not only is it very easy to get lost in (and therefore easy to never be found), visitors who venture out into the swamp with little or no knowledge about life in the swamp can easily be bitten by one of the many poisonous snakes that call the basin home. Ground rattlers, copperheads, cottonmouth snakes (I've always called them water moccasins), and coral snakes are just a few of the legless biters waiting for a meal. Drowning also poses a hazard as some parts of the rivers have very strong currents and whirlpools that can easily pull even the most experienced swimmer to a watery grave. On top of that, wild hogs roam the swamp and I know of no one who's ever walked up on a friendly one. Then of course there is the threat of lightning should you ever get caught out in the middle of a lake in a boat and one of the many summer storms spring up out of nowhere.
Basically, I do not recommend venturing out into the swamp alone unless you are extremely experienced in dealing with its many obstacles and dangers. The aforementioned guided tours are an excellent way to see the beauty of the swamp without risking your health too much. Many of the tours are given via party barges that meander slowly through the swamp and give tourists plenty of opportunities to take photographs. Of course, you can always opt to take a tour on an airboat, which, for those of you who aren't familiar with airboats, is basically a flat bottomed boat with a propeller strapped on its back. You'll cruise across the swamp no matter how deep or shallow the water gets, and you'll see everything at breakneck speed.
Overall, the Atchafalaya Swamp possesses some of the most beautiful wonders and lethal dangers that you can find in the United States. From pesky mosquitoes to sunsets on the bayou, the Atchafalaya has something for everyone.
Visit www.atchafalaya.org or www.louisianatravel.com for more information on the basin and the great state of Louisiana.
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