Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Avery Island, Louisiana

January 5-8, 2017
Breaux Bridge - Natchitoches, Louisiana

Remembering where folks visited in which part of each state is a challenge. I've already missed a few gems in areas we were in. With our extended stay in Breaux Bridge I would have missed the Tabasco Factory if Mona Lisa hadn't mentioned it on Facebook - thanks ML!!

Thursday is a "hang around" day, too chilly to do anything outdoors. Horses graze in the field in front of us, Tessa does a few zoomies in the grass which we have all to ourselves on both sides, naps are taken.

This guy and three ducks are our only neighbors.

Friday we are out the door by 10:00, on our way to visit Avery Island. Other than the Tabasco Factory I have no idea what to expect.

At the end of an hour's easy drive we come to an entrance booth for the island. There's no fee, just a nice man who hands us information and wishes us a good day. Cool job :-)

Another fifty feet and I can smell the pepper sauce. Stronger than the chocolate in Hershey, Pennsylvania, it gives the air a real "bite".

For $12/each we can tour the factory as well as the neighboring gardens (which we learn are the only two places open to the public at Avery - we also learn it's not an island). Let's do both!

We take our time on the self-guided tour that begins with a small museum and takes us through each step in the pepper-sauce-making process. It's all about time, not a complicated recipe. First the time for the peppers to turn the perfect shade of red (le petite rouge sticks are provided for each picker to make sure the red is right). Then the up to three years for the pepper mash, made of only peppers and a pinch of salt, from the Avery Island salt mines below the island, to cure in oak barrels that are sealed with a thick layer of salt.

Every barrel of mash is tasted by a McIlhenney family member before moving to blending. There the mash mixes with high quality vinegar, stirred regularly for up to four weeks, and the skin, seeds and stems screened out.

And they've been doing it this way, in this location, since Ed McIlhenney started the operation in 1868.  

The finished sauce is bottled in 22 languages and shipped to 180 countries and territories.

In addition to the original Capsicum fruitscens peppers, they now bottle six additional flavors: Chipotle, Habenero, Sweet and Spicy, Buffalo, Garlic, and my favorite, Jalapeno.

The museum includes several artifacts and photos of the process

The only three ingredients and a flask of capsaicin, naturally produced from the peppers.
A small bottle included in MREs
has established a long-term relationship with our military
Michael Anthony's (Van Halen bassist '85-'93) guitar was stolen from a New Orleans restaurant in 1999 and recovered 11 years later when it was (apparently) given to the museum.
Avery "not really an" Island
Avery is actually a large salt dome, pushed up 160 feet above sea level. It measures about 2.5 miles across and includes 22,000 acres. Surrounded by wet lands it resembles an island, although it stands a few miles inland from any open body of water. Generations of Tabasco Company workers have made this their home.

Lovely grounds.

Including some fun art - Ta-Bass-Co

The barrel warehouse - note the packed salt on each one.

Artifact Art

Vats of blended sauce

Working the underground salt mines

The bottling room

The bottle room

Who knew?
A nice gift shop with all that and more, plus a good-size restaurant complete the complex.

Down the driveway, and around the corner is the Jungle Gardens. Everything else on the island is private - homes and the large salt mining company, Cargil.

The factory tour is interesting and enjoyable - the gardens turn out to be the best reason to visit. We spend a long time exploring this beautiful place filled with old growth oaks, cypress, bayous, rolling hills and thick bamboo groves. It must be incredible when the Camelias and Wysteria are in bloom, and when the wildlife is more active.

The trio of oak, fern and moss fill this magical place.

Our only gator-sighting while in Louisiana

Not an easy find......
What a beauty.

During an 1891 visit to the island, Grover Cleveland hugged the tree and land owner McIlhenney named it for him :-)
The French Holly Hedge
One of three paths leading to the Buddha.

Found in a Manhattan warehouse by McIlhenney's friends, and given to him in 1936, the Buddha is said to have been made by the 12th century Chinese emperor, Hui-tsung. The story is that it was looted from it's destroyed temple and sent to New York to be sold in the late 1800's. 
Edward built the small enclosure and surrounded it with a lagoon and dozens of Chinese azalea, bamboo, juniper and a small, red bridge. Today it is a favorite stopping spot amid the beauty of the jungle.

Numerous palms add texture to the jungle.

The lovely path to Bird City through rolling grassland.

Recognizing the devastation of the women's hat industry on the Snowy Egret, McIlhenney built Bird City in a 35 acre pond. He released 8 hand-raised egrets to migrate south and, as he had hoped, 6 of them returned to mate and lay their eggs on the elevated nests he built for them. Every year the pond is filled with the beautiful white birds who call Bird City home.

Palms stand tall along a small lagoon.

One of a few quiet places among the sheltering trees, this one with a bench to sit and reflect.
This protected garden is one of the prettiest places we've seen. Even in the pale of winter, it is exceptional. Visiting when there are less than a handful of other people - even better.

Friday night it drops to 20 degrees and the ice melts very slowly in the morning sun. Pulling in the slides, the thin ice cracks and breaks from the toppers. The drive to Natchitoches is cold with muddy bridges on I-49 making a mess out of the rig and the Jeep. The interior heater can't keep up and by the time we arrive at our stop it is 49 degrees inside. Definitely the coldest we've been!

Once set up, the furnace gets us nice and cozy, just in time for the NFL play-offs. And that's what we do for the whole weekend - stay warm and watch football. Nakatosh Campground is behind a truck stop, and with a level site and 50 amp hook-ups it's all we need. It is also surprisingly quiet for the two nights.

Next stop Texas - state number 29!

EDIT: I often come back and read about where we were the year before. In re-reading this post I can't believe I didn't include the repair of the steps. 

Our service tech arrives in freezing rain with the necessary part. It's not his fault the shipment kept being delayed, but he feels responsible and although the conditions are miserable he wants to get us back on the road. 

He gets on the ground to replace the motor and repair the bad wire - it's below 30 degrees at this time. I open the door hoping some of the heat will blow across him (probably not, but I feel bad that he's got to be so uncomfortable). With the warranty coverage, I write a reasonable amount on a check and thank him for his efforts on our behalf. After all, it's clear from the posts that our extended time here is wonderful!


  1. Isn't it a fun place to visit? I wondered if I would be able to stand being there with my pepper allergy, but no production was going on, just bottling. We also loved the grounds, and it was here that we got our gator selfie! I forgot to mention to you that while at Poche's we took a fabulous swamp tour and saw lots of gators. It was a highlight of our stay there.

    1. We wanted to do a swamp tour but the locals told us there were no gators out this time of year. Next time for sure! I thought of your allergy with the strong smell, glad it didn't bother you.

  2. We also loved the garden tour as well as the factory tour. It was also off time for the swamp tour but we did take one. We enjoyed it and got to go through the bird sanctuary areas that were not nesting at the time so we got to see some areas that normally we wouldn't be able to. We only saw a couple young gators. I'm looking forward to going back through and to northern LA and see how they compare this April/May.

    1. We probably should have attempted the swamp tour - but it was pretty cold :( Such a great place!

  3. How gorgeous the pictures are of the garden. I never knew the history of Tabasco Sauce. Can't wait to see your blog on Texas! Blessings and safe travels!

    1. We really enjoy the small museums and tours of factories - like you said, we don't know how much history there is in so many places.

  4. Replies
    1. When I saw the dark bridges with the red caps I thought the same thing!! Although their buildings are brick rather than painted wood :-)

  5. I've always loved those tiny bottles of Tabasco and with the little I use it could last me years. How cool they still make this product the same way as always with no added junk. The gardens are lovely. I'm surprised you even saw that gator. The Ta-Bass-Co fish would have been easier to see. Love those trees hanging with moss. This was definitely a good visit.

    1. They do a good marketing job at the tour, I've already used more sauce than I did in the whole year before :-) That little gator never moved a bit, I"m surprised we ever saw her either.

  6. I'm so bummed that we missed Avery Island when we were there in April. But it's definitely on our list for a return visit (and there will be a return visit to Cajun Country!). The gardens are beautiful! And I love the Tabasco guitar. Chipotle Tabasco is my favorite. :-))

    1. Always great to have something new to come back and see - you guys will love the whole place!

  7. So glad you made it there, and thank you for taking me back of our visit in 2012. How time flies. When we were there the Bird City was full of Snowy Egrets.
    Beautiful photos!

    1. I could only imagine the nesting platforms full of birds - will have to come back when they're "home". Thanks for the reminder, I would have hated to miss this!!

  8. The gardens are absolutely amazing Jodee! I love the resurrection plants on all the mossy trees. Joe would have to drag me away!

    Cool story about the Tabasco Guitar. And a great tour!

    1. One could spend hours, if not days, with all the wonderful trees!

  9. We toyed with going to Avery Island but when we saw the week of rain coming for Houston and Austin, we decided to move on quickly. Thanks for tour! The gardens look beautiful.

    1. We would have missed it if not held up for the stairs. You'll love it next time through the area :-))

  10. Wow, only three ingredients :-) I rarely use Tabasco sauce but it would be interesting to take the tour. If memory serves me right, we once gave our son in law some Tabasco/chocolate candy and he said it was tasty.
    The gardens look so peaceful and serene. How special that you were there at a less than busy time of year.
    I had never thought about the heaters having to keep your whole rig warm while driving down the road. I guess it's one advantage to us pulling our home :-) The football last weekend was excellent! Go Seahawks!!

    1. We were talking about how the one time we would really like a 5er would be on a cold driving day :-) Fingers crossed for another good football weekend!!

  11. Nice neighbors. It really is difficult to keep everyone’s recommendations and great spots I read about in their blogs organized so I could use them if we ever get there. I sympathize. Good for ML although it wouldn’t help me as I seldom do facebook. Same way since 1868 is amazing even though I don’t care much for “hot sauces”. My sweet tooth objects. Amazing that this island is really a salt dome. Hmmmm Cargill. But the gardens – wow. Beautiful live oaks. Looks like resurrection ferns. Gator has a great hiding spot. You must have great spotting eyes. Love the egret story. Just a beautiful spot. Thanks for sharing it. But 20 degrees? I’m amazed it can withstand that sort of thing. I think I’m not going across the gulf west during January.

    1. It was a very short cold snap, I'm not sure how often it gets that chilly there. I was worried about the ducks at the park's lake, but they were out and about again before we left. Hardy!!