May 2012 – Journey to Grand Isle
JOURNEY TO GRAND ISLE (Louisiana Travel)
Pack your fishing pole and birding binoculars for this simple beach getaway that offers a chance to get away from it all in the splendor of Louisiana’s outdoors.
By Kristy Christiansen
There’s a solitary strip of road that cuts a path through the marsh and black mangroves to connect a traveler between Louisiana’s mainland and the state’s only inhabited barrier island. Grand Isle is the end of the road for Louisiana Highway 1, and it’s arguably one of the most dramatic locations along the 436-mile-long highway. It’s here that you can roll down the windows to breathe in the salt air and then venture over a short sand dune to take in the views of endless Gulf waves.
More than a hundred years ago, Kate Chopin so eloquently wrote in The Awakening, “The voice of the sea is seductive, never ceasing, whispering, clamoring, murmuring, inviting the soul to wander in abysses of solitude.” This is still the lure of Grand Isle today. Tourists aren’t drawn here for the extravagant condos and silky white sand that belong to Florida’s beaches. They come to Grand Isle to experience life at its simplest and purest, to catch a glimpse of the raw wilderness this land used to be–and sometimes still is.
Start your journey at the island’s far end at Grand Isle State Park, where you’re likely to find more people fishing off the pier than sunbathing on the sand. The beach here reflects the various elements at work in nature. The sand appears weathered by the sun and waves continuously beating on the shore. It’s not uncommon to find rows of shells washed up alongside a sun-bleached, three-foot skeleton of a fish.
The family-friendly park allows you to pitch a tent on the beach, so you can fall asleep under the multitude of stars to the peaceful sounds of the sea. You’ll wake to the sight of porpoises breaking the water’s surface, sending a morning greeting to the pelicans skimming through the air above them. If sleeping in a tent on the sand is a little too rustic, stay in a motel or rent one of the many available island camps. Either way, it’s worth staying the night so you can get up early to cast a line in the waters.
On an island where fishing is a livelihood to locals, the options are endless. Grand Isle boasts 280 species of fish, and you can catch them from almost any spot on or off the island. There are two major piers—one at the state park and one known as the “Old Fishing Bridge” next to the Caminada Bridge. At last count, there were more than 30 charter fishing companies, several marinas and bait shops and even kayak rentals.
You can fish day or night, right off the beach or from a boat bobbing in the waves. If you’re curious where they are biting today, ask a local—who not only will know but will happily share with you expert advice. You can even compete against fellow anglers in dozens of fishing rodeos, including the nation’s oldest—the Grand Isle Tarpon Rodeo. Rather have someone else do the work for you? There are several restaurants along the main road or you can pick up fresh fish, shrimp or crabs from marinas and local fishermen.
When visiting in the spring, you’ll share the island with another frequent tourist—thousands of migrating birds. The Nature Conservancy maintains nature hikes through the island’s last remaining stand of oak-hackberry forest, where the birds tend to congregate when in town. The annual Migratory Bird Festival celebrates the feathered friends’ arrival. Another prime location for bird watching is Queen Bess Island, a nesting site home to hundreds of pelicans and the brilliantly pink roseate spoonbills.