Writer and photographer: TAMRA BOLTON / Jan.-Feb. 2017
What can you do if you discover a massive deposit of salt? If you’re smart, you figure out something useful to make with the salt and turn the site into a place people want to visit.
That is what the McIlhenny family, creators of Tabasco hot sauce, did with Avery Island.
READY TO GO
- Other things to do near Avery Island: http://www.louisianatravel.com/cities/avery-island
- Everything you ever wanted to know about Tabasco: http://www.tabasco.com/avery-island/
Situated on top of a salt dome and surrounded by swamps and marshes in coastal Louisiana, Avery Island rises 163 feet above sea level. Although the soil covering the dome is fairly shallow, the island supports a plethora of native vegetation and animals.
Visiting Avery Island is like taking a trip to an exotic location. The Jungle Gardens, a 170-acre paradise along the Bayou Petite Ans, is a wonderland of azaleas, massive live oak trees dripping with Spanish moss and thousands of birds.
Bird City, a personal project of the Tabasco founder E.A. McIlhenny, or Mr. Ned as he was called, was founded in the 1890s when he brought eight young egrets to the island.
He raised and released the birds to rescue them from plume hunters who were slaughtering snowy egrets to use their long, white feathers on ladies’ hats. Now each February and March, thousands of beautiful snowy egrets return to Bird City from their winter migration.
In the gardens, you can stroll under a canopy of gigantic live oaks and through corridors framed by bamboo. You’ll find a bright red pagoda and an enclosure that houses a centuries-old Buddha that was given to Mr. Ned in 1936.
A tunnel of trees looks very much like the road that Frodo Baggins and his friends were on when they take refuge from the Black Rider in the “The Lord of the Rings” series. I almost expected to see hobbits climbing over the bank at the end of that eerie tunnel.
You’ll also see wildlife. Alligators, turtles, deer and raccoons are in abundance.
No visit to Avery Island is complete without a tour of the Tabasco Factory. You’ll see the greenhouses where the pepper plants are grown from seedlings, the barrel warehouse where the pepper mash is stored and aged and vats where it all becomes sauce.
The tour includes the bottling line where machines fill the bottles, put on the tops and bundle the bottles for shipping.
At the fascinating Tabasco Museum, you’ll learn more about the McIlhenny family and how they built the company. My favorite thing was the hand-written recipe for Tabasco sauce.
The Tabasco Country Store has tasty items to sample and purchase, along with McIlhenny merchandise. If you’re hungry for more Tabasco-flavored goodies, the Restaurant 1868 serves authentic Cajun dishes that will spice up your palate.
For kids, a trip through a re-creation of an Avery Island salt mine is a highlight.
Avery Island is about 140 miles west of New Orleans and about 30 miles south of Lafayette.
Tamra Bolton is a freelance writer based in East Texas.