On The Road: 5 Great Stops Between New Orleans & Dallas
West along I-10, northwest on I-49 and west again along I-20 will take you from the port of New Orleans to the eighth-largest city in our nation, Dallas, Texas. As our On The Road series continues, we look at some engaging, educational and interesting stops along this southern corridor to the west.
1. Where Cultures Coexist
Located in Lafayette, LA, the Acadian Cultural Center is one of three sites dedicated to preserving and explaining Acadian culture. The Acadians in Louisiana (now called Cajuns) are decedents of French colonists who settled in Canada, only to be forced south during the Great Expulsion as a result of the French And Indian War. About 300 Acadians were forcefully deported to Louisiana (then controlled by Spain), and many more followed suit in later years. All of these influences combine to create a unique blend of culture, food, music and language amid the bayous of Louisiana.
The center is actually part of the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve, a series of six sites that offer an incredible glimpse into history, culture and nature. At this site, you can take educational bayou rides and learn of the rich history of the region.
And the best part? It's only closed on Christmas Day and Mardi Gras.
2. Birthplace of the Harlem Renaissance
In Alexandria, LA, you can visit the Arna Bontemps African American Museum, which itself is one of 26 sites on the Louisiana African American Heritage Trail. The museum is the birthplace of Arna Wendell Bontemps, an influential American poet, author, librarian and one of the leading authorities and members of the Harlem Renaissance. Although Arna and his family moved to the Watts district of Los Angeles during the Great Migration when Arna was only three, his original house has been restored and stands now as a vehicle for education and awareness.
The museum also holds an annual African American Heritage Quiz Bowl (held in celebration of black history) for students in grades 6-12. Winners of this competition receive a US Savings Bond. Held in May 2010, this will be the 16th year of the competition.
3. My God, It's Full of Stars
Louisiana's Science Center, Sci-Port, can be found in the northwest Louisiana town of Shreveport. At the center, you can visit the Space Dome Planetarium, which offers the opportunity to control the International Space Station and view live presentations about the stars overhead. The center also includes an IMAX Dome Theater, interactive science, math and space exhibits as well as a Bodyworks center which strives to study and examine the innerworkings of the human body. With over 92,000 square-feet of real estate, there's always something to see.
4. Boomtown, USA
Outside of Alaska, the East Texas Oil Field is the largest oil field in the United States, spanning over 140,000 acres. Similar to the gold rush 80 years earlier in California, speculators, lease hounds, and roughnecks swarmed to eastern Texas in the 1930s with the promise of finding black gold amid the eastern reaches of the Lone Star State.
In Kilgore, TX (on the campus of Kilgore College), there is a museum commemorating the rapid expansion and chaos of oil madness: The East Texas Oil Museum. Here, you can learn about the people, settlements, tools and lives of the settlers seeking riches in the subtropical regions of the state. The site actually includes a recreated city called Boomtown, USA—a full-scale replica of the stores, people, animals and machinery of a town in the throes of discovering oil.
5. One if by Land, Two if by Sea
The Dallas World Aquarium & Zoological Garden is divided into four sections: The aquarium, the rainforest, Mundo Maya and South Africa. Each area contains a separate ecosystem for you to explore. Perhaps most enthralling is the rainforest exhibit, which includes three stories of simulated canopies, giving you a glimpse into multiple jungle levels.
Also, be sure and check out the informational presentations throughout the day, complete with live feedings. The guides offer informational talks on everything from otters and sharks to sloths and jaguars. Definitely a must see if you find yourself in Dallas with several hours to kill!