Since our days at LSU, we have always been fascinated by mounds. It may have been climbing the mounds on LSU’s campus that got us started, and we haven’t stopped! Poverty Point is the king of mounds, so important that this State Historic Site is also a National Monument and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Located in the northeast corner of the state, the site is unique for the size and shape of its earthworks, but it’s not alone. Many mounds dot the landscape throughout this area. You can follow their trail on the Indian Mounds of Northeast Louisiana driving tour.
Poverty Point Culture
We began our tour at the visitor center, where we picked up Junior Ranger booklets for the kids. It’s a great way to encourage them to look around. While answering questions, they learned about the importance of the people who lived here and built these earthworks. The Poverty Point site is dated between 1700 and 1100 B.C. The inhabitants were pre-agricultural, relying on fishing, hunting and gathering for food. They had a complex trading system, using soapstone from Georgia and Alabama to make bowls and stone from the Ouachita and Ozark mountains for tools.
An impressive display of spear points is just a small amount of the more than 8,000 found at Poverty Point. But the most commonly found items are small clay balls. Known as Poverty Point Objects (PPOs), they were heated and then used for cooking food.
Earthworks and Mounds
Back outside, we consulted our map and drove across Highway 577 to begin our tour. The loop trail passes right through the main earthworks–six rows of half-circles, which measure 3/4 of a mile in diameter and are each 4 to 6 feet tall. Archaeologists have found postmolds on top of these ridges, stains in the soil that are evidence of the remains of houses. Beyond the earthworks is one of the largest mounds in North America–Mound A. Sometimes called the bird mound, it’s 72 feet tall and 710 feet long and 660 feet wide. It may have taken 15.5 million basket loads of earth to build. It was quite a hike on a hot day just to go up and down those steps. I can’t imagine carrying dirt back and forth to build it!
What makes Poverty Point so unique is the site’s enormous size as a major cultural center. This was the late Archaic period, when most everyone was living in small groups. But here, at Poverty Point, it’s estimated that hundreds of people lived together. In addition to Mound A and the earthworks, there are four smaller mounds on the property as well. The short driving tour brings you past them and back to the Visitor’s Center.
We were lucky to catch an atlatl demonstration when we returned. It’s basically a stick with a hook on the end to attach a spear. Once you get the hang of it, it launches a spear much farther than you can throw one. The boys took turns practicing and our oldest actually won the contest for his age group, bringing home his very own spear point. Marking off the last of their Junior Ranger books, the two older boys were sworn in as Junior Rangers, adding another badge to their growing collection.
A short day trip from New Orleans, Ocean Springs is one of those small towns for which America is famous. Its historic downtown has quaint shops and restaurants lined up along a walkable main street, jutting off perpendicularly from a railroad line that runs straight through town.
Train Depot Housing “Realizations”
We went to Ocean Springs to learn about its most famous resident—Walter Anderson. A schizophrenic turned recluse, Anderson was a brilliant artist in the mid-1900s known for his colorful and quite fanciful paintings. Our first taste of his artwork was inside the old train depot next door to the Visitor’s Center. Run by Anderson’s family, “Realizations” has turned his kid-friendly designs into t-shirts, purses, bookmarks, posters and more. After buying some new tees for our boys, we scooted outside to the Saturday Fresh Market taking place in the depot’s parking lot (every Saturday 9 a.m. – 1 p.m.). Here, we sampled homemade goodies and browsed the produce and plants for sale before continuing down Washington Avenue.
Walter Anderson Museum of Art
Dedicated to Walter Anderson’s artwork, the Walter Anderson Museum of Art houses more than 1,000 pieces of art, including elaborate murals depicting his life and discoveries on the Gulf Coast. We stood for an eternity gazing at the Community Center murals, pointing out the animals and scenes hidden within it. Then we marveled at how he created the “Little Room” murals without a sole seeing them until after his death.
Marina and Shearwater Pottery Showroom
Our next stop took us to the family business. Shearwater Pottery was started by Walter’s brother Peter and is today owned by Peter’s four children, three of whom carry on the tradition of crafting decorative, functional clay pieces. The workshop, annex and showroom are tucked away in the woods close to the water’s edge. The drive to visit the shop is almost as scenic as the pottery itself, as you pass a boat-filled marina on an inlet off the Gulf.
Gulf Islands National Seashore Trail
By this point, the kids were starting to get antsy and needed some quality “hyper” time. So we headed off to Gulf Islands National Seashore to hike the scenic, coastal forest trail. They zoomed across the pathways, stopping briefly to search for fish and turtles in the still waters beneath the fishing pier. Then they looped back around to the Visitor’s Center where exhibits detailed the area’s beauty and mystique.
Fort Maurepas City Park & Nature Preserve
A great place to spend a hot summer afternoon, Fort Maurepas Park on Front Beach Drive overlooks the Gulf and features a splash pad and a ship playground. If you bring along a fishing pole, a fishing pier juts out into the Gulf from here as well. Throwing on their bathing suits, the kids cooled off while we sat in the shade and watched the boats go by. The playground rests near the former site of Fort Maurepas, built in 1699 by French explorer Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville (pictured here). Fort Maurepas was the site of the first European colonization in Mississippi, and in 1719, it briefly served as the capital of Louisiana.