Free Camping near New Orleans

I can't stress enough how much we do not have a solid travel plan. As we were wrapping up the holiday season in Jacksonville, we still didn't know where to go next. Should we go south and see the Everglades? Should we start heading west again where the boondocking sites are ample and easy to find?

There was also the weather to consider- most of the country was seeing unusually cold temperatures and even Jacksonville was experiencing freezing weather. And to complicate it a bit more, we had also begun scanning the workamping job ads online. Our original plan was to return to Indianapolis in the spring after a year of travel, so as 2017 ended and 2018 began we realized we needed to start thinking about our homecoming plans. We began to brainstorm how to return to Indianapolis- where to live, should we rent or buy or try to live in the RV?...And while we wrestled with that, we also looked for potential workamping gigs for the spring and summer season, thinking if we found something cool we could just extend our trip a little.

That was our state of mind at the very beginning of 2018 and eventually, we decided to continue west. We were aiming for the deserts of New Mexico for some winter weather relief.

So on January 2nd, we drove through the Florida panhandle, through a small bit of Mississippi, and then spent the night at the Louisiana Welcome Center rest area. As we looked at the map that night, Alex mentioned that he really wished he could see New Orleans. At that moment, our plan changed again and we decided to wait on New Mexico and explore NOLA instead. We woke the next morning and drove a short two hours to the only boondocking site I could find on Campendium near New Orleans, the Bonnet Carre Spillway. 

The Bonnet Carre Spillway is a flood control operation in the Lower Mississippi Valley- it allows floodwaters from the Mississippi River to flow into Lake Pontchartrain and then into the Gulf of Mexico.  The spillway was built in response to the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 that inundated much of the Mississippi River basin.  (Thank you, Wikipedia)

It's also used as a recreation area.  There are 15 campsites, a pavilion, fishing piers and some hiking/biking trails. We found a space easily enough and there was only one tent camper and one RVer there when we arrived. Although the camping is free, you do have to "reserve" a space on their website. I emailed the required photo of our driver's licenses but never actually heard back from anyone. The proximity to New Orleans was fantastic-less than 30 minutes from the French Quarter but the actual camping area was just a little uncomfortable. We usually camp very far away from people and this place was busy. There were people around all the time- mostly fishing I think, but also just sitting in their trucks for loooong periods of time.  It was not uncommon for men to park in the grass very near our RV rather than the huge parking lot and just sit for a few hours, sometimes smoking cigarettes or vaping out the window. It just made me uncomfortable to have people parked so oddly close to us for no apparent reason.

We visited New Orleans twice while we were there. The first time we explored the French Quarter during the day. We parked near Jackson Square and then just walked for hours. We stopped for a shot of tequila at one of the little street bars and then had lunch at Killer Po-Boys

We returned a second time to meet up with one of my oldest and dearest friends, Brian and his boyfriend Eric. The four of us returned to the French Quarter and stopped at Bar Tonique for drinks before walking to Jackson Square to see one of the first parades of Mardi Gras season. It was the Krewe de Jeanne d’Arc parade- a small, family friendly, walking parade that kicks off the Mardi Gras season and celebrates St. Joan of Arc. Then we walked to to Dat Dog, ate hot dogs and sat on the balcony watching people below us dance in the street while a band played. We were just the right amount of drunk and the food and the music were perfect.  It was exactly what we'd been looking for in a visit to New Orleans.

So that would have sort of wrapped our short NOLA detour.  We really just wanted to see Brian and the French Quarter and keep it moving but then our refrigerator stopped working. Because the weather was cold and RV refrigerator temps can be inconsistent, we weren't immediately sure if the fridge was getting warmer or if it was in our heads but then we threw a thermometer in there and realized it was definitely getting warmer. Alex spent a day taking the fridge apart and trouble shooting it. He read the manual and watched Youtube videos and concluded we would need an entirely new cooling unit. While he was diagnosing, I was researching RV refrigerator options and discovering that RV fridges are much more expensive than conventional fridges. We were looking at $1000-$1500 easily so the repair route looked to be the logical decision. I also went to the store and bought two cheap styrofoam coolers and bags of ice and transferred all of our food to the coolers. I had just made a trip to the grocery the day prior and now I was watching all of that food go bad. We ate as much as we could but we lost a lot of the frozen stuff pretty quickly. 

In addition to exploring the French Quarter and researching the fridge issue, we were also scanning the workamping job ads online everyday. We had a few phone interviews that week and even a job offer that we eventually turned down.  With the exception of the visit to the French Quarter, it was a bit of weird week- cold weather, sketchy fishermen, a broken fridge, and uncertainty about where we would go next, juxtaposed with cheerful, professional phone interviews for workamping jobs we weren't even sure if we wanted. 

We stayed at that site just long enough to diagnose the refrigerator and then decided not to order the part until we switched locations. So we hitched up and began the drive to Texas to try out beach camping for the first time.