Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Road Trip: Stennis-Pike #1, Part 2

Yup. I missed the last bus out to Stennis. Shrug. I hopped back in the Tracker after getting some pictures of the LEM display. Time to go to Fort Pike.

The Stennis exit from I-10 is only a few miles from the Louisiana border. A little further on, it bends southward...left on 190...wrecked boats, wrecked homes, a boat sitting upside down in a field...happy-looking homes to my right, families seemingly untouched by the hurricane a year past...dead-end into US-90, go right. At the time, there was an old, narrow steel bridge across the Rigolets (the southeast pass into Lake Pontchartrain) and a slowly-growing concrete flyover bridge that has since been completed. I was about halfway across the span when I spotted Fort Pike.

Pike's a small pie-slice of a fort--much smaller than Fort Pickens, but it's really all about location. If you look at this Fort Wiki page, you can see that there's no room for a larger structure on the tip of St. Catherine Island. Pike was intended to block the channel to the east between Lake Borgne (and the Gulf of Mexico) and Lake Pontchartrain.

It was in pretty bad shape. Hurricane Katrina's eye (2005) had rolled almost directly over the fort (just slightly east of it--but Mississippi and Alabama caught the worst of the storm in the teeth). There was a wide section of wall near the north corner that looked ready to fall out, plainly-visible damage to the bricks facing on the water (from boat wakes?), stagnant water in the landward moat. The place was still closed, pending repairs and cleaning. It reopened some 2-1/2 years after Katrina, only to be closed again by Hurricanes Gustav and Ike in 2008. It re-reopened in 2009, and since I've never been inside, it's time for another road trip!

I spent maybe an hour walking around outside, exploring and taking pictures (look for Pike & Macomb group). Aside from the sound of occasional cars, it was quiet and peaceful--one of the main things I like about these old buildings. A single pelican watched me from the water, which was calm despite the brisk wind. There was hardly a reminder of Katrina's violence, if I stood in the right place.

There were plenty of reminders, though, once I got back in the Tracker and rolled west along US-90 toward my next stop, Fort Macomb, just a few miles away at the other end of St. Catherine Island. Just a few hundred feet from the fort's parking lot, there were concrete slabs where houses had been...Maucle, Chagnard, Touche, Jacobs, Hassler, the streets were there, and the private boat slips, branches from a canal running south from the fort; we have a snapshot in Google Maps at Pike's Fort Wiki of the days and months after those houses were wiped and scraped and crushed into kindling. The entire length of the island looked like this...a standing house here, pilings sticking up like a convention of phone poles there...a burned-up excavator...portable toilets standing or seemingly parked on the side of the road, boats upturned or smashed in yards...downed trees...another narrow steel bridge ahead: Chef Menteur Pass. Across this is Fort Macomb.

This is another pie-slice-shaped fort, built along the same lines as Fort Pike, but it hasn't weathered the decades since its abandonment nearly as well. I couldn't get close enough to see much of its condition; there's a parking area between US-90 and the fort, but it was fenced off and I'm too much of a conformist to just hop or climb and go (maybe next time!). There used to be a marina along the south front; you can see the roof of it in the Google Map embedded in the fort's Wiki page. The entire ground-level of the building was torn out and half the slips contained sunken or half sunken boats hanging from their moorings. The marina lot had bits and pieces of other boats and--weirdest of all--the roof of a car. I still wonder if there was a car buried there and (this being Louisiana) who was in it.

I wandered around and took more pictures (remember--Pike & Macomb group)...and then there was the long drive home, coming in Part 3!

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