Staycation: DeSoto, Sabine & Vernon Parishes
During Spanish, French and early American ownership, the western border of Louisiana was called the “Neutral Ground, the Neutral Strip, the Neutral Territory, No Man’s Land and the Sabine Free State. During this period of dispute Spain and the U.S. agreed that settlers and military operations would not be allowed in the area. This disputed area became a home to outlaws and semi-legal settlers alike until the Sabine River was agreed upon as the legal border in the Adams – Onis Treaty ratified in 1821.
Today getting there in comfort is easy and a lot more fun in one of Riverside’s mini buses. With seperate luggage compartments and in the 18 and 24 passenger vehicles overhead storage for coats and packages there is plenty of room for what your group wants to take and memories they want to bring home. While on tour the professional chauffeur will keep the floors swept and ice chest full.
About an hour south of Shreveport, the origin of this parish’s name is a topic of debate. One camp links the name to the Spanish Explorer De Soto. The other argues that credit for the name more appropriately links to Marcelle DeSoto, an early settler.
Our first stop is the site of a decisive Confederate victory, the Battle of Mansfield. This action late in the war prevented the Union from capturing Shreveport and controlling Texas.
Leaving the battle field we will lunch at Barbecue Haven. The ratings for their food are more like ravings from devoted fans. It’s said that this is Denzel Washington’s favorite barbecue restaurant.
Then procede to the Rock Chapel at Carmel Built by Carmelite monks in 1891 as a retreat for prayer and fasting the chapel it was in use until a fire in 1904 destroyed the monestary with which was affiliated.
From the Chapel we’ll work our way to the Village of Grand Cane. Once a cross road for travel to Texas the community dwindled when the Texas and Pacific railroad went out of business in the 1950’s. In 1993 funding was provided for the restoration and historical preservation of the community. Lod and Carole Cook donated the house which was the relocated to it’s current site and named the Cook-Hill Bed & Breakfast.
The village offers art galleries, antique stores, historical building and great restaurants. For supper we’ll go to Nonnies Place located in the historic Rick Brother’s Building with it’s beautiful, Louisiana themed murals.
The next morning starts with a lazy breakfast at Cook-Hill. The group can explore historic landmark and Main Street businesses like “The Wanderer” which features hand-made pottery, local artworks, gifts and oddments. Purchases can be safely packed in the roomy luggage closet of Riverside’s Sprinter or Mini-bus.
While the group shops, your professional chauffeur will pick up lunch for the group from Village Cuisine & Catering. Once everyone is on board and purchases are packed away you’ll enjoy visiting about what you’ve seen and eating a wonderful meal while traveling.
Our first stop after lunch will be the Fort Jesup State Historic Site. The fort was built in 1822 to protect the United States western border. Zachary Taylor established and commanded the garrison. Under his oversight, law and order was brought to the “Neutral Ground.” The historic site features the original kitchen building restored to it’s original look, a recreated officers quarters and museum.
From the fort it is a short drive to Many where we’ll embark on a Sunset Tour of Toledo Bend. As your group enjoys the beautiful sunset with wine and cheese the captain will point out special features and the lake’s history. Once we return to the dock your group can relax while your chauffeur returns you safely to Grand Cane.
Day 3 we’ll check out of Cook-Hill and drive to Vernon Parish, the “Wild flower capital of Louisiana.” The area offers outstanding bird watching and sites not usually identified with the Bayou State.
Just before entering Vernon Parish we’ll stop at Hodges Gardens State Park. Openned to the public in 1956, the park is home to a variety of native and imported plant. A sand stone quarry and surrounding natural rock formations are the backdrop for it’s beautiful gardens.
Places to see in the parish include the Ft. Polk Museum, The Museum of West Louisiana and New Llano, a utopian community from the early 1900’s.
Ft. Polk is now the home of the Joint Readiness Training Center,. Originally “Camp Polk” the base was built in 1941 to prepare troop for deployment in WWII. Currently the center is used to train troops in highly realistic settings. Villages similar to those where troops will serve are constructed and locals serve as role players to familiarize trainees with scenarios they expect to encounter.
When the group is ready to clean up, rest and get ready for the evening we’ll check-in to the Booker-Lewis Hotel. The hotel is actually a bed and breakfast consisting of several historic buildings. Highly rated: the hotel, it’s restaurant and pub make it a very unique destination. Live music is offered some evenings. There are a variety of rooms to choose from.
After a wonderful evening, a good nights sleep and hearty breakfast we’ll load up the Mini-bus for the last leg of our tour. Your chauffeur will replenish the ice, water and cold drinks. Your group can add their choice of beverages. On the trip home we will explore Wolf Cave and Cooter’s Bog in the Kisatchie National Forest.
When thinking of Louisiana, caves don’t usually come to mind – but we do have them – they’re just hard to find. Leaving Leesville we’ll drive through the forest to Wolf Cave. It’s a short hike from the parking area. In the cave there is evidence of use by primative people. During the “Neutral Strip” period it was also used by outlaws. It is reportedly the longest cave in Louisiana.
Our last stop, Cooters Bog is know for beautiful flowers and birds. In the Calcasieu Ranger District it features a variety of many different plants and flowers. Be prepared to walk where it may be wet.
Leaving “No Man’s Land” we’ll head home. Your chauffeur will drive so you can recap with your friends all the interesting sites you have seen and experiences enjoyed. Once back in town we’ll drop you at your house, assist you with your luggage and packages and make sure you are safely home.
Remember – “We drive…you have fun!”