By Joe Darby
If you’re heading north or south, to Shreveport or Alexandria, and you’re not in a big hurry, you might want to try good old La. 1 instead of the Interstate.
On the Interstate, as you know, you’ll be beset by speeders, looming 18-wheelers, slow-pokes that force you to pass them and other unpleasant challenges to your serenity and safety.
On good old La. 1, you’ll find few of those problems (except perhaps for the slow-pokes), along with time to look at the countryside and enjoy the ride. I keep referring to the highway as good old La. 1 because I have a true affection for that long-traveled road.
If Route 66, stretching from Chicago to California, can be called America’s “Mother Road,” I think one could make a case for La. 1 being Louisiana’s “Mother Road.” It runs from Grand Isle, down on the Gulf of Mexico, to the extreme northwest corner of our state, traversing 12 parishes along the way. It’s our longest numbered highway. And it does, of course, pass right through Natchitoches.
La. 1 was put together during the early 1930s, under Gov. Huey P. Long, as a continuous route from north to south, connecting smaller patches of unpaved, more or less local roads. The highway would not be paved along its entire length until 1949, when the section in lower Lafourche Parish was finally given a hard overlay.
But, enough of its history. I like it because its traffic is light, it is, as I said, relaxing, and it brings back what auto travel was like years ago. It is a good way to get to Shreveport or Alexandria, I think.
But of course there’s so much more to it than our own local area. We often take La. 1 from Alexandria to New Roads, where we cross the Mississippi River on a (relatively) new bridge to visit family in East Feliciana Parish. That drive takes us through Marksville and other small towns along the Red and Mississippi Rivers. Make sure you obey each little town’s speed limits and you’ll be all right.
Years ago I would often drive the lower portion of La. 1, heading out from New Orleans and picking up the highway at Raceland to go down to Grand Isle. I wasn’t a fisherman but rather I was covering Jefferson Parish government for the New Orleans Times-Picayune so I would sometimes have business in that little island community.
Down there, La. 1 follows alongside Bayou Lafourche, where you’ll go through one small Cajun town after another, with scores of shrimping and fishing boats tied up along side the roadway. The scenery is interesting but, again, make sure you obey the speed limits. They have made a fine art out of speed traps.
So, putting it all together, I suppose I’ve traveled pretty much all of La. 1 at one time or another, but never in one continuous drive.
There are lots of other great backroad highways in Louisiana also. Let me mention US 71, which we recently took from US 190 near Krotz Springs to Alexandria. The different scenery and landscapes along that road are amazing. You go from swampland to open prairies with both cattle lands and farm lands to gently rolling hill country.
The state puts out a nice brochure and map on Louisiana Trails and Byways, which details scenic and historic backroads all over the state. Maybe I’ll talk about some of them in the future.
Allow me to end by repeating my suggestion that, when you have the time, take La. 1 or some other good old Louisiana highway. I don’t think you’ll regret it.
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