My first visit to Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge won't be my last

Photos from Southwest Louisiana refuge

I've been wanting to drive Southwest Louisiana's Creole Nature Trail All-American Road for some time, and I finally made that happen in late April — but I only got as far as Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge, where I spent several hours shooting photos of the amazing landscape and wildlife.

Cameron Prairie NWR is located in the remote Cameron Parish, just to the east of Calcasieu Lake. The wonderful refuge encompasses more than 14,000 acres of saltwater and brackish marsh that supports a variety of wildlife and migratory birds. It's just a wonderful place.

The refuge is largely accessible only by boat, but the Pintail Wildlife Drive makes enjoying the refuge from car — and a boardwalk allows visitors to stroll through the marsh.

Spring flowers

The first thing one notices — particularly during the spring — is the array of color found throughout the refuge's marsh. From American lotus blooms to purple arrowroot spikes and water hyacinth flowers, Cameron Prairie is a delight for the eyes.

I used a Nikon 300mm lens to compress the scene above to include as many of the purple spikes of bloomed-out arrowroot. A shallow depth of field provided tack sharp flowers in the center, with slightly defocused flowers in the foreground and background.

And then there are the lotus blooms — white flowers with brilliant yellow seed pods in the center. The blooms provide amazing contrast against the plant's large green lily pads and the dark water.

The marshes stretch on seemingly forever, providing a wonderful tableau to the horizon. Reeds compete with vast fields of lotus lilies that paint a beautiful landscape in which all manner of birds, fish and alligators convene. It's just a smorgasbord of wild Louisiana.

The yellow seed pod can be seen in this American lotus that is passing its peak.

Lotus lily fields stretch to the horizon at Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge, creating an array of wildlife habitat.

Wildlife Galore

Cameron Prairie is more than just amazing scenery: The refuge also is home to a variety of wildlife. The boardwalk that is part of the Pintail Wildlife Drive overlooks vast ponds that are favorite haunts of wading birds.

Ibises worked the shallow waters while we were there, with my favorite of the trip being iridescent white-faced ibises. I was fortunate to capture some nice images of these birds, that at first glance seem to be drab brown. But when they take flight and the sun hits their backs the colors really pop.

Of course, being in South Louisiana, the marsh is packed with alligators. Dozens of these apex predators lounged and swam in a canal next to the wildlife drive, and some were huge. My favorite gator photo from the trip shows an alligator sunning with its mouth open, giving what appears to be a grin. 

There were many opportunities to get out and shoot these alligators — practicing prudent distancing, of course. I used a long lens to get up close and personal without, well, getting up close and personal with these dangerous beasts.

put it on your bucket list

Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Management Area is pretty remote, but it's worth the effort to get there. The drive to the public piece of property winds through Cajun rice country, and the payoff is seeing a piece of Southwest Louisiana in a fairly undisturbed state.

So if you are in the area, carve out some time to drive south of Lake Charles. You will not regret it.