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Between New Orleans and Baton Rouge beautifully restored antebellum plantations along the Mississippi are filled with period antiques, evoking tales of Yankee gunboats and the ghosts of former residents. Industrial plants share the scenery now, and the man-made levee, constructed in the early 20th century in an attempt to keep the mighty Mississippi on a set course, obstructs the river views that
plantation residents once enjoyed. Still, you can park your car and climb up on the levee to survey a stretch of the wide, muddy river.
Between the Destrehan and San Francisco plantations you will drive through what amounts to a deep bow before the might of the Mississippi: the Bonnet Carré Spillway is a huge swath of land set aside specifically to receive the river's periodic overflow, thus protecting New Orleans, 30 miles downriver.
The Great River Road is also called, variously, Route or LA 44 and 75 on the east bank of the river and Route or LA 18 on the west bank. "LA" and "Route" are interchangeable; we use Route throughout this chapter. Alternatives to the Great River Road are Interstate 10 and U.S. 61; both have signs marking exits for various plantations. All the plantations described are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and some of them are B&Bs. Plantation touring can take anywhere from an hour to two days, depending upon how many houses you want to see—and how much talk of moonlight and magnolias you'd like to hear.
Hemmed in as it is by endless industrial plants, Baton Rouge may not look like much from the road. Yet government-history enthusiasts will want...