I admit the following: I recently visited the Grand Ecore Visitor Center in Natchitoches Parish primarily to see the big old whale skeleton and the super high bluff looking towards the Red River.
But I saw so much more. Though the view and the big old whale definitely were my favorites.
Grand Ecore is a small community in Natchitoches Parish, just about five miles from the City of Natchitoches. We stopped in at the Natchitoches Visitor’s Center on Front Street this past Saturday and asked the lady working there about the Grand Ecore Visitor’s Center. She told us about the big old whale skeleton and that sealed the deal that we make the trip. We knew about the bluff, and we were fairly committed to going just to see the bluff…. But then the big old whale came along and it became a must do trip.
This was a beautiful Saturday, and it was a bit surprising to me that we were the only visitors there. The nice guy tending to the visitor center instructed us to sign in. I noticed there weren’t many signatures for the weekend and that is sad… When I was a kid, getting to see a big old whale skeleton and look down at one of this country’s most major rivers from a super duper high bluff would have been a huge treat. Kids today just have different ideas of fun… Wow, don’t I sound nice and older person-ish saying this?!!! LOL!!! But for real, they do… A big ole whale and a really nice view just don’t do it for kids today like they did for kids of a few yesteryears back. Blah!
Well anyway, I was kind of bummed right off the bat because the guy there said we couldn’t take aerial photos of the super duper view by flying our quadcopter above the place. He explained that it is federal property and he did not think we could do this, but did give me a card and told me to email him and he could double check with his higher ups about my seemingly tiny request. He was really nice, and he helped me get over my sadness about the aerial photos by pointing me to the big old whale skeleton. That made me happy. And the girls were seriously delighted. I’m pretty sure they weren’t faking it either. We all stared at it, in a high degree of amazement.
The big old whale skeleton was actually an incredibly well preserved skeleton of the skull of a pre-historic whale– a Basilosaurus to be exact. The skeleton was nicely encased in a rectangular crystal clear glass display with lighting strategically directed towards it so you could see every little detail. And let me say this… this whale is a sight to behold. Especially when you behold the sight while taking into account that this particular mammal lived 34 to 40 million years ago. Now that’s an old whale.
Far as the big part in the big old whale, I read in the literature placed next to the display that an adult Basilosaurus grew as long as fifty to sixty feet. Whoa! Wow! Now that’s a big long whale. At that very moment, when I read that very tidbit, I completely understood the museum curator’s (that is what I am calling the Visitor Center guy) answer to the question I had just asked.
Me: “Where is the rest of the whale?”
Curator: “In Baton Rouge.”
Me: “It sure would be neat if it was all here.”
Curator: “It’s too big.”
Well, considering the head itself is no more than five feet, yeah, it made sense now, at this moment, that the remainder of the skeleton is perhaps too large to display at the Grand Ecore Visitor’s Center.
The whale skeleton was found in 1979 by archeologists studying the Montgomery Landing (Creole Bluff). It is always most interesting to realize that Louisiana, up to almost Shreveport, was once covered by a warm shallow sea… Once being a bunch of million years ago. I had learned that interesting fact many years ago (1995 or 6, I believe) when the level of Toledo Bend Lake was super low due to a ridiculously awful drought and people on the southern end of the lake in particular were finding teeth which belonged to the Megalodon Sharks which actually existed after dinosaurs but still 3-10 million years ago or so. Possibly by then, the sea only covered up to central Louisiana, since the shark teeth were only found as far as I know on the southern end of the lake.
One more thing about the Basilosaurus … It’s name is actually a bit misleading. The name itself, though really an attractive name, was perplexing me and being that one of my strange inclinations is to dissect every word I hear for meaning… I knew basilosaurus translated to king reptile. Well, actually my smarty pants daughter insists the suffix means lizard and not reptile, though I am not convinced she is one hundred percent correct. Either way, a whale is a mammal, and so I thought any whale from any time and any place would be a mammal. I wikipedia’d it and found that yes, a basilosaurus is in fact a mammal. What had happened was that by the fossilized skeleton fragments which were originally found, the creature was initially thought to be a reptile… Or lizard. Once the people who were lucky enough to study this beast realized it was in fact a whale, it was proposed that the Basilosaurus be instead named zeuglodon (which, by the way, translates to yoked tooth).
But a name change could not become reality. Apparently, per taxonomic rules, the first name will remain permanent. Who knew?
Oh, still one more thing about this basilosaurus (I love this name “basilosaurus) had legs. Yes, legs! Two teenincy legs. Teenincy being relative to the big old bodies they had. In case you were wondering just what teenincy was in the case of the big old whale’s legs… Approximately 14 inch hind limbs on an adult basilosaurus. The legs were suspected to be used for swimming or other non-walking activity.
One more thing about the basilosaurus (I’m sorry, I just can’t help myself)… The basilosaurus head did not have room for a melon like modern toothed whales (well, that’s what Wikipedia says anyway, though I never knew fitting or not fitting a melon in a whale head could somehow categorize it). The basilosaurus brain is smaller in comparison to modern whales, and the basilosauruses aren’t believed to have had the social capabilities of modern whales. Poor basilosaurus.
Now, I will at last move past the basilosaurus, as difficult as it is, and get to the high bluff. How high is high, I imagine any interested reader is asking. Eighty feet high… Eighty entire feet above the Red River. That’s a mighty high bluff. And, that’s a lot of underlying Tertiary strata! We wouldn’t have even had to raise our quadcopter up many feet to get aerial footage… If only we could have flown it there.
Well, getting past my grief on that account, I must say it is a really nice view, the Grand Ecore Visitor Center view is. And there are tables and sitting areas to just chill, sit back, enjoy the view and think about the history right before your eyes.
There is also a nice walking trail… Not very long but a pleasant walk… Which offers another view of the Red River. It also meandors past trenches from the Civil War and these are neat to see.
Inside the Visitor’s Center, there are plenty of displays telling about this, that, and the other. This being the Red River, that being Indian history, and the other being fish, birds, etc of the area and telling about rocks and what’s in the dirt should you happen to dig really deep… Basically all kind of things. The displays are large, neatly arranged, bright, colorful, eye-catching and professional-looking… and all thanks to the United States Army Corp of Engineers, which operates the Visitor’s Center.
All in all, whale and bluffs and Civil War and all, I highly recommend a visit to the Grand Ecore Visitor’s Center. Just leave your drones at home.
It’s something to see if you live nearby, and even if you don’t live so nearby. Who knows, you may even have a whale of a time. Or at least a basilosaurus of a time 🙂