Weeks ago, when Sharky entered the picture, we found ourselves holed up in our house with cabin fever. In the past, Rebecca had expressed interest in visiting the Tobasco factory, the McIlhenny estate, and the Jungle Gardens. Coincidentally, all of these things are within a stones throw of each other… on Avery Island.
As we approached the island, I commented to Beck that it looked like there was a mountain on the horizon. I didn’t think the hill was real, but rather an illusion from the treeline. I was wrong. The 152′ tall “mountain” was indeed real and it was made of salt. More on that later.
The tour of the Tabasco factory is not really a tour so much as it is somebody talking for 5 minutes and then showing a ten minute movie. Be sure to try the Tabasco ice cream in the gift shop too! It’s colossally terrible.
The real jewel of Avery Island are the Jungle Gardens across the street from the Tabasco Factory. These gardens are home to hilly terrain, beautifully kept flora, and a creepy old McIlhenny mansion with about 40 vultures chilling out on the roof.
Nothing weird about all of these monster vultures hanging out on this roof. Not a thing.
Inexplicably, the Jungle Gardens also houses a 900 year-old Buddha statue that was sent to America in the 1920s from a Chinese warlord. Two friends of “Ned” McIlhenny sent it to him from NY as a goof in 1936. This spurred Ned to build an Asian-themed garden befitting the Buddha.
There’s also this area of the gardens called bird city. It’s kind of empty in the winter due to migration, but here it is buzzing with activity:
Little did I know, the island is also the site of one of the world’s largest salt mines. Salt extraction has occurred on the island for at least several hundred years, the first benefactors of its salt deposit being American Indians who boiled briny spring water to extract the mineral. In 1862, during the Civil War, the Avery family discovered extremely pure solid rock salt just below the island’s surface. Because of a Union blockade, the South had no reliable source for this valuable commodity. As a result, the Averys mined the deposit to supply much of the lower South with salt.
Here are some amazing photos:
Today, mining occurs down to the 1300-1600 foot levels, but the dome extends to 40,000 feet in depth! The salt used to pack Tabasco’s barrel-aged peppers comes straight from the mine on Avery Island. How convenient!