Mention New Orleans and most people will immediately associate it with jazz, a genre of music that originated among African Americans in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
And that distinctly American music can be heard everywhere throughout the famed city – and in most other areas of the state of Louisiana.
The 'Big Easy'
National parks traveler Mikah Meyer recently visited New Orleans to soak up some of those sounds and learn about the city’s other cultural highlights.
“There’s the New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park, which basically celebrates the contribution of the culture of New Orleans, to this music that is authentically and originally American…a relatively new genre that is distinctly American,” he said.
“So it's a bunch of little sites basically all scattered throughout the French Quarter in the older parts of the city that celebrate this heritage.”
Just south of the city is the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve, named in honor of a French pirate who helped General Andrew Jackson defend New Orleans against the British in the final battle of the War of 1812.
Mikah spent time in the wetlands paradise that’s home to an impressive variety of plants and wildlife.
“The Preserve was a really good example of a lot of the sites I had seen throughout the whole Gulf Coast,” Mikah observed. “Everything from the Everglades, northwest up through Tampa, through Pensacola, all the way to New Orleans. It was a good example of that ecosystem that lives in between the ocean and easily habitable land.”
The National Park Service describes the six sites of Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve as representing “a treasure trove of south Louisiana's historical and cultural riches. People from nearly every country, ethnic group, language and religion have come to the lower Mississippi River delta and left traces of their passing.”
Traces of a prehistoric culture that made the lower Mississippi River Delta home are preserved at Poverty Point National Monument. The 3,400-year-old Native American settlement is now a World Heritage site. Mikah noted the unique geometric design that is considered a masterpiece of engineering.
“It has six lines of slightly raised ground, which they believe is where people lived, and then it has a bunch of different mounds - basically like man-made hills with millions of pounds of dirt.”
Poverty Point, once at the center of a huge trade network, is one of North America’s most important archeological sites.
At the Cane River Creole National Historical Park, the fourth of Louisiana's national parks, Mikah learned that the state's culture was not just influenced by the French.
“It’s very heavily influenced by all the people and all the countries and cultures that did trade in New Orleans, so Spanish, British, French… and so this Creole culture that developed out of that melting pot in the melting pot of America is a very unique thing,” he said.
Even though they’re part of the U.S., Mikah says the southern states he has visited so far show just how diverse America can be.
“If someone is looking to understand the unique culture and portion of American History, along with topography, whether it's from the western edge of the Everglades all the way over to Louisiana, the Gulf Coast offers that chance,” he said.