Walk on the wild side Shreveport, Bossier City area offers plenty of fun, food
SHREVEPORT — Surely they wouldn’t let people zip line over alligators if it wasn’t safe, right?
This thought echoed in my head as I peered over the edge of the tall platform at the lazing lizards below.
“Totally safe,” said Raymond, of Gators and Friends just outside Shreveport, Louisiana, one of two places in the U.S. that you can have this particular adventure.
After watching a safety video, I donned a helmet and harness and joined a group of other adventurers as we scaled more than 50 steps to a small, slightly swaying metal platform with a launchpad on one side.
Even visitors afraid of heights were quickly charmed by the novelty of jumping off the platforms and speeding through trees over exotic animals.
It was the first in a course of seven lines, though a four-line course also is available. The lines traverse the alligator park and exotic zoo.
The alligators, goats, zebras, horses, kangaroos, llamas and camel below seemed blase about yet another human flying above them. They were more interested in the visitors on the ground feeding them park-approved pellets through their fences.
Established in 2006, the adventure park also offers go kart racing and group discounts.
A haven in the woods
For a different animal adventure, take a short car ride from downtown Shreveport to Chimp Haven, The National Chimpanzee Sanctuary.
In the 1990s, experimental use of chimpanzees for scientific research was on the decline, and a concerned group of people had the idea for a sanctuary. In 1995, Chimp Haven was incorporated, and in 2005, it accepted its first chimps.
Currently home to more than 200 retired and rescued chimpanzees, construction is underway to make room for about 200 more.
“We will not stop taking in chimpanzees except during our normal time during the summer, when it’s too hot,” said Ashley Gordon, communications and regional development manager at the sanctuary.
Once the retired chimpanzees arrive at Chimp Haven, they are held in a medical suite for 30 days, receiving two physicals and being observed for behavior to help decide which existing colony they’ll be placed in, explained Katy Rushing, a veterinary technician at Chimp Haven.
The retired chimps often have the same medical problems that plague aging humans, and often are given the same medications.
“Just about any medication a person can be on, a chimp can be on,” Rushing said.
This includes birth control medication, which most of the female chimps are on. Despite this and the males being given vasectomies, there have been four “oops” babies born at the sanctuary.
“Babies are a fun aspect, but every time we have one, it takes the space of a chimp that could retire,” Rushing said.
The sanctuary’s website, http://chimphaven. org, offers an up-close look at most of the chimps, including their names, photos and a brief description of each.
To get a look in person, visit Chimp Haven at one of its Discovery Days, when the public is invited to observe the chimps in their habitats and learn more from the staff. The days only happen four times a year. The next one is set for Nov. 17.
Accommodations and airfare were provided by the Shreveport-Bossier Convention & Tourist Bureau.
Other spots to visit
• Herby K’s, Shreveport, Louisiana: Family-owned Herby K’s has been in business since 1936. Famous for its fresh Gulf oysters and Shrimp Buster sandwich, visitors also are encouraged to try the house cocktail, a Pink Flamingo, while admiring the mementos and pieces of Shreveport history that line the walls.
• Red River Brewing and Fat
Calf Boucherie, Shreveport:
Pop into this microbrewery and gastropub and prepare to stay a while. Order a hearty Cuban, bratwurst or grilled cheese sandwich; mouthwatering crispy Brussels sprouts, jumbo chicken wings or poutine from the grounded Fat Calf Boucherie food truck that sits inside the building. The meats are provided the local Smith Family Farms, which feeds its livestock grains leftover from the microbrewery. While you’re sipping one of the in-house brews, play one of the locally made arcade games or catch some live music.
• Great Raft Brewing, Shreveport: Lindsay and Andrew Nations have created a brewing company they hope shares their love of craft beer. Working with Chief Brewer Harvey Kenney, the couple are focusing on fresh, quality ingredients. One of the Great Raft Brewing beers features hops that are in the building brewing within 36 hours of being picked in the Pacific Northwest.
• Creole Cafe & Catering, Shreveport: Less than a year old, the (for now) small Creole Cafe is working hard to feed the community. Henry Griffin is busy in the kitchen producing delicious boudin balls, Creole maque choux shrimp balls, fried catfish and sugar cane peach cobbler. Call ahead and get an order of jambalaya topped with potato salad to go, or sit a while and chat with the delightful Dr. Gail, Henry’s mother, who works the front of house.
• Marilynn's Place, Shreveport: Bring your family, your appetite and maybe even your dog to this converted service station. Chef “Boz” Baucum, a Shreveport native, entertains while making sure all of his patrons are well-fed and have a drink in hand. Be sure to try the Grillades and grits, a traditional Creole meal.
• Southern Maid Donuts, Shreveport: Make sure to visit about 4 p.m. on weekdays, when doughnuts fresh out of the fryer are served.
Elvis Presley evidently loved these glazed treats so much they were the only thing he ever made a commercial endorsement for.
• Whisk Dessert Bar,
Shreveport: Stop in for a “whiskuit,” a wet-batter biscuit with toppings that can include salmon, poached eggs and fried chicken. In the mood for something sweet? Belly up to the dessert bar where owner Blake Jackson isn’t pulling any punches. Treats that taste as good as they look line the counter of this European/Southern bakery.
• Longwood General Store, Mooringsport, Louisiana:
Not far from the grave of blues musician Lead Belly, this general store offers quick bites, gas and delicious steaks. Stop in for a sit-down dinner with all the trimmings, then grab frozen treat from one of the store’s freezers before checking out.
• Murals: Shreveport and Bossier City have quite a few great murals, including “Once in a Millennium Moon,” one of the largest publicly funded public murals in the nation. The 19 people featured by artist Meg Saligman in the piece were picked as models randomly from a cast of thousands.
• Shreveport Municipal Auditorium, Shreveport: The Louisiana Hayride country music show was broadcast from here from 1948 to 1960. A statue of Presley, who performed on the radio show in 1954, adorns the outside of the building and a nearby street sign featuring a guitar and his face denotes Elvis Presley Avenue.
• The Jump Off, Shreveport:
In Louisiana, it’s perfectly legal to get drive-thru alcohol-laden daiquiris. Or go inside, where owner Corey Shepherd is likely to greet you with sound effects and tasty frozen concoctions.
• 2 Johns Steak & Seafood, Bossier City, Louisiana: An attentive staff and excellent live music take this fine dining experience to the next level. Choose from a menu loaded with fresh seafood and steak, or order from an extensive wine and cocktail list.
• Cotton Boll Grill, Shreveport: Stop in for a hearty breakfast and a large, buttery pancake you won’t soon forget. Historic photos of Shreveport and Bossier
City line the walls of this 80-year-old diner.
Shreveport-Bossier City online
Facebook: @ShreveportBossier~Louisiana’s Other Side
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Where to stay
Shreveport and Bossier City are home to many Airbnbs, including one shaped like a lighthouse with a metal flame on top. For a hotel, try the Courtyard by Marriott Shreveport-Bossier City Louisiana Boardwalk, which is on the river front and within walking distance of an outlet mall, movie theater and several casinos.
Alligators swim in the water beneath a zip line at Gators and Friends in Louisiana.
Alligators line the waters near a zip line tower at Gators and Friends in Louisiana.
A moat surrounds several of the chimpanzee habitats at Chimp Haven in Keithville, Louisiana.