(Sept. 11) Tabasco sauce is apparently hot stuff for the U.S. armed forces, and Tabasco’s home site in Louisiana is a very cool place to visit.

The sauce’s ubiquity in military culture was the source for a tongue-in-cheek Sept. 10 article at We Are the Mighty, a web site describing itself as “capturing, empowering, and celebrating the voice of today’s military community.” With military personnel supposedly pouring large amounts of Tabasco on their Meals Ready to Eat to make up for MRE blandness, the article delved into the science of whether too much of the spicy condiment could be lethal. (The answer: yes, if one drinks 40 full ounces at once.)

It so happened that, three days before the article appeared, I had visited Avery Island, Louisiana, where Tabasco was founded. Topographically, geologically, culturally, and aesthetically, this hidden gem is one of the most fascinating, lovely places in the United States.

Three miles inland from a bay leading to the Gulf of Mexico, Avery is an “island” only because it is surrounded by some narrow bayous. What it really is, though, is the top of an immense salt dome, a unique geological feature in which hundreds of millions of years of salt-crystal sediments, covered by soil deposits, form what amounts to a salt mountain underground. Over time, though, complicated geological processes pushed the top of the “mountain” upward, breaking it through and above the surrounding terrain.

Amazingly, Avery Island’s salt dome is actually deeper beneath the surface than Mount Everest is high. You read that correctly: This thing stretches six miles downward. Meanwhile, the 163 feet of it that actually pokes above ground may as well be a mountain in comparison with the entirely flat, sea-level marshes and lowlands around it. For someone approaching it, on roads so remote a traveler would traverse them only for a visit to the island itself, this stunningly green 2.5-mile-wide mound looks so starkly out of place that it can at first seem like a mirage….


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