Salty South

As a geological engineer my work at Maptek usually takes me to places across North America with abundant mining activity. Trips often include underground gold operations in Nevada, huge iron ore operations in Newfoundland, or oil sands in Alberta. Every once in a while an opportunity presents itself to go somewhere – say – less traditional. That’s why I jumped at the chance to take a trip to a southern Louisiana salt mine. The plan was to provide some training in Vulcan to their user, and help brainstorm some ideas of ways to use Vulcan at the site. I didn’t know what to expect at such a unique site, but I did know I could leave my goose down parka at home.

I flew into New Orleans and was having an interesting day before I even picked up my bags. I walked off the plane and immediately walked onto the set of a movie being actively filmed. The entire Hollywood setup was there: the lights, camera tracks, miles of cables, and of course the actors. I didn’t recognize any of the actors nor did I even catch the name of the movie, but I do know I was caught on camera standing in the background.  If anyone out there sees me in a random movie on the big screen, I’ll be happy to sign an autograph.

After my 15 minutes of fame were over, I picked up my rental car and started driving. The mine was about three hours outside of New Orleans, which meant I got to see a little bit of the Louisiana countryside. I turned on the AC and started scanning the radio for something other than football talk shows; however, my attention was quickly brought back to the road when I felt a loud “THUD” on the front bumper.  With my heart pumping, I scanned the rear view mirror for glimpses of what I had just encountered – turns out Armadillos aren’t just residents of Texas. Go figure.

The rest of the drive was relatively uneventful, and as I arrived at the site I thought to myself that it was truly unique. Here are some of the reasons why:

  • This mine has been operating since before the Civil War.
  • The chances of an alligator encounter are very high.
  • The property is owned by a well-known maker of Louisiana-style hot sauce.
  • There is a 90+ year-old steam hoist, the oldest in the country, that still brings miners underground every day.

I spent the next three days working with the engineers and geologists at the site and introducing ways for them use Vulcan more efficiently during their day-to-day operations. At that point the training was going well and I was making new friends. It wasn’t until I was invited to lunch that I started having trouble with this particular trip. Let me preface by saying that I am a born and raised Coloradoan thus I do not, DO NOT, like any food that even smells like it came out of the ocean.

Needless to say I was a little out of my element sitting at the diner with the locals and their Cajun cuisine. French words like boudin, etouffee and fricassee were all over the place, and I was clueless.  Not wanting to appear rude, I thought I would try something new so I went with a boudin po’boy. For those of you (like me) who are not sure what that is, let me explain – Boudin is a Cajun sausage made with rice and pork, and Po’boy is a Cajun word for sub sandwich. I was a little nervous as I took my first bite because I know that “sausage” can often be a euphemism for “innards”. I must say that my fretting was done in vain because it turns out that a Boudin Po’boy is quite enjoyable. I recommend trying one if you haven’t.

Eventually I made the drive back to New Orleans where I had an evening flight back to Denver, which gave me a few hours to explore the famous city. With only a short amount of time to see such a large city, I headed straight where one would expect: Bourbon Street. After what seemed like an eternity finding a place to park, I got out of the car and started walking. I had no clue where to start walking or in what direction, so I just started moving. As luck would have it I walked right into the middle of a parade of brightly dressed men and women playing in a marching band. Unfortunately, I wasn’t in the mood to experience the “real” Bourbon Street (I decided it would be a bad career move if I came back to Denver with face tattoos).

All in all, it was a great trip and the ability to experience this kind of diversity while working is what makes Maptek, in my opinion, such a great company to be a part of.

Matt Bourget
Project Geological Engineer
July 2, 2012

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