Travel Girl goes exploring in the Mississippi marshes

DIAMONDHEAD, Miss. -- If you want to get up close and personal with Mother Nature in Mississippi, you'd be wise to call SolarSkiff Captain Mark Isaacs. His company, SolarSkiff Boats & Tours, offers four different set routes in Hancock County, as well as custom adventures in both Hancock and Harrison Counties.

"The thing I love about this is just how meditative the whole experience is," says Mark, as he maneuvers his lead guide boat, a solar-powered vessel that explores the bayous and rivers of this region at a top speed of 5 miles per hour.

WGNO's Travel Girl, Stephanie Oswald, has been out with Mark before exploring the Pearl River, but for this particular escape, she went out in search of nutria -- and whatever other wildlife would show its face. Mark enticed our camera crew to join him on a tour of the "No Name Bayou" near the Diamondhead Marina with promises of furry critters standing at attention.

"I've been able to drive right by nutria rats that are so stunned that they just stand up on their hind legs, and they put their hands up on their hips and they watch me go by!" says Isaacs.

Unfortunately, the skies got darker and darker the farther out our crew traveled in the bayou. There were two skiffs -- Stephanie drove one carrying herself and WGNO Photographer Eric Zurcher, while Mark led the way on his guide skiff.  As the rain started to fall, they had to turn around before any furry sightings.

The "nutria hunt" may have turned up nothing, but this was an escape that calmed the soul. The SolarSkiffs whirred along, passing the marsh grass, where Mark was sure the nutria were hiding. He pointed out areas where the grass was crushed down, saying it was a sign of wildlife homes that he calls "nutria condos."

There were herons, red-winged blackbirds and even a rainbow sighting, but the nutria stayed hidden. At one point, they heard a giant splash, which just might have been a 10-foot alligator that has been seen near the Diamond Head Marina.

"I thought it was the wake from a bigger boat," says Stephanie, "but then I realized, we're the only ones out here!"

We're thankful they all made it back safely, even without video or photos of the elusive nutria.