Bridge over Cagles Mill Lake Kodak EasyShare Z730 Zoom 2008
This beautiful open-spandrel concrete-arch bridge is out in the middle of nowhere, in Owen County, Indiana. It carries State Road 42 over Cagles Mill Lake (also known as Cataract Lake), which was created in 1953 as the state’s first flood-control reservoir. Mill Creek was dammed at Cagles Mill, creating the reservoir.
I visited this bridge and made this photograph in 2008 when I toured State Road 42 from end to end. I was still new to my road-trip hobby, and at the time I stopped for every bridge to see if I could clamber down the bank to find what kind of bridge it was, and photograph it.
It was sheer joy to discover what beauty lie beneath the deck, which is the only part motorists get to see as they pass over. In this case, my joy was doubled as a restoration had clearly recently been completed. Everything looked fresh and new.
According to bridgehunter.com, this bridge was built in 1951, two years before the dam was built to create the lake. State Road 42 was moved from a more northerly route to cross this new bridge. I’ve studied Google Maps and think I might see where the new route diverges from the old east of the bridge. But I can’t figure out anything else about the old route, which certainly went right through where the lake is now. If you’d like to try to figure it out yourself, click here to see the bridge’s location on Google Maps.
This three-span steel Parker through truss bridge was built in 1939 to carry US 31 across the Wabash River in Peru, Indiana. It recently underwent its first restoration in 30 years, making it ready to serve for decades to come. Indiana Landmarks has the full story here.
I photographed this bridge in 2007 when my old friend Brian and I explored US 31’s original alignments from the Michigan state line to Indianapolis. I documented that road trip here, but these photos show what the bridge looked like then. This is a northbound view.
Here’s the southbound view. Most truss highway bridges were painted green then; light blue is the new standard color.
US 31 was moved to a new alignment bypassing Peru sometime in the 1970s, so this bridge carries only local traffic today. That’s Brian walking along the bridge’s deck, by the way.
I don’t know about you, but my heart soars when I come upon a truss bridge still in use. Their appearance enhances the roadscape; these bridges become local landmarks. Modern concrete steel-stringer bridges offer no distinguishing design characteristics and blend into the scenery. Bully for the people of Peru who get to keep enjoying this bridge.
If you enjoy truss bridges too, watch video of me driving over the last one standing in Indianapolis here.
Near the end of the Michigan Road in Michigan City, Indiana, you’ll find this lighthouse keeping watch over the harbor of Lake Michigan. It and an associated breakwater were built in 1904 and have served ever since. The Coast Guard relinquished this lighthouse in 2007, and I believe Michigan City itself took up its operation and maintenance.
Margaret and I visited on a cold, windy day when the pier was closed, so we could only make long-zoom photographs from the beach. We’ll go back another day when we can walk out to it.
In the heart of downtown Michigan City, at the end of the Michigan Road — or the beginning, depending on your perspective — you’ll find the Michigan City Uptown Arts District.
When I surveyed the Michigan Road in 2008, this was some mighty depressed real estate. But in 2010 the Uptown Arts District was formed, and a slow transformation began. The transformation remains underway today, but “there’s a there there,” as we say in the road-tripping business. You can spend a pleasant day here popping in and out of the boutique shops and galleries, and enjoying a meal and a pint at one of the several restaurants.
Margaret and I did this on the day before Thanksgiving, a blustery and gray day. There wasn’t much action on this midweek day-before-a-holiday, but we were pleased to find many shops and pubs open.
We spent most of our time on the Uptown Arts District’s main drag, Franklin Street. It’s a downtown strip typical of Indiana, with plenty of old buildings in a row.
Several striking buildings line this strip, including this one, a former Eagles lodge. I’d sure like to know the story of that crazy roof!
Lots of public art lines Franklin Street. I liked this little scene on one of the street corners.
Given how close this is to Lake Michigan, this wavelike metal sculpture makes perfect sense.
We capped our Uptown Arts District stroll with a visit to an Irish pub, where we had a couple remarkably good pints of Guinness. From there we could see were within walking distance of a large outlet mall, so we went over and did a little early Christmas shopping. All in all, it was a lovely day. If you’d like to have a similarly lovely day, it awaits you at the end of the Michigan Road.
Another camera review I refreshed recently was of my Minolta X-700. I shot just two rolls with it before it succumbed to the common but dreaded Stuck Winder Problem. A certain capacitor fails, and the X-700 becomes a brick.
That second roll (it was Fujicolor 200) was shot primarily on a road trip along Indiana’s National Road from Indianapolis to the Illinois state line. My goodness but do I miss taking to the old roads. I’ve made not a single road trip this year. Life just has presented higher priorities. I hope for next year.
It felt great, however, to look through these photos from my trip ten years ago and remember a great day alone on this old highway. You might know it as US 40. First, here’s an abandoned bridge just west of Plainfield. It carried US 40 from probably about 1925 until the road was rebuilt as a four-lane divided highway in about 1940. Two new bridges were built just to the south — I stood on one of them to make this photograph — and this one was left behind to molder.
Here’s another view. You can park on a clearing just east of this bridge and walk out onto it.
Just before the four-lane highway reaches Putnamville, a short older alignment branches off. This 1923 bridge is on it, and you can still drive across it.
The bridge feels narrow, and the railing feels heavy.
Near Reelsville you’ll find an old alignment of the road that never got paved.
For a long time I thought this was the National Road’s original alignment. But I learned that the National Road was moved to this alignment in 1875 when a bridge on the original alignment, to the south, washed out and was not replaced. Read about the history of these alignments here.
Near here I stopped to photograph some roadside flowers.
When I made it to Terre Haute, I walked along the road for several blocks downtown. It’s known as Wabash Avenue here. This is the entrance to Hulman and Company, which for many years made Clabber Girl Baking Powder.
This building may once have housed the Terre Haute Trust Company, but for as long as I can remember — since I moved to Terre Haute in 1985 — it has housed the Merchant’s National Bank and, after a merger, the Old National Bank.
I drove from there all the way to the end of the Indiana portion of the road. Then I turned around and went back to Terre Haute to catch dinner at the Saratoga, a longtime restaurant right on the road.
It was a great day, and my Minolta X-700 helped me capture it — before it failed.
If you’d like to see more from this trip, via my digital camera, check it out on my old site, here.
In all of my years driving the old highways I’ve learned a thing or two about how to photograph a road. Here’s how not to do it: straight on, from eye level, like this.
I’ve made dozens, maybe hundreds of shots like this as I’ve documented old roads around the Midwest. As a piece of documentary work it’s fine, as this road is hereby documented. It’s good that I documented it, for three reasons. First, this is historic pavement that carried the old Dixie Highway. Second, it is from the early 1920s (I estimate) before they figured out you need to put expansion joints in or the concrete will crack as it will. Little of this continuous concrete remains anywhere. Third, you can no longer visit it as it was destroyed in about 2017 when an Interstate highway exit was built here. This image is very interesting to roadgeeks.
But as a photograph, it’s boring. When photographing roads, you have to find the interest, or add it. I aim to show you here what I’ve learned about how to do that.
Before I go on, let me say be careful photographing roads. The cars on them can maim or kill you. (Unless the road is abandoned!) Make sure the road is clear of traffic both ways before you step into it. Wait for a quiet moment an listen carefully for vehicles. Work quickly — do not lose yourself in the photographic process. Get in and get out.
Here’s what I’ve learned:
You don’t need special equipment. I made most of these images with point-and-shoot digital cameras and occasionally my iPhone.
I do some level of post-processing in Photoshop, most commonly to boost contrast and and adjust exposure as I like it. If Photoshop is too rich for your blood there are a few less-expensive alternatives. That’s more than I can tackle here; Google can help you with that.
I wish I could always make road trips on good-light days. I can’t. I get the light I get. You’ll see that in the examples that follow. But light matters a lot, for all the reasons light always matters in a photograph.
Sometimes I get lucky, though. I made this photo as late-afternoon sun cast long, soft shadows.
The gloomy sky and diffuse light heighten this road’s desolation.
A road in a photograph naturally guides the eye. Eyes find curves more interesting than straights.
Does the road disappear around the bend? Use it; it adds mystery. Where is the road going?
Something crossing the road, or appearing to cross the road, often adds interest. Here this abandoned road is juxtaposed with a bridge carrying this road’s current alignment.
Here, a rusty old railroad overpass gives you something to look at other than pavement.
This hairpin turn is interesting by itself, but because of challenging terrain it was difficult to find a great angle on it. So instead I brought in the rising hill behind it.
The rising hill and the low placement of this long road create contrast. I made this photograph from the passenger seat of the car while my wife was driving, by the way. The windshield tint doesn’t do your colors any favors, but fortunately a quick hit of Auto Tone and/or Auto Color in Photoshop almost always clears it away.
Look for interesting things by the roadside
Objects by the roadside let you photograph a straight road at an angle. I usually put the object on one of the rule-of-thirds lines.
How improbable to find a basketball goal on this abandoned highway!
Make the road the backdrop
Sometimes the roadside object can become the subject, with the road passing by in the background.
Making the most of straight-ahead shots
Sometimes none of the above tips work in your situation, and all you have to work with is a straight-ahead shot. Sometimes, if you crouch lower you can pick up interesting textures in the road to add interest.
Sometimes a rolling hill can add a little drama.
Perhaps the surroundings can act as a frame, creating a tunnel effect.
There you have it, everything I’ve learned about making interesting road photographs. Go forth and stand in some roads. Carefully!