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Keith Dotson | Catching Shadows

THE OFFICIAL BLOG OF FINE ART PHOTOGRAPHER KEITH DOTSON

Road Trip Diary: Madison Wisconsin

Road Trip Diary: Madison Wisconsin

Notes from a winter photo road trip from Nashville to Madison, Wisconsin

Day one: Leaving Nashville to Madison, by way of Kentucky and Illinois. Travel time 9 hours, 45 minutes.

One of the things about going North in December is that travel conditions can be unpredictable. As I traveled North through Illinois, I was shocked and happy to find no snow on the ground. Upon arrival in Madison, where I lived for about 5 years, it’s the first time I’ve ever seen lack of snow this late in the year. We always had a white Christmas when I lived here. Usually VERY white.

Nashville was rainy but leaving very early helped me avoid traffic. The drive was pleasantly uneventful. I saw one semi-truck off the road, stuck in a tree line. Ambulances and a firetruck were in route so apparently the driver was injured. Best of luck for him/her — I hope all is OK there.

Prairie barns and birds in flight

I spotted several distinctive midwestern barns that I really wanted to photograph, but alas, I was unable to get close enough to get a shot of any of them. I also missed a shot of an old weathered wood grain elevator nestled in a grove of trees. At least I got this quick snatch of video of birds in flight overhead.

Quick video of waves of birds in flight overhead

LaSalle, Illinois

I detoured to visit the little riverside hamlet of LaSalle, Illinois. I have driven by many times in the past, glancing at it with curiosity — red brick buildings and old church steeples jumbled on the hillside over the Illinois River. Today I finally exited to visit LaSalle and search for something of interest to photograph. 

By the way, is it LaSalle? Or, La Salle? I’m not sure. It’s frequently spelled both ways, sometimes even in the same web site.

Merchant's Block sign, LaSalle, Illinois. Black and white photograph by Keith Dotson.
Merchant’s Block sign, LaSalle, Illinois. Black and white photograph by Keith Dotson.

The city was founded in 1837 at the terminus of the newly competed Illinois and Michigan canal, which opened a shipping channel from Lake Michigan at Chicago to the Illinois River at LaSalle. Instantly the town was filled with the hustle and bustle of riverboats offloading passengers with transfers to Chicago, St. Louis, or New Orleans. Canal boats delivered goods and materials (Wikipedia). Hotels and shops were established to cater to the travelers and crews.

Later, the city became a coal producer and the home of a major Zinc smelting plant.

After prohibition and into the 1950s, this unlikely little town became known as Little Reno, with 60 – 80 saloons and illegal gambling, and a bustling and lively night life. That era came to a close when the Feds raided one of the most prominent establishments in 1953.

First Street in LaSalle, Illinois, was ground zero for the city's saloon and gambling era, which lasted from the 1930s until the mid-50s. Google Street View image.
First Street in LaSalle, Illinois, was ground zero for the city’s saloon and gambling era, which lasted from the 1930s until the mid-50s. Google Street View image.

I found LaSalle to be an interesting place to photograph, with a lot of historic and somewhat shabby architecture — just the way I like it! It’s a working class town that’s seen better days. There are a lot of church steeples covered with the patina of time. 

Arrival in Madison

I arrived late afternoon in a cold but dry Madison. I generally stay in the same hotel chain whenever possible. I find this particular chain to be predictably clean and comfortable, and typically fairly affordable — depending on location. The rooms are not fancy, but clean!

My hotel room in Madison Wisconsin, with spare bed covered in camera bags and winter gear.
My hotel room in Madison Wisconsin, with spare bed covered in camera bags and winter gear.

Day Two — No snow in late December in Madison

I spent much of Christmas Eve shooting the Wisconsin landscape, waiting to see family later in the day. Shockingly, there was no snow on the ground — not even patches in the shade. We did have a white Christmas, but even that early morning snow was melted away by midday. So strange!

There was a particular photography destination I wanted to visit, because of the beautiful big trees and tall prairie grasses. Unfortunately, the light was brighter than I prefer, but I got the shots I wanted.

Black Tree in Tall Grass: Black and White Landscape Photograph by Keith Dotson. Click here to buy a fine art print.
Black Tree in Tall Grass: Black and White Landscape Photograph by Keith Dotson. Click here to buy a fine art print.
Stems and Prairie Sky: Black and White Landscape Photograph by Keith Dotson. Buy a fine art print here.
Stems and Prairie Sky: Black and White Landscape Photograph by Keith Dotson. Buy a fine art print here.
Winter Lake Black and White Landscape Photograph by Keith Dotson. Buy a fine art print here.
Winter Lake Black and White Landscape Photograph by Keith Dotson. Buy a fine art print here.

The Christmas morning snow helped me get a few wintery images, but the roads were good and overall it was a great visit with family and for photography.

The trip back to Nashville was smooth (albeit typically congested in the Nashville area, as always).

See all my Wisconsin photographs on my website by clicking on Photographs > Places > Wisconsin.

Thanks for reading!

Be sure to visit me on FacebookGoogle+ or Pinterest, or on my website at keithdotson.com.

~ Keith

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