Life sometimes takes us to random places. This week it was Wayne, Illinois – west of Chicago. So far west, that it’s not even Chicago (actually, it’s only about 40 miles from Chicago, but with traffic, this equates to about half a world away).
I didn’t plan this as a photography trip, it’s just that’s where life took my husband and me.
Rather than moan about the fact that I wasn’t in Chicago, I embraced the challenge of finding travel experiences and travel photographs in a little place called Wayne.
Wayne is according to Wikipedia has a population of around 2,500 and is a center for horse breeding. But more importantly, Wayne is where my husband’s hi-fi dealer has a shop. Say “hi-fi dealer” using the same tone as you’d say “drug dealer” and you’ve got the right idea.
A big shout out to Next Level Hi-Fi!!! If you’re ever looking for high-end audio, these are the folks to call.
Anyway, I was left to fend for myself while my husband indulged his hi-fi habit, so I tooddled around finding photo opportunities where I could.
I’d have only a few hours to get to know the place and since I hadn’t planned anything in advance I’d have to create my travel experience from scratch.
This post is about what I found when I put my tourist hat on in the middle of Illinois and some tips about how you can make everyday trips into travels.
Enjoy the Journey
Even if you’re not going to a tourist hotspot – maybe especially if you’re not on your way to a famous local – enjoy the journey. Leave plenty of time to dally along the way.
We zoomed north on an interstate for a bit and then detoured off onto a smaller road. This let us see the countryside at a slower pace. We could easily stop any time we saw something photographically interesting.
Interstate driving doesn’t really lend itself to photography. By the time I’ve seen a composition and reached for my camera, we’re 2 miles down the road. It’s also a bit dangerous to stop along the interstate and often what I want to photograph isn’t that close.
I’m much happier photographing off the slower roads with less traffic and these roads tend to get me closer to the scenes I want to photograph.
We have driven the entire way to Chicago on Route 66 which roughly follows Interstate 55. It takes forever, but it is a journey – really part of the destination itself.
So even if you have to drive interstates for speed, try to mix in some smaller roads for photographic interest.
I’ll admit that the middle of Illinois isn’t the most interesting of places, but there is always the possibility of a picturesque farm or bucolic scene. It’s likely that wherever you’re going, the journey will be more interesting than mine, so you already have a leg-up on me!
Ask A Local
I did absolutely no photography research before setting off. I had no idea what was in or near Wayne, Illinois. So the first thing I did was ask a local – one of the owners of the hi-fi shop.
It turns out that there’s a lot to photograph in the area, enough to keep me busy for the day.
Most locals love to brag a bit about their towns if you show an interest. If you manage to find the one or two locals that are a bit suspicious of strangers or too bothered to talk to you, just move on to the next local – you’ll find one eventually who will talk your ear off!
My local guide gave just the right amount of help. She targeted a few places to visit and roads I might drive down to get some interesting barns and houses.
She also pointed me towards the local claim-to-fame – the BAPS temple just a few miles down the road. BAPS stands for Bochasanwasi Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan – a denomination of Hinduism. The temple or mandir was built in 2004. I was told that it’s the largest Hindu temple in Illinois.
Lots of places have quaint little churches to photograph, I just happened to luck into this beautiful gem.
The temple exterior was an amazing place to photograph and workmen were repairing some of the ornate detail and seemed not to mind me taking photographs.
After taking it all in, I wondered if entry to the temple itself was a possibility. I followed the signs and easily found the entrance.
The temple is free, but there’s no photography allowed inside the temple. You’ll just have to take my word for it – it’s worth going inside!
Entering the temple is like enter a forest of ornately carved marble columns. The ceiling overhead continues with a canopy of carvings. The effect is lit by LCD lights. It is modern, but that doesn’t make it any less magical.
It was a peaceful place with a few people praying and soft music playing. The perfect place to dally a while.
Drive Down Random Roads
After my side trip to India without the long flight and having to find my passport, I set off down some recommended roads.
I came screeching to a halt in front of an old train station – just as a train was coming down the tracks. Many towns in American are built alongside train tracks – or rivers – that’s why they’ve survived. This was a small piece of history with a reminder of modern transportation.
Nearby was an old house with a touch of Americana on the porch. The house had age and a history. This porch possibly hasn’t changed for a century. These everyday types of places that no tourist brochures will tell you about.
As I was photographing the house a couple on horseback – yes on horseback – came riding down the road, passed by and exchanged a pleasant word. How perfect was that in the center of Illinois!
The road I was on ended up in the nearby town of St. Charles, which ends up to be the “big town” in the area.
I took a walk along the river. Rivers are often a center of activity even in the smallest places. There are often parks or walks on the riverbanks. I love to photograph boats, reflections, people by the river walking and playing, and in this case, a nifty pedestrian bridge.
I finished the day with a little street photography. Night was falling and my husband and I were off to dinner. I try to save a little energy for photographing at night, even the most mundane places can take on a whole different look at night.
I was looking for only a few hours of tourist activities and I found much more.
When life takes you to a random place, use the opportunity to explore. Don’t assume because you’re not going to a tourist hotspot that there will be nothing to do or photograph. Think of yourself on assignment as a Nat. Geo. photographer trying to capture the essence of the place.
Look on google maps for any points of interest. If there is a tourist office nearby take advantage of the local knowledge, asking for ideas and a local map. Walk down the main street and look for interesting shops. I love to photograph bakeries and antique shops. St. Charles had a very unique wool shop and a horse riding equipment shop – this speaks to the importance of horse bike riding in the town. Most shops don’t mind if you photograph inside just ask permission first.
I’m a big fan of traveling in my own backyard – finding travel photos in everyday places – and this trip didn’t disappoint.
Look for photo opportunities wherever you might be.
In other words, be a tourist wherever you find yourself. Look for interesting buildings and churches, unique events or places. Look for details and interesting lighting that makes even a mundane scene special. Look for people doing what they do everyday. Look for landscapes – yes even those that aren’t part of a national park! Little streams, solitary trees, farmland and random geology make for great photographs especially in lovely light. These can be found everywhere, not just places reviewed on TripAdvisor.