Voyaging: Kalkaska, MI—a.k.a. Trout Town, U.S.A.
A Very Quiet Town
When an itch to explore a place quivers my shutter-button finger, I know it’s probably because I haven’t been to that place in a bit. Such was the case when I aimed my steel steed toward the village of Kalkaska, Mich, about a half hour away. As with most trips lately, my tool of choice was my Leica M6 with Kodak Portra.
Kalkaska is another northern Michigan town along U.S. Highway 131, which also parallels a train route. This would’ve been the same train route that a young Ernest Hemingway would’ve traveled on when he stopped in Kalkaska in the early 1900s, which provided inspiration for his story, The Battler. There are a number of small towns like that along this corridor and one in particular, Mancelona, was the subject of a previous blog post. Kalkaska is notably the starting line for the Iceman Cometh Challenge—the largest single-day mountain race in the country—taking place in November, and is also the home of the National Trout Festival.
My loose agenda of a photo walk involved going nowhere that Hemingway fished, but instead traveling to the downtown region. Kalkaska is a small village that doesn’t benefit from as much tourism as some of the coastline communities do. It’s real though, and in that authenticity is beauty.
The streets and sidewalks of the quaint village are quite people sparse, so my intention wasn’t to do much street photography in that sense. After parking in the public lot, I stepped out into warm, summer sun and made my way south of town a bit.
Americana Around Every Corner
From passing by so many times, I knew there was a Big Boy restaurant not far from where I parked. The significance of this is that it’s a very regional place and usually, each Big Boy restaurant will have a Big Boy statue somewhere on the property, as this one does; it oozes Americana. The appeal here is that not many restaurants have their own statue out front. Also, with the speed at which time travels and businesses change, there’s no telling how long Big Boy restaurants will be around; this photo was for posterity. Next to Big Boy is a McDonald’s restaurant, which happened to have a drive-through filled with cars, going drive-through—stop-and-go-slowly— speed. They watched me as I positioned myself for a photo of Big Boy and his establishment. Not that it caused me to rush—definitely not—but after my photo I was off to the next spot.
North on the main thoroughfare and across the road was a building which simply had the word, Golf, on it. This always draws me in because of the simplicity, and because it doesn’t promote a brand name or chain business, it simply states what specializes in. The generality of it is something that’s too rarely encountered.
Next, one can’t—or at the very least, shouldn’t—be in Kalkaska or pass through it without paying a visit to the 20-foot high jumping behemoth of a rainbow trout. I’ve photographed this statue so many times; because of it’s grandeur and spectacle in contrast to the sleepiness of downtown, it’s pretty hard to miss.
Taking the Photo Walk Less Traveled
Off the beaten path of the village’s downtown, I found myself walking along an alley that paralleled the main street of downtown. I’ve traveled all over the world and I can’t emphasize enough how visually contrasting it can be to simply step one block in any direction, anywhere. It was no different here.
After walking a short distance, there was what looked to be an old motel. It was open the last time I was here but appears it no longer is. Nature had begun it’s process of reclamation, with plants slowly growing their way in front of the motel rooms’ orange doors, as if they were curtains closing on a stage. Farther up the alley was a post-apocalyptic, Mad Max four-wheel metal death trap parked next to a telephone pole. My guess is that it was used for launching sand at the local fairground dirt track but who knows.
The most important takeaway I can suggest after my trip to Kalkaska, is that a road, street, alley or path, not far from where you’re at, can be dramatically different and completely worth checking out. Another pro tip: If you’re out photographing and you stop to wonder if you should make a photo, make the photo. It’s always…always…easier to photograph first than regret it later. There have been numerous times out in the field when I’ve questioned whether or not I should make an image, only to regret it later. When that same feeling happens now—it happened a couple times in Kalkaska—I just photographed and it felt so good. Although, of course, I didn’t question photographing the trout.