Thursday, October 10, 2019

[35mm Ohio] A Safari on the Shores of Lake Erie

Llamas, guanacos, and alpacas are not native to Africa.

Or Ohio, for that matter.

Shot with a Pentax K1000 and Kodak UltraMax 400 35mm film.

I’ve never lived near historic Route 66 in a physical or temporal sense, but I love the idea of it—the classic American highway lined with kitschy tourist attractions. You can find analogous themes scattered throughout the country, like along Michigan’s Route 12 or in the annals of Denny Gibson’s work, but the roadside isn’t at all like it used to be. The modern interstate is far more different, monotonous, dull, and repetitive than the “blue highways” of yore.

I wanted to go back to Cave City, KY—a place I had quickly passed through last year. Once there, I planned to hole up at the “wigwam hotel” and spend the weekend writing and making photographs while visiting places such as “Dinosaur World,” the “Kentucky Action Park,” and “Guntown Mountain.”

But... the timing never worked out to a point where I could get down there and truly make the most of a few days.

So the Ohio State Fair seemed like a perfect substitute. I could devour fried food and document bright colors via 35mm film!

But... then I ended up in Columbus both immediately before and after the Fair, never wanting to make the trip three weekends in a row (and I’ve already spent my fair share of time at “parking lot carnivals” anyway).

The end of summer was fast approaching and I love summer. Far, far more than any other season. I don’t care what anyone says about the sentiments of snow falling on Christmas, wearing a “hoodie” in the Fall, or the flowers of Spring—summer is the time. The days last longer, the light seems more dynamic, and I just feel a stronger connection with the world around me. It’s the kind of season that actively encourages one to traverse the road in search of the fading vestiges of campy tourism. It all resonates on a photographic and personal level. And with the season quickly coming to a close, the “African Safari Wildlife Park” seemed like it’d be well suited to play the part of a stereotypical road trip summer vacation destination.

Drive-thru wildlife tourist attractions rose to prominence between the early 1950’s and early 1970s. The one in Port Clinton has existed since 1968 and bills itself as “THE Original Ohio Safari Park” alongside the claim that there’s “nothing else like it!” Normally, I’d have no interest in a zoo, but this relic—born out of the heights of roadside tourism and still apparently popular with Lake Erie vacationers—seemed like it could be interesting if the price was right and I had a working camera.

Thankfully, the previously discussed Pentax had come back to life and a Labor Day weekend special of $10 got me unlimited laps around the wildlife preserve, as well as, a free cup of animal feed.

It took about 20 minutes to inch my way up to the preserve entrance. I was given a styrofoam cup filled with some sort of pellets after declining to spend money on the “premium” options of carrots and lettuce.

It took about 40 minutes to get through the first paddock where a herd of llamas (or alpacas (or guanacos (or a mixture of all))) was holding up cars. The rest of the tour took about twenty minutes. I eventually saw one camel, I don’t think the zebras were even present, one paddock was devoid of any life aside from a flock of Canadian geese, and some sort of large cattle/bison/elk creature lovingly licked my window and left a residue that affectionately stuck with me for 200 miles.

The vast majority of wildlife in the park seemed to be the aforementioned herd, fallow deer, and geese—none of which are native to or commonly found in Africa despite the drive-thru safari’s name. All of these species apparently don’t care for the standard snacks either. They’d all sniff my cup and then ignore the pellets I offered, quickly moving on to the other vehicles touting the “premium” offerings.

Fair enough.

The whole safari culminates in an encounter with the giraffes...

...who also weren't buying what I was selling.

All these animals are choosers simply because they din't have to be beggars. If the average summer day draws even a sliver of the crowd seen in these photographs, the Safari’s tenants know that there’s always a steady stream of automobile riding tourists coming by with the good stuff.

I won’t wade into the ethical questions that surround zoos and really have no interest in the places outside of this one trip, but I’m glad I made it on this particular day. Glad the camera ended up working. And I'm glad the photographs turned out ok. Hopefully the animals themselves are ok.

I loaded my last roll of film for the weekend and set out around the Lakeside Marblehead Peninsula. It was warm and muggy with the sun going down both physically on the road ahead and metaphorically on summer. I was committed to chasing it down to its bitter end.

- Handless Jacque, Lakeside Marblehead.

- Housing development, Lakeside Marblehead.

- View of Cedar Point in the distance, Lakeside Marblehead.

- Lake Erie/Sandusky Bay, Lakeside Marblehead.

- Lakeside Marblehead.

- Remains of a former dinosaur mountain-style tourist attraction, Lakeside Marblehead.

- Lakeside Marblehead.

Instead of surrendering summer to the nearest diner or ice cream parlor, I wanted to squeeze a little bit more life out of the road. So I found a pin on my map and pushed to make it there before nightfall, stopping only once for gas...

- Fuel Mart, Bradner.

...and to photograph what’s a pretty common view in rural Ohio: corn fields and trucker porn stores:

- Adult Mart, Bradner.

My eta kept improving on the GPS, but I was still going to be cutting it close in terms of available light. Summer still felt to be in full force on US-6 with the windows down, but as the sun kept slipping and as I found Interstate 75—those windows were forced up to cut off the chill in the air. I then switched my sunglasses for regular spectacles and clicked my car’s lights on as I pressed forward.

- Car shadow, Interstate 75.

And for what?

A giant statue of a cow.

A statue I tried to unsuccessfully find while passing through this general area eight years ago.

A statue that really means nothing to me, doesn’t appear to have a story behind it, and ultimately could probably just shrugged off.

But I wanted to see it.

Because why the hell not?

- Big Beef Cow, Gilboa. 

And at the last minute, I made it...

- Big Beef Cow, Gilboa. 

...with barely enough light and just in time for this camera’s meter to stop working once more. I guessed at the exposure levels and then sat on a nearby picnic table to breath in the last moments in the Summer of 2019.

- US 224, Gilboa.

Some wandering in the dark on country roads eventually lead to food and gas before I once again rejoined the interstate and made way for Cincinnati.

- Wapakoneta.

- Wapakoneta.

View the other entries in 35mm Ohio

Update | Nov. 29, 2019:
  • On Thanksgiving 2019, the African Safari Wildlife Park caught on fire and ten animals were killed. No word yet on whether or not the attraction will reopen. 


  1. Good guess on the exposures! That sunset photo turned out fantastic! If you're ever in Wapakoneta again, the Armstrong Air and Space Museum is pretty cool. There are even a couple neat exhibits outside.

    1. Have it on the list! Would love to check it out. I don't think I've ever passed through Wapakoneta during the day haha. Need to change that.