Day 2: Devils Lake, North Dakota
We leave pretty early, eager to flee this doomed and demon-infested place, and as we pause briefly for coffee we are given a hint of the town’s accursed nature: from where we sit, the first letter on the municipal water tower cannot be seen, so it reads “EVILS LAKE”. Without even stopping for fuel, we head out on Route 2.I hope the citizens of Devils Lake can mend their ways and make their peace with the spirits that bedevil them, I really do. If not, they could easily go the way of Gardena, Omemee, Lostwood, and other ghost towns we search for on the wide open North Dakota prairie, to little avail. Even this year’s edition of the DeLorme Atlas & Gazetteer seems not to have been updated since sometime shortly before the Great Depression, and boldly depicts roads and highways which are in truth mere tractor lanes petering out in seemingly endless fields of yellow sunflowers. Our task is further complicated by the fact that nearly all of the roads themselves are unmarked by signs; I suppose the highway department figures if you don’t already know where you are, you don’t belong here.
Depending on how you measure it, Rugby, N. Dak., is the self-proclaimed “Geographical Center of North America.” A tall fieldstone obelisk marks the spot, near the junction of US Route 2 and North Dakota Route 3.
We finally manage to spiral inward to the junction of two rail lines, where there once stood nine grain elevators and a soda factory. Seven hundred people used to live here in Omemee, but most packed up and moved to nearby Bottineau, and now all that’s left are some overgrown sidewalks and a single ramshackle house that most recently was home to small livestock.
There is something sadly poignant about this abandoned little town, and we can only wonder about the people who lived here, and what compelled them to literally haul their houses away down the road to start new lives elsewhere.This sidetrip to look for towns that time forgot has led us astray from our main route, so we catch Hwy. 5 here, then US-83, the “Road to Nowhere”, once the only entirely paved highway running all the way from Canada to Mexico. We try to make up some lost time, but are bucking a strong headwind now. Toward evening we finally pull into Williston, North Dakota, and take a site at the Buffalo Trails Campground. The place is filled with behemoth motor homes and fifth-wheel campers—a disturbing campground trend lately—and hardly any tents. Or people, for that matter. I suppose with the lush shag carpet and satellite TV channels found in most large RVs, who needs to go outside and see the world? Heck, with full bathroom and shower facilities onboard, you don’t even have to visit the campground restroom to pee and to meet your fellow travelers. All of which serve to make the place one of the loneliest on the planet.
Sitting outside at our campsite picnic table, eating our dinner alone while the suspicious neighbors peer out their RV windows at us, we feel as out-of-place and incongruous as someone clipping his toenails in Aisle Three of the local supermarket.
After dinner we, like everyone else here, hide away in our own mini-motorhome and get some sleep for an early start.