My Grandpa Karl and I had completed our mission. We had been to Nelson County, North Dakota all of that June day searching out our heritage in gravestones and farmsteads after coming from the Twin Cities by way of Grand Forks a day earlier. We were now satisfied with our work and heading west of United States Highway 2 towards the place which I now call the most unique place to which I have ever been: Devils Lake, North Dakota. It was a nice city; it had a good Pizza Ranch, nice buildings and decent roads. However, the city appears perfectly average when compared to the aqueous monstrosity of the same name situated at and always threatening to cross its southern limits.
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The lake is huge, and, as I have been told, only about 18 years old. Everyone we asked claimed that the lake basin started to fill due to flooding in the early 1990's and has continued rising constantly because of "runoff from Canada." One can definitely see that this lake was never expected to be so large. As we headed southward out of town on Highway 20 we encountered evidence of unpreparedness. We were on our way to the Spirit Lake Casino Hotel, only a few miles to the south of the city on the Indian Reservation, as that was where we were to lodge for the second and final night of our trip. However, before we knew it we were on a giant land bridge that spans across the lake's many miles, and it was in the middle of a fully fledged construction project working to prevent a washout. From the bridge we saw trees, perhaps 30 or 40 feet in height, now covered mostly by water and houses resting just feet away from the lake's greedy shore. I thought it amazing how this water was able to surprise local residence; how it had forced them into making these makeshift bridges with haphazard and likely spur of the moment construction projects.
When we at long last arrived to the hotel, which was on an island off of the land bridge, I was able get up close to the water. I dipped my hand into its vastness, but it felt and tasted like any other lake. There was also a boat launch a few yards away and there were boats being launched there; leading me to believe that it was just as fun and as worthy of recreation as any other lake. Yet again, I still couldn't ignore the land bridge, sitting just to the east, crammed with bulldozers, dump trucks and road graters guarding against the lake's destructive and compulsive greed for shoreline. In my mind no place can compare with what I saw firsthand at Devils Lake. There, man enjoys the beauty of the lake just as much as he fights its destructiveness. It appeared as an alien war zone and a familiar playground all wrapped into one; as a lake filled with paradoxes rather than water.
On Sunday morning, we once again (although wanting to spend more time at the lake) headed south on Highway 20 towards I-94 and home, the lake disappearing in the rearview mirror of my Saab 9-3 and the memories I had of it planting themselves firmly in my mind. And, although there is no way I could fully understand the lake from my short visit, those brief memories have led me to name Devils Lake as the most unique place to which I have ever been.
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