Saturday, August 20, 2005

We are at (what we thought was) the Devils Lake, ND, Elks Lodge (map).

I put it that way because what is here looks very much like an Elks lodge, complete with a life-size fiberglass elk atop the porte-cochere, and a sign on the street identifying it as BPO Elks Lodge 1216. We came here because the state park west of here was full (a story unto itself, which I will relate momentarily), and our Elks travel guide clearly listed this facility as having ten RV spaces with hookups, and additional dry parking in the lot. However, the facility appears to be abandoned.

It is not abandoned in a boarded-up sense. More like a scene from one of those B-grade, after-the-holocaust films from the 60's, where places look like the people just disappeared in the middle of whatever they were doing. Think, for example, The Omega Man. Upon arrival, we noted the parking lot to be uncharacteristically empty for an Elks lodge -- on a Saturday evening, there would inevitably be a barkeep and at least a handful of Elk at the watering trough. We stopped the coach and walked around the building, peering in all the windows. Just inside the front door is a signboard listing the hours and functions, exactly as they were published in the guide (Saturday night should be dining and entertainment). There were several windows offering glimpses of the office, complete with office equipment such as computers and printers, desks strewn with papers and other work-in-progress, etc.

Nevertheless, dialing both the phone line and the fax number reveals them to be disconnected. The remainder of the facility looks unused for weeks or even months, although clearly the parking lot is being swept at least occasionally, and the lawns are mown. All the power and water is off in the "campground," but a hose bibb and a convenience outlet on the side of the building are in working order. All external appearances are of a functional lodge, with signage accordingly, and no notice posted of any closure or such.

We were pretty much out of other options for tonight, unless we wanted to drive back into town and stay at the Wal-Mart, so we decided to put a sign in the window with our Elks credentials and stay here anyway. So far it has been all quiet, save for three or four cars that drove into the lot, around the building, and back out, quite possibly just to look at us.

After deploying our dish and getting on line, we immediately began researching the situation on the net. The mystery only deepened, with many apparently near-current references to an active lodge here, including full contact (and camping) information on-line on the national Elks site. Only after extensive digging did we find that the lodge facility quite possibly closed in December of 2003, with the city of Devils Lake or possibly the county in negotiations to acquire the facility for a community building. It is possible that the references we found to nearly current activities here might have been for events under municipal, rather than Elks, auspices.

In any case, after getting all parked and established, and now having had a glass or two of wine, we are entrenched for the night. If the local constabulary has an issue with it, we will just explain the situation and that we are leaving in the morning in any case. Louise has keyed the local frequencies into her scanner, so we'll know in advance as well.

With regard to the above-mentioned state campground, I will tell you that it is about 15 miles from here, on an island in the middle of the lake. The lake has apparently risen nearly 24 feet in the last decade, inundating farms, roads, and other facilities, and washing out, fairly recently, part of the causeway leading to the park. (It appears, actually, that the entire causeway runs over formerly dry land that has been consumed by the lake.) So after driving most of the 15 miles, we ran into fairly soft sand and gravel road on the way into the park that had me stomping on the throttle to avoid bogging down in the muck. I think our new block-tread drivers helped out a good deal.

Imagine our disappointment, then, when they told us the place was full. We pointed out that they could have put out the "campground full" sign, which we passed in its undeployed state a full five miles back, on the main road before the soft stuff. Harrumph.

On the 15-mile drive back into town, while I groused about the colossal waste of diesel fuel, Louise identified another state park just a few miles east of town, and we decided to give them a call rather than risk another disappointment. We don't usually expect anyone to answer the phone at these places on a Saturday evening, but they did. When she inquired, they told her the park was closed. She asked if it was under construction, and they said no, it was under water.

The MapQuest map linked above shows the lake at some previous level -- it has now come right up to the town. It would seem the ancient Native American spirits are trying to reclaim their land. My GPS also shows a much older lake border, while the current Street Atlas seems to have a much more current reckoning. Many roads, though, are still shown right on the lake bottom.

We have more or less decided that we are heading to southern Illinois for the Escapade rally in late September. The principal reason for this is that we have been looking at becoming Red Cross disaster volunteers, a calling that requires a great deal more training than one might assume. The Escapees have a chapter devoted to disaster operations volunteering and they are offering a full complement of training at the rally, and we figure this is an easier way to get started than trying to piece the training together from individual Red Cross chapters around the country.

Unfortunately, this means that we will once again miss Burning Man this year, something we've been saying we will do "when we get on the road in our bus." Many apologies to Gary, Bryce, Lissa, Eric, and anyone else we told that we might be at the festival this year. Perhaps we will finally make it happen next year, just before we head to Mexico. We will also be missing a killer Labor-Day party in Washington to which we have been invited -- sorry, Debra and Brian.

Since we have nearly a month to get to Du Quoin, IL, we will head east and slightly north to the Great Lakes, as this is a great time of year to do it. We're also going to slow our pace a bit, and make at least one or two multi-day stops to relax a little.

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