When crossing over from Minnesota to North Dakota we envisioned wide-open plains but what greeted us instead was water, everywhere. I’m certain parts of the state look more like the wheat fields we had passed, but in this northeastern section of North Dakota, shallow wetlands known as “prairie potholes” dotted the fields, and the slow-growing monster known as Devils Lake shimmered in the distance.
This was once Sioux territory and they called this lake mni wak’áη chant. Broken down into separate words the translation of “Bad Spirit Lake” was converted to Devils Lake by early Europeans. For the Sioux, the word ‘bad’ referred to the salinity of the water, making it unfit to drink and ‘spirit’ the mirages they often saw across the water.
Devils Lake is the largest “natural” body of water in North Dakota and is a closed lake, meaning it has no outlet to river systems. It is completely dependent upon precipitation, evaporation, and seepage to contain its size and is much higher in salinity than other lakes due to its closed nature. Over the past 20 years it has nearly quadrupled in size, swallowing up thousands of acres of land, millions of trees, hundreds of buildings, and at least two towns in its path.
We have read that Devils Lake is within four feet of flowing into the nearby Sheyenne River. Due to its salinity, the potential environmental impact of water being diverted away from the lake has officials and surrounding communities in a quandary. No other place in America has faced this kind of dilemma other than the Great Salt Lake, which I believe was resolved when Utah experienced a drought.
We recently spent a few days at Grahams Island State Park, surrounded by Devils Lake. The state park was lovely and reminded us of a well-manicured city park, with sites in our section well-spaced and filled with plenty of mature shade trees. Don’t come to the park expecting lots of hiking or biking trails, although I did venture out on my bike across the causeway a time or two. This park is better experienced sitting under an oak tree reading a good book or looking out over the lake. Better yet, if you are a fisherman, Devils Lake is known as the perch capital of the world, although campers were catching their limit of walleye the few days we were there.
Another discovery made during our visit was that of vast fields of golden sunflowers bowing in homage to the sun. I learned that sunflowers are primarily grown in the Dakotas, with 50% of the U.S. production in North Dakota. These beauties are grown for oilseed, sunflower seeds for snacks and bird food, and the fields stretched on for miles.
The very best part of our stay at Grahams Island was having friends Pam and John join us and true to form, we found a couple of opportunities to enjoy a meal together, once at our place, once at theirs. Pam’s seafood paella rocked!
Good food, good friends and lots of laughter – the simple pleasures of life. We look forward to meeting up again with them this winter, which is just about the best part of this full-time lifestyle, finding like-minded folks on the road. 🙂