We returned from our first full-fledged trip of the summer yesterday. It’s been tough waiting for some dry weather in what has turned out to be an extremely wet spring, but we chose to take a trip — weather be damned. And we dealt with rain for the whole day.
From Fargo, we traveled to Fredonia, in Logan County about 80 miles southeast of Bismarck. We had heard very little about Fredonia, but I saw it was on the map near our route to Venturia, so I added it to the trip. There was a lot of activity there — numerous homes and several offices. There were a few good photo ops too, like a beautiful brick church which doesn’t look used (but we’re told it is).
After Fredonia, we headed to Wishek for a pitstop on the way to Venturia. I didn’t realize the good mobile coverage we’d been getting all day would soon be gone.
We left Wishek and drove south to Venturia, and it began to rain pretty steady. When we arrived in Venturia, we were excited by the photo opportunities but we needed a break from the rain. It took us a few minutes of sitting in the car before we realized the neon sign on the bar behind us was lit — OPEN.
Inside, we met Don, the owner of the “Duck Inn,” a bar that could also double as his living room. We had a beer and he showed us his 104-year-old pool table. He was born and raised in Venturia, then left to see the world before returning to become the town barkeep. Although we were the only people in the place, he said he was expecting a good crowd of people from surrounding towns since it was Memorial weekend. Rat bought a t-shirt that said “Duck Inn and Waddle Out.” According to Don, there are 21 people in Venturia.
There was no shortage of photo opportunities in Venturia — we got shots of an abandoned lumber yard, an armory, and the train depot which appears to be undergoing restoration.
This trip was also our first since we began experimenting with evolving technologies for navigation and social interaction. In the beginning we had a road atlas and railroad maps, then we added printouts of satellite and aerial photography, and Mapquest and Google maps. In the last two years, we’ve started to use less paper and navigate via smart phone. This was our first shoot with my Android and the Google Maps app as our primary source of navigation. I literally did not bring a map. I also didn’t plan thoroughly enough to avoid a problem.
As we left Venturia, I realized I had exited out of Google Maps when I attempted to post a Facebook update on our exploration. I was unable to connect to the network, and when I tried to relaunch Google Maps, I got nothing. We ended up driving a few miles out of our way until I could get a connection and reload the directions for the rest of our trip, then turning around and going back on our way. It’s a strange contradiction when you’re visiting a town — a remote, isolated spot on the prairie — and you get four bars on your phone. Status update: Hey everybody, I’m in the middle of nowhere and posting on my Facebook! So in a way, when the wireless coverage drops out, it’s a little reassuring… it reminds us we’re on the right track.
Forbes was our next stop and the surprise score of the trip. It’s east of Venturia and right on the South Dakota border. Forbes had an abandoned school, a bank/bar, and numerous homes, all abandoned. On nearly every trip, we go out looking forward to seeing a certain town, but on the way home, we realize another town was better or more fun. Forbes was that town on this trip. The pleasant surprise.
From Forbes, we drove straight north to Merricourt for a return visit, six years after our last. At least one person or family (with a couple dogs) still lives in Merricourt. We saw someone mowing the lawns when we were there. We were disappointed to see much falling into disrepair in Merricourt… the bank has had all its windows smashed out and the door kicked in. The community center looked like it might still occasionally be used when we were there in 2005, but it is clearly not anymore. The steps are crumbling and the basement is filled with water.
Merricourt was also where the wireless coverage began to pick up again and I was able to post a status update and a blog post from my phone.
We left Merricourt intending it to be our last stop, but on the way home we saw Marion on the map and Rat suggested we take a look. Although Marion is a little too populous to be considered a near-ghost town, it did have a very nice former Bank building to photograph. Coincedentally, they have a bar in Marion called the “Duck Inn Lounge.” As we were on our way out of town, we saw they have a very nice brick school which is still in use, so we decided to snap a few shots. Then things got a little weird.
As we were finishing our photos, a woman in a white SUV went past us and parked on the side of the street, about three cars ahead of us. We finished taking photos, got back in the car, and began to leave. The woman in the white SUV did a u-turn and followed us. When we got to the stop sign at the edge of town, she came close enough behind us that I could see she was talking animatedly into her cell phone. She followed us about a mile out of town until she did another u-turn and took off. It probably would have worked much better if she had just rolled down her window and said, “Hi! Whatcha guys doing?”
We went to Eastedge on the way home from Marion and discovered it is almost gone. It is still totally abandoned. One of the houses on the site is collapsing, leaving a lone house and the ruins of a railroad loading dock as the only evidence that Eastedge once existed.
All in all it was a great trip. Now if we can just get a little sunshine next time…