Lost Lake

The results are in.

Lost Lake is indeed lost.

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I was exploring the North Dakota countryside via one of my favorite modes–Google Maps–when I spied a tiny splotch of green indicating some sort of recreation area. (Another reason green is my favorite color–green splotches on maps.) I zoomed in until the name appeared: Lost Lake National Wildlife Refuge.

The refuge was located squarely in the middle of nowhere and was small enough to lose on the head of a pin.

Exactly the kind of place Molly and I would love to see.

Satellite view on Google Maps didn’t tell me much. There did not appear to be any roads through he refuge. Or trails. Or even an entrance.

Most notably, there did not appear to be a lake.

Two creeks ran through the green splotch, and there were two or three small bodies of water, which may or may not be worthy of the name “lake”–depending, perhaps, on whether you had just arrived from Death Valley, and whether it had been raining in North Dakota recently.

The locale was both so remote and so mysterious, of course Molly and I had to check it out.

Google Maps offered two routes to get there. I started with one, penetrating deeper and deeper into the country, only to discover that there were no road signs. Meaning I couldn’t find my turn.

Now, let me define the word “lost,” according to me. “Lost” is when you have no idea how to get home again. By that definition, I don’t think I’ve ever been “lost.” I’m very good at following a trail backwards to my starting point.

However, I frequently have no idea where I’m going. In fact, I usually have no idea where I’m going. Hence why I’d rather just stuff the map in my back pocket and follow my nose. Maps stress me out. All too often, I find discrepancies between where I think I’m going and where I end up.

Google Maps is fun from an armchair perspective–but gets all complicated on me out in the field.

My search for Lost Lake was a classic example. I tried several roads–and saw plenty of pretty scenery–but didn’t find anything like what was drawn on the map.

I finally gave up on the first route Google Maps gave me and tried the second.

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This road proved more direct. I finally found a large brown sign proclaiming, “Lost Lake National Wildlife Refuge.”

Where one finds a sign, one would presume to find an entrance.

Not in this case. The barbed wire fence stretched endlessly to the horizon.

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So I followed it.

A couple of miles later, I almost missed the gap in the fence, the turn-off, and the cattle guard. No sign. No fanfare. Apparently Lost Lake intended to stay lost.

I followed the road into the park and drove from one end to the other, about two miles. Pleasant stretch of road, ending in another gap in the barbed wire, another cattle guard, and (oddly) a gravel pit.

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Something was missing.

I turned around and retraced my route.

Yep. No lake. Not one. Not so much as a damp, duck-infested ditch alongside the road. No turn-offs or trail heads, either, that I could see. Lost Lake was indeed lost.

This, then, was the Bermuda Triangle of North Dakota: where lakes disappear, never to be seen again.

To make the trip worth our while, Molly and I poked around the surrounding area, had a great walk, and came up with some nice photographs.

But Lost Lake is indeed Lost. Maybe we’ll try again another day.

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6 thoughts on “Lost Lake

  1. I looked up Lost Lake while reading your post. You know, Danielle, that would make a great setting for a story, don’t you think? A road map to…


    By the way, I see no pictures have been uploaded to Lost Lake. You could be the first!

    • Ooo, it would make an excellent story idea! As to photos–pity I didn’t have any pictures of a lake to post!

  2. Danielle, thanks for the great photos. I happened to find your website while searching on “Lost Lake National Wildlife Refuge”. My great-great-grandparent’s family came to Painted Woods, ND in 1882 from Bessarabia (Moldova today, near Romania) and settled for several years in the region where Lost Lake is now. From what I’ve read, Painted Woods creek still runs through that area. It was a difficult farming life, and they eventually sold and moved to Minnesota. Sometime I will visit there, so your information will be very helpful. -Richard

    • Hey, Richard, glad I could help! It’s really beautiful scenery around here, but maybe I’m biased. 🙂 Yep, Painted Woods Creek is still around, and much easier to find than Lost Lake National Wildlife Refuge. Highway 83 goes right over the creek just 5 miles south of Washburn. Hope you get a chance to come out! There’s a lot of serenity to be found out here in the middle of nowhere.

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