Being the Americana adventure-seekers we are, we are always looking for a new cross-country road trip full of exploration opportunities. Throw a long full moon weekend into the mix and you’d be hard pressed to stop us from clamouring for the luggage, cameras and car keys. Last summer during our art festival season, we met someone who encouraged us to explore the Dakotas. I’ve seen some great work of the states’ famous ghost towns on flickr, but this man’s vibrant descriptions sealed our fate. As soon as our hectic travel schedule cleared, we were on our way!
The first stop on our Dakotas Night Photography Tour de Force was the isolated and completely ghosted town of Sherbrooke, North Dakota. We had just driven nearly 10 hours straight from Milwaukee, with a quick bite at The Shack, a diner in North Fargo. Wood chipper jokes and city lights behind us, our surroundings grew increasingly desolate as we drove north toward Sherbrooke.
Having missed the fact that our tank was nearly bone dry, we pulled up to a lonely gas station off the highway; it appeared as though a major fire had burned out most of the pumps. The lights were on in the station and only one very old pump was in working order. The thick cloud cover from earlier in the evening had completely broken up by the time we exited the interstate to hit the rural byways west toward the ghost town. At times I joked about turning off the headlights and taking my hands off the wheel as the near-full moonlight bathed the landscape, the road was nary a curve and fellow travelers were few and far between.
We followed the startlingly loud GPS lady’s directions as we neared closer to our destination. Once we turned off Highway 6 onto a nameless gravel road, we felt complete isolation. Even under the bright moon, we could barely make out the silhouetted ruins of Sherbrooke amongst the dark overgrowth. An umbrella of dead foliage leftover from summer days still clung to the limbs of trees and underbrush. It was hard to imagine even the slightest bustle of farmers, families and all kinds of wild and domesticated field animals amongst the now forgotten town. The odd feeling reaches even the smallest nerve-endings. Per usual, a steady current of anxiety and excitement coursed through our veins as we cracked open our car doors to the brisk country air. Where we were, no one would ever know.
The temperature hovered just under a 30 degrees Fahrenheit (-1 Celsius). Not yet accustomed to this winter’s infamous polar vortex phenomenon, the crisp prairie wind whipped right through our jackets. First up on our list: an old abandoned Studebaker. Having only seen a photo, I had no idea where it was buried. For nearly a half hour we walked up and down the gravel road and scrounged through wet sawgrass with our flashlights. Just before giving up, Katie recommended we try one more area deep into field. Sure enough, the muted glint of metal tucked amongst knee-high weeds was indeed a sight for sore eyes. We captured a few different compositions, but the clouds came back with a vengeance, further yellowing the already dusty gold landscape.
We moved on to a partially collapsed two-story structure closer to the main road. With red gel flash in hand, Katie reluctantly tucked into an open doorway of what was left of the old building. It took over a half dozen runs before we got the perfect shot. She said that every time she crawled underneath the glorified shack of rotting wood, her gut screamed that it would completely collapse with a single gust of wind. Barring any drastic weather, it will probably stand sturdy for years to come.
After a couple hours of shooting we decided the cold was indeed winning the battle over our toes and poor shoe choices. It may seem like a lot to travel all this way to capture a beat up old car and some decaying ghost town ruins, but as our toes thawed out in the car, the familiar warmth of sheer giddiness overwhelmed us once again. It never gets old.
Luckily the adrenaline would prove to keep us awake as we traveled the sleepy countryside looking for a place to touch down for the night. Nearly two hours away, a perfect cozy little motel awaited us.