North Dakota Eclectics

Drift Prairies
The second giant step westward, from the Red River Valley, is the Drift Prairies, which rise upward several hundred feet over the Pembina Escarpment, especially in the northern part of the state. The landscape of the Drift Prairies differs greatly from the Red River Valley. The land is rolling, or moderately hilly, unlike the flat surface of the Red River Valley, although there are some level stretches. Other than around the lakes, ravines and gulches, there are few trees, except for those that have been planted as windbreaks.

Because there are no outlets for the lakes in the Drift Prairies, the water in many of them is bitter. The only rivers are in the southeastern part of the Drift Prairies. The Sheyenne and James rivers originated while the glaciers were in the area, and their large valleys were formed by the rushing waters from the melting ice. These rivers are the size of small streams now, although their valleys are several miles wide in places. The Souris (Mouse) River was also formed by the melting glaciers. A large glacial lake, named Lake Souris, once filled the valley of the Mouse River, covering most of Bottineau County and parts of Rolette, Pierce, McHenry and Ward counties. The glacial ice kept the water from escaping to the north so, for a time, the Mouse River emptied into the Missouri River. Later, it changed course, flowing along the edge of the glacier, emptying into the James River, and possibly later the Sheyenne. Today, the Mouse River begins in Saskatchewan, flowing south through North Dakota, beyond Minot to Velva, its most southern point. It then flows back north into Manitoba.

When the glacier moved forward, it gouged the earth in its path, scraping up rocks and soil, carrying them with it, and grinding up some more rocks along the way. When the glacier melted, it dropped this material, known as drift. The forward motion of the glacier stopped along the valley of the Mouse River, the result being that this river valley was nearly filled with drift, yet there were many low places, that did not receive enough material to bring them up level, were left along its length. These low places trapped some of the water, forming a chain of lakes. from Stump Lake to the Turtle Mountains, although many of them have since dried up. Devils Lake, the largest body of water in North Dakota, is along this chain.

The Drift Prairies extend from the Pembina Escarpment, on the east, to the Missouri Escarpment, on the west, and is almost as wide as the entire state on the north, narrowing to the south until it is only two counties wide at the South Dakota border. The surface of the Drift Prairies is very uneven, with a lot of rounded hills and depressions. The Drift Prairies can be divided into three sections: the Southern Drift Prairies, the Northern Drift Prairies, and the Turtle Mountains, although the Turtle Mountains will be discussed in a separate section.

Of Interest