Highway 32: Niagara to Hwy 5


It seems that we are always in a hurry when we travel, which often means traveling interstates and divided highways. I recently had to travel from Fargo back to Bottineau. I was not on a rigid schedule, so rather than follow the usual route, I decided to take Highway 32 north from near Niagara and connect with Highway 5 west of Cavalier. I am glad I did.

That stretch of Highway 32 goes through one of the more scenic and interesting areas in our state, particularly from a geological perspective because it runs near the Pembina Escarpment. The Pembina Escarpment is the boundary between glacial Lake Agassiz and the glaciated plains to the west. The remnants of the turf battles waged between the glacier and Lake Agassiz resulted in some interesting geological features here.

The southern portion of highway crosses the glaciated plains. A few eskers can be observed northward near the town of Dahlen, including the Dahlen esker, the most prominent esker in the state. Eskers are the remnants of rivers and streams flowing on or in glacial ice and now appear as noticeable winding ridges of sand or gravel.

Roughly the northern third of this stretch of highway lies just east of the Pembina Escarpment, which is easily identified by the higher topography to the west. The area here supports increased amounts of aspen and oak as well.

Other interesting features of the trip included crossing the Forest and Park rivers, and the old beach lines representing different levels of glacial Lake Agassiz can also be observed in this area. It seemed there was always something interesting to observe.

I could not identify all the geological features as I traveled highway 32, but it was fun trying to read the landscape. Once home, I had to check with Mary Bluemle’s Guide to the Geology of Northeastern North Dakota, published by and available from the North Dakota Geological Survey.

Make a point of taking some of the “roads less traveled” as you go about your business this summer. There is much to see across our state. I will certainly take Highway 32 again, but it will be with Bluemle’s guide and a lot more time to spend!

Chuck Lura

Natural North Dakota is supported by NDSU Central Grasslands Research Extension Center and Minot State University-Bottineau, and by the members of Prairie Public. Thanks to Sunny 101.9 in Bottineau for their recording services.

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