I recently had the occasion to drive from Bottineau to Streeter. About twelve miles south of Harvey on highway 3, I headed up a rather steep escarpment that rose perhaps four hundred feet within a mile or so. That escarpment (the Missouri Escarpment) was the boundary of the Missouri Coteau, on which I traveled for the rest of my trip.
The Missouri Coteau is a band of glacial hills approximately thirty miles wide extending from southwestern Saskatchewan southeast to central North Dakota then southward through the Dakotas to about the Nebraska state line. In North Dakota the Coteau is bordered on the north and east by the Glaciated Plains which has a more gently rolling topography and lies between two hundred and four hundred feet below the Coteau. The border to the south and west is the Coteau Slope, a narrow band of land adjacent to the Missouri River that contains both glacial and erosional features.
The Missouri Coteau formed during the last ice age when the glacier stagnated and was subsequently covered by glacial drift. When the ice melted, slumping and sliding produced a hummocky topography with lots of wetlands. It might surprise you, but this landscape consists of closed drainages, don’t expect to see any rivers or streams here.
The Missouri Coteau is known for its mixed grass prairie and prairie potholes. As such, it supports over 40% of the cattle in the state and is an important breeding area for waterfowl and other birds.
Take a closer look at the Missouri Coteau the next opportunity you get. Like south of Harvey the escarpment to the Coteau is quite prominent south of highway 5 between Crosby and Bowbells. It is also noticeable about 12 miles south of Minot on highway 83 near the old radar installation, and again near the South Dakota state line west of Forbes. At other places it can be difficult to identify, such as when you travel west from Jamestown on Interstate 94. Look for it near Windsor.
The Missouri Coteau is an interesting region of the state. It’s also a great place to enjoy a little Natural North Dakota.
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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