Sheyenne River Valley
It appears that the spring melt will cause little if any major problems for cities along the major rivers in the state this year. That is obviously good news. But the meltwater we occasionally experience these days doesn’t begin to compare to that at the end of the ice age. And every time I drive Interstate 94 across the Sheyenne River at Valley City I think about that glacial meltwater.
The Sheyenne River Valley is one of the bigger, more impressive and scenic river valleys in the state. Although the river valley may be big and impressive, the present Sheyenne River usually is not. That is because the Sheyenne River is an underfit river: big valley but comparatively small river. It flows through a large valley, formed by massive amounts of glacial meltwater at the end of the last ice age.
There must have been a horrendous amount of water on the landscape at the end of the last ice age. With all that ice melting, water must have been all over the place. As the glaciers were melting, lakes occasionally formed. One of those lakes in our region was Glacial Lake Souris in the north central part of what is now North Dakota.
At some point, the water of Glacial Lake Souris overflowed a portion of its southern shore, releasing a torrent of water in a short time span. The Sheyenne River Valley, as well as the James River Valley, was formed from this release. As one might expect, this massive release of water eroded the Sheyenne River Valley, eventually depositing large amounts of sand at the river’s delta into glacial Lake Agassiz. We know that delta today and the Sheyenne sandhills in Richland and Ransom Counties, and is home to the Sheyenne National Grasslands.
It is hard to put that amount of water flow into perspective. However, John Bluemle in the 3rd edition of his The Face of North Dakota, published in 2000 helps put that flow into perspective. I quote “The result was the nearly instantaneous carving of the entire Sheyenne River Valley, which flowed, rim-to-rim, full of water – a river probably larger than the Mississippi River at New Orleans.”
Wow! Give that some thought the next time you cross the Sheyenne River Valley.
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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