The Missouri River “is where the map should fold,” wrote John Steinbeck, calling it “the boundary between east and west.” The Missouri indeed marks the beginning of The West, with its heritage of Indian tribes, cattle drives, settlers and shoot-outs, and its legacy of powerful personalities: George Armstrong Custer, Sitting Bull, Lewis and Clark, Sakakawea, Theodore Roosevelt and other fabled figures.
The West is also noted for the beauty of its rugged Badlands and the magic of Medora, the historic cowtown named after the lovely young wife of a French aristocrat. Just to the west of The Valley, the area of Coteaus and Prairies rises gradually and stretches to the Missouri River. It’s a region of gently rolling hills, plains and marshes, the northern reaches of the Great Plains, part of the flat, rural landform stretching down the center of the continent from Canada to Mexico. Productive farm country, it also has large areas of wetlands with thousands of potholes left by retreating glaciers, making this area home to more nesting ducks and pelicans than anywhere else in America.
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Directly north of the Coteaus and Prairies is North Dakota’s land of Lakes and Gardens, a four-season playground marked by picturesque lakes, thick forests and the tree-dotted slopes of the scenic Turtle Mountains. Inviting waters welcome boaters, anglers and fun-seekers to their shores. Home to Sioux and Chippewa, this great outdoors with all its natural unspoiled beauty and diversity, is an important breeding ground for ducks and geese.
Over the past two million years, continental glaciers repeatedly advanced southward across eastern North Dakota, depositing thick blankets of glacial sediments. Around 12,000 years ago, as the last ice sheet began to retreat from North Dakota, what is now the Red River Valley became part of an immense glacial lake, Lake Agassiz. At its maximum depth at Fargo, the waters of Lake Agassiz were about 300 feet deep. As Lake Agassiz drained from eastern North Dakota about 9300 years ago, it left behind a flat landscape underlain by lake sediments that would eventually become transformed into fertile black soil. Today, here on the eastern edge of North Dakota, towering shelterbelts turn farmsteads into wooded castles surrounded by oceans of waving wheat.