We are taking a road trip today to a place many of us baboons have been to and even lived on, but maybe never knew of or noticed. The trip starts in Fargo, elevation 904 feet. Remember that number.
We travel south on I-29 on a really straight road, passing the little towns, crossing the Wild Rice River several times, saluting the fireworks emporiums, and admiring the potato and sugar beet fields. We are at the bottom of ancient Lake Agassiz. The soil is some of the world’s best.
After an hour we pass the Sisseton-Wahpeton tribal casino at the border and cross into South Dakota. The landscape is quite similar to what we have just passed, but there are increasing wetlands now and the terrain starts to roll slightly. We cross the continental divide, so now all the water flows south to the Gulf of Mexico instead of north into Hudson’s Bay.
It is then we notice something looming to our right. In the distant west we see a dark line of hills, a ridge that seems to pop out of nowhere. We drive closer and start to climb, and by the time we get to Summit, SD, we are at an elevation of 2014 feet. We are a thousand feet higher than we were in Fargo. This is a place where the wind howls all year long, it seems. It is no place to be in a snow storm. There are wind farms here. We are on the Coteau des Prairies, a triangular-shaped plateau that starts in northern South Dakota and extends into southwest Minnesota and northwest Iowa. It is 200 miles long and 100 mile wide. You can see the extent of the Coteau on the map.
Anyone who has been in Rock, Nobles, Lincoln, Murray, or Pipestone counties has been on the Minnesota section of the Coteau called the Buffalo Ridge. It is the drainage divide between the Mississippi and Missouri rivers. My father knew all about the Buffalo Ridge. It was significant to him and he loved his first glimpse when ever we drove from Dickinson to Luverne last year.
Lewis and Clark noticed the Coteau des Prairies, and described it in this map from 1814.
I grew up on the ridge and had never heard about it! I had looked at it over the years on our too infrequent trips home on I-29, but never really thought much about it until this past year when I drove home so many times during my parents’ illnesses.
How many baboons have been in Worthington or Pipestone or Luverne and known they were on a big plateau? The ridge is something you don’t notice until you are off it. You have to be away from it to really see it.
When have you failed to notice something that was all around you?