Geology on the Lewis & Clark Trail in North Dakota

Review: Geology on the Lewis & Clark Trail in North Dakota, John W. Hoganson and Edward C. Murphy, 2003.

Following somewhat in the format of the Roadside Geology series from the same publisher, Mountain Press Publishing Company, this book is as well produced and formatted as that series. However, it also has a crossover appeal for history buffs.

The authors, both members of the North Dakota Geological Survey, retrace the footsteps of the Lewis and Clark Expedition in North Dakota. The expedition spent from October 14,1804 and April 1805 on their outward trip to the Pacific Ocean, much of it in winter camp near modern day Mandan, North Dakota. The much faster return trip had them in the future state from August 3, 1806 to August 19, 1806. There trip was, of course, via the Missouri.

The first chapter lays out the scientific equipment and journals kept of the expedition. It was charged with many scientific purposes: measurements of climate, soil evaluation, to find if mastodons and other large beasts were really extinct or still lived in the heart of North America, and, also, to note geological resources. The latter were listed by President Thomas Jefferson:

mineral productions of every kind; but more particularly metals, limestone, pit coal, & saltpetre; salines & mineral waters, noting temperature of the last, & such circumstances as may indicate their character

The first 45 pages of this 247-page book cover the charter and preparation of the expedition and North Dakota’s general geology including a nice map of the northward flow of the state’s rivers before the last ice age.

The land beside the Missouri has been altered since 1805 by fixed settlements, of course. But the alteration of three major dams, including the Garrison Dam in North Dakota, has greatly changed the river itself.

Most of the sites mentioned and depicted in the many color photos in the text are helpfully marked on maps. Most can be easily accessed via marked roads, and the book is divided into sections covering the different geological zones the Missouri River flows through. As with the expedition, the author starts in the south of the state.

Some historical points of interest are mentioned and illustrated. They include the Knife River Flint deposit, source of a highly prized variety of flint among the Indians and traded quite widely across the middle of North America.

As with the Roadside Geology titles, this book comes with many useful diagrams of the geological timetable, the specific formations along the river, a glossary, maps, and photos.

If you have an interest in North Dakota geology or the Lewis & Clark expedition or just like the Roadside Geology series, you’ll want to seek out this more specialized texts.

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