An elevated boundary line that separates the oceanic drainage basins of a continent. The river systems of a continent on opposite sides of a continental divide flow toward different oceans.

In North America, the Continental Divide is also known as the Great Divide. It is located high in the Rocky Mountains and runs from Alberta, Canada to northern Central America. It separates the waters that flow into the Pacific Ocean from those that flow into the Atlantic.

I've crossed the continental divide four times this weekend, in three different spots. Or perhaps it would be best for me to say that I crossed The Continental Divide, because while there are many different divisions of watersheds, when the term is used it usually means the divide that means Astoria\New Orleans.

In many ways, crossing the continental divide is exactly what could be expected. There is a fractal pattern to rivers and streams, one that can be noticed easily. One moment, I was driving by a fast, wide river, and a half hour later, I am driving by a meandering little ditch that still calls itself a river. And the thought that two innocuous little streams separated by a few miles are destined to end up thousands of miles apart.

However, at least from my experience in Montana, there is one thing about The Continental Divide that might be contrary to the images of those who have not seen it. The Continental Divide is in most places not a sharp-toothed ridge of rock that punches up into the sky above the surrounding terrain, but can be a slightly elevated range in a series of ranges. After all, by the time you get to the vicinity of the divide, the ground is already thousands of feet above sea level, making the ascent to the divide itself a relatively minor climb of a thousand or so feet. And in some places there may actually be higher and more dramatic ranges that separate tributaries of the Columbia or Missouri rivers, while the range that separates those rivers is relatively modest in comparison. And if you were to actually release a cup of water at the crest of the divide, the water would not split in two and go into two different oceans: it would just slowly soak into the ground, and very slowly move in whichever direction the ground water is going, since many sections of the continental divide are more gently rolling meadows then they are rocky peaks.

So while The Continental Divide is a beautiful and fascinating thing, it is not always as dramatic as some might imagine.

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