The Arkansas River is a major tributary of the Mississippi River. It generally flows to the east and southeast as it traverses the U.S. states of Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas. The river's source basin lies in the western United States in Colorado, specifically the Arkansas River Valley, where the headwaters derive from the snowpack in the Sawatch and Mosquito mountain ranges. It then flows east into the Midwest via Kansas, and finally into the South through Oklahoma and Arkansas.
At 1,469 miles (2,364 km), it is the sixth-longest river in the United States, the second-longest tributary in the Mississippi–Missouri system, and the 45th longest river in the world. Its origin is in the Rocky Mountains in Lake County, Colorado, near Leadville. In 1859, placer gold discovered in the Leadville area brought thousands seeking to strike it rich, but the easily recovered placer gold was quickly exhausted. The Arkansas River's mouth is at Napoleon, Arkansas, and its drainage basin covers nearly 170,000 sq mi (440,300 km²). In terms of volume, the river is much smaller than the Missouri and Ohio Rivers, with a mean discharge of about 40,000 cubic feet per second (1,100 m3/s).
The lower part of the Arkansas River near Little Rock, Arkansas
The Arkansas River flows through Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas, and its watershed also drains parts of Texas, New Mexico and Missouri.
|State||Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas|
|Cities||Pueblo, CO, Wichita, KS, Tulsa, OK, Muskogee, OK, Fort Smith, AR, Little Rock, AR, Pine Bluff, AR|
|Source||Confluence of East Fork Arkansas River and Tennessee Creek|
|- location||Near Leadville, Rocky Mountains, Colorado|
|- elevation||9,728 ft (2,965 m)|
|Franklin Township, Desha County, near Napoleon, Arkansas|
|108 ft (33 m)|
|Length||1,469 mi (2,364 km), West-east|
|Basin size||168,000 sq mi (440,000 km2)|
|- location||Little Rock, AR|
|- average||39,850 cu ft/s (1,128 m3/s)|
|- minimum||1,141 cu ft/s (32.3 m3/s)|
|- maximum||536,000 cu ft/s (15,200 m3/s)|
|River system||Mississippi River watershed|
|- left||Fountain Creek, Pawnee River, Little Arkansas River, Walnut River, Verdigris River, Neosho River|
|- right||Cimarron River, Salt Fork Arkansas River, La Flecha, Canadian River, Poteau River|
Name pronunciation varies by region. Many people in western states, including Kansas, Oklahoma, and parts of Colorado, pronounce it /ɑːrˈkænzəs/ ar-KAN-zəs, People in Arkansas, parts of Colorado, and the majority of the remaining United States typically pronounce it /ˈɑːrkənsɔː/ AR-kən-saw, which is how the Arkansas state is always pronounced according to a state law passed in 1881.
The path of the Arkansas River has changed over time. Sediments from the river found in a palaeochannel next to Nolan, a site in the Tensas Basin, show that part of the river's meander belt flowed through up to 5200 BP. Whilst it was previously thought that this relict channel was active at the same time as another relict of Mississippi River's meander belt, it has been shown that this channel of the Arkansas was inactive approximately 400 years before the Mississippi channel was active.
The Arkansas has three distinct sections in its long path through central North America. At its headwaters beginning near Leadville, Colorado, the Arkansas runs as a steep fast-flowing mountain river through the Rockies in its narrow valley, dropping 4,600 feet (1.4 km) in 120 miles (193 km). This section supports extensive whitewater rafting, including The Numbers (near Granite, Colorado), Brown's Canyon, and the Royal Gorge.
At Cañon City, Colorado, the Arkansas River valley widens and flattens markedly. Just west of Pueblo, Colorado, the river enters the Great Plains. Through the rest of Colorado, Kansas, and much of Oklahoma, it is a typical Great Plains riverway, with wide, shallow banks subject to seasonal flooding and periods of dwindling flow. Tributaries include the Cimarron River and the Salt Fork Arkansas River.
In eastern Oklahoma the river begins to widen further into a more contained consistent channel. To maintain more reliable flow rates, a series of large reservoir lakes have been built on the Arkansas and its intersecting tributaries including the Canadian, Verdigris, Neosho (Grand), Illinois, and Poteau rivers. These locks and dams allow the river to be navigable by barges and large river craft downriver of Muskogee, Oklahoma, where the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System joins in with the Verdigris River.
Into western Arkansas, the river path works between the encroaching Boston and Ouachita Mountains, including many isolated, flat-topped mesas, buttes, or monadnocks such as Mount Nebo, Petit Jean Mountain, and Mount Magazine, the highest point in the state. The river valley then expands as it encounters much flatter land beginning just west of Little Rock, Arkansas. It continues eastward across the plains and forests of eastern Arkansas until it flows into the Mississippi River.
Water flow in the Arkansas River (as measured in central Kansas) has dropped from approximately 248 cubic feet per second (7 m³/s) average from 1944-1963 to 53 cubic feet per second (1.5 m³/s) average from 1984–2003, largely because of the pumping of groundwater for irrigation in eastern Colorado and western Kansas.
Since 1902, Kansas has claimed Colorado takes too much of the river's water, resulting in a number of lawsuits before the U.S. Supreme Court that continue to this day, generally under the name of Kansas v. Colorado. The problems over the possession and use of Arkansas River water by Colorado and Kansas led to the creation of an interstate compact or agreement between the two states. While Congress approved the Arkansas River Compact in 1949, the compact did not stop further disputes by the two states over water rights to the river.
The Kansas-Oklahoma Arkansas River Basin Compact was created in 1965 to promote mutual consideration and equity over water use in the basin shared by those states. It led to the Kansas-Oklahoma Arkansas River Commission, which was charged with administering the compact and reducing pollution. The compact was approved and implemented by both states in 1970, and has been in force since then.
The McClellan–Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System begins at the Tulsa Port of Catoosa on the Verdigris River, enters the Arkansas River near Muskogee, and runs via an extensive lock and dam system to the Mississippi River. Through Oklahoma and Arkansas, dams which artificially deepen and widen the river to sustain commercial barge traffic and recreational use give the river the appearance of a series of reservoirs.
The McClellan–Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System diverts from the Arkansas River 2.5 mi (4.0 km) upstream of the Wilbur D. Mills Dam to avoid the long winding route which the lower Arkansas River follows. This circuitous portion of the Arkansas River between the Wilbur D. Mills Dam and the Mississippi River was historically bypassed by river vessels; early steamboats instead following a network of rivers—known as the Arkansas Post Canal—which flowed north of the lower Arkansas River and followed a shorter and more direct route to the Mississippi River. When the McClellan–Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System was constructed between 1963 and 1970, the Arkansas Post Canal was significantly improved, while the lower Arkansas River continued to be bypassed by commercial vessels.
Many nations of Native Americans lived near, or along, the 1,450-mile (2,334-km) stretch of the Arkansas River for thousands of years. The first Europeans to see the river were members of the Spanish Coronado expedition on June 29, 1541. Also in the 1540s, Hernando de Soto discovered the junction of the Arkansas with the Mississippi. The Spanish originally called the river Napeste. "The name "Arkansas" was first applied by Father Jacques Marquette, who called the river Akansa in his journal of 1673. The Joliet-Marquette expedition travelled the Mississippi River from Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin towards the Gulf of Mexico, but turned back at the mouth of the Arkansas River. By that time, they had encountered Native Americans carrying European trinkets, and feared confrontation with Spanish conquistadors.
Jean-Baptiste Bénard de la Harpe, a French trader, explorer and nobleman had led an expedition into what is now Oklahoma in 1718–19. His original objective was to establish a trading post near the present city of Texarkana, Arkansas, but he then extended his trip overland as far north as the Arkansas River (which he designated as the Alcansas). The explorer wrote he and 9 other men, including three Caddo guides and 22 horses loaded with trade goods had come to a native settlement overlooking the river, where there were about 6,000 natives, who gave the strangers a warm welcome. La Harpe's party were honored with the calumet ceremony and spent ten days at this location. In 1988, evidence of a native village was discovered along the Arkansas River 13 miles (21 km) south of present-day Tulsa, Oklahoma. By then, the site was known as the Lasley Vore Site.[a]
French traders and trappers who had opened up trade with Indian tribes in Canada and the areas around the Great Lakes began exploring the Mississippi and some of its northern tributaries. They soon learned that the birch-bark canoes, which had served them so well on the northern waterways, were too light for use on the southern rivers, such as the Arkansas. They turned to making and using dugout canoes, which they called pirogues, made by hollowing out the trunks of cottonwood trees.[b] Cottonwoods are plentiful along the streams of the southwest and grow to large sizes. The wood is soft and easily worked with the crude tools carried by both the French and Indians. The pirogues were sturdier and could be more for navigating the sandbars and snags of the Southern waterways.
In 1819, the Adams–Onís Treaty set the Arkansas as part of the frontier between the United States and Spanish Mexico. This continued until the United States annexed Texas after the Mexican–American War, in 1846. The treaty was made shortly after "Old Settler" Cherokees moved to near what became known as Webbers Falls on the Arkansas River. That area, then part of Arkansas Territory would become Indian Territory and later Oklahoma, was traditional territory of the Osage, leading to conflict and a treaty in 1828 but still unresolved by the time thousands of additional Cherokee refugees moved to the area during the Trail of Tears.
By the time Fort Smith was established in 1817, larger capacity watercraft became available to transport goods up and down the Arkansas. These included flatboats (bateaus) and keelboats. Along with the pirogues, they transported piles of deer, bear, otter, beaver and buffalo skins up and down the river. Agricultural products such as corn, rice, dried peaches, beans, peanuts, snake root, sarsaparilla, ginseng had grown in economic importance.
On March 31, 1820, the Comet became the first steamboat to successfully navigate part of the Arkansas River, reaching a place called Arkansas Post,[c] about 60 miles (97 km) above the confluence of the Arkansas and the Mississippi Rivers. In mid-April, 1822, the Robert Thompson, towing a keelboat, was the first steamboat to navigate the Arkansas as far as Fort Smith. For five years, Fort Smith was known as the head of navigation for steamboats on the river. It lost the title to Fort Gibson in April, 1832, when three steamboats, Velocipede, Scioto and Catawba, all arrived at Fort Gibson later that month.[d]
Later, the Santa Fe Trail followed the Arkansas through much of Kansas, picking it up near Great Bend and continuing through to La Junta, Colorado, unless users elected to take the challenging Cimarron Cutoff in Cimarron, Kansas.
During the American Civil War, each side tried to prevent the other from using the Arkansas and its tributaries as a route for moving reinforcements. Initially, the Union Army abandoned its forts in the Indian Territory, including Fort Gibson and Fort Smith, in order to maximize its strength for campaigns elsewhere, while the Confederate Army sent troops from Texas to support its Native American allies. Union Troops returned later in the war, after defeating the Confederates at the Battle of Pea Ridge and the Battle of Fort Smith, and began recovering the position it had previously abandoned, most notably Fort Gibson, reopening the Arkansas River as a supply route. In September 1864, a body of Confederate irregulars led by General Stand Watie successfully ambushed a Union supply ship bound for Fort Gibson. The vessel was destroyed, and a part of its cargo was looted by the Confederates.
In the 1880s, Charles "Buffalo" Jones, one of the cofounders of Garden City, Kansas, organized four irrigation companies to take water one hundred miles from the Arkansas River to cultivate 75,000 acres (300 km2) of land. By 1890, water from the Arkansas was being used to irrigate more than 20,000 acres (8,100 ha) of farmland in Kansas. By 1910, irrigation projects in Colorado had caused the river to stop flowing in July and August.
Flooding in 1927 severely damaged or destroyed nearly every levee downstream of Fort Smith, and led to the development of the Arkansas River Flood Control Association. It also led to the Federal Government assigning responsibility of flood control and navigation on the Arkansas to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACOE).
The headwaters of the Arkansas River in central Colorado have been known for exceptional trout fishing, particularly fly fishing, since the 19th century, when greenback cutthroat trout dominated the river. Today, brown trout dominate the river, which also contains rainbow trout. Trout Unlimited considers the Arkansas one of the top 100 trout streams in America, a reputation the river has had since the 1950s. From Leadville to Pueblo, the Arkansas River is serviced by numerous fly shops and guides operating in Buena Vista, Salida, Cañon City and Pueblo. The Colorado Division of Wildlife provides regular online fishing reports for the river.
A fish kill occurred on December 29, 2010, in which an estimated 100,000 freshwater drum lined the Arkansas River bank. An investigation, conducted by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, found the dead fish "... cover 17 miles of river from the Ozark Lock and Dam downstream to River Mile 240, directly south of Hartman, Arkansas." Tests later indicated the likely cause of the kill was gas bubble trauma caused by opening the spillways on the Ozark Dam.
The Arkansas Hills are a mountain range in Central Colorado located between the upper Arkansas River Valley and the upper South Platte River Valley. This landmass is a continuation of the ridge known as the Mosquito Range north of Trout Creek Pass. The range continues for roughly 60 miles south-southwest from Trout Creek Pass to the town of Texas Creek. Few perennial streams flow out of the Arkansas Hills, as the area is arid. The range is in the rain shadow of the much higher Sawatch and Sangre de Cristo Ranges to the west across the Arkansas River Valley. The City of Salida, Colorado is the most notable municipality near the Arkansas Hills. To the south is the town of Cotopaxi, Colorado. To the east is the town of Guffey, Colorado. The highest points in the Arkansas Hills tend to be between 11,000 and 12,000 feet elevation.
The practice of naming mid-elevation upland areas in central and southern Colorado using the word hills was also illustrated by the naming of the similar uplands between the southern terminus of the Sawatch Range and the northern terminus of the La Garita Range: the Cochetopa Hills.Arkansas River Valley
The Arkansas River Valley (usually shortened to River Valley) is a region in Arkansas defined by the Arkansas River in the western part of the state. Generally defined as the area between the Ozark and Ouachita Mountains, the River Valley is characterized by flat lowlands covered in fertile farmland and lakes periodically interrupted by high peaks. Mount Magazine, Mount Nebo, and Petit Jean Mountain compose the Tri-Peaks Region, a further subdivision of the River Valley popular with hikers and outdoors enthusiasts. In addition to the outdoor recreational activities available to residents and visitors of the region, the River Valley contains Arkansas's wine country as well as hundreds of historical sites throughout the area.It is one of six natural divisions of Arkansas.Browns Canyon National Monument
Browns Canyon National Monument is a 21,586 acres (33.7 sq mi; 87.4 km2) national monument in Chaffee County, Colorado that was designated as such by President Barack Obama under the Antiquities Act on February 19, 2015. The site will be centered along the Arkansas River between Buena Vista and Salida. Browns Canyon is the most popular destination for whitewater rafting in the country, and is also known for its fishing and hiking. The monument will provide habitat protection for bighorn sheep, peregrine falcons, elk, and golden eagles.Designation of the monument was requested by numerous Colorado lawmakers, including Senators Michael Bennet and Mark Udall, Representative Joel Hefley and Governor John Hickenlooper. It was opposed by Representatives Ken Buck and Doug Lamborn, who objected to the president's use of executive action in declaring the monument. Lamborn also objected to the effect that the monument's creation would have on grazing, mineral and water rights; in response the White House stated that the designation would honor "valid and existing rights, but withdraws the area from future mineral leasing." The monument will be run jointly by the Bureau of Land Management and United States Forest Service.Canadian River
The Canadian River is the longest tributary of the Arkansas River in the United States. It is about 906 miles (1,458 km) long, starting in Colorado and traveling through New Mexico, the Texas Panhandle, and Oklahoma. The drainage area is about 47,700 square miles (124,000 km2).The Canadian is sometimes referred to as the South Canadian River to differentiate it from the North Canadian River that flows into it.Cañon City, Colorado
Cañon City () is a Home Rule Municipality that is the county seat and the most populous municipality of Fremont County, Colorado, United States. The city population was 16,400 at the 2010 United States Census. Cañon City straddles the easterly flowing Arkansas River and is a popular tourist destination for sightseeing, whitewater rafting, and rock climbing. The city is known for its many public parks, fossil discoveries, Skyline Drive, The Royal Gorge railroad, the Royal Gorge, extensive natural hiking paths, and the tropical-like weather year-round."In 1994, the United States Board on Geographic Names approved adding the tilde to the official name of Cañon City, a change from Canon City as the official name in its decisions of 1906 and 1975. It is one of the few U.S. cities to have an Ñ in its name, others being La Cañada Flintridge, California; Española, New Mexico; Peñasco, New Mexico; and Cañones, New Mexico.Cimarron River (Arkansas River tributary)
The Cimarron River extends 698 miles (1,123 km) across New Mexico, Oklahoma, Colorado, and Kansas. The headwaters flow from Johnson Mesa west of Folsom in northeastern New Mexico. Much of the river's length lies in Oklahoma, where it either borders or passes through eleven counties. There are no major cities along its route. The river enters the Oklahoma Panhandle near Kenton, Oklahoma, crosses the southeastern corner of Colorado into Kansas, reenters the Oklahoma Panhandle, reenters Kansas, and finally returns to Oklahoma where it joins the Arkansas River at Keystone Reservoir west of Tulsa, Oklahoma, its only impoundment. The Cimarron drains a basin that encompasses about 18,927 square miles (49,020 km2).Geography of Arkansas
The geography of Arkansas varies widely. The state is covered by mountains, river valleys, forests, lakes, and bayous in addition to the cities of Arkansas. Hot Springs National Park features bubbling springs of hot water, formerly sought across the country for their healing properties. Crowley's Ridge is a geological anomaly rising above the surrounding lowlands of the Mississippi embayment.
The Buffalo National River, as it flows through The Ozarks to the White River, is a popular tourist attraction. It was designated the first national river in 1972 after years of conservation efforts in opposition to a United States Army Corps of Engineers plan to dam the river. The Arkansas River enters the state near Van Buren and flows southeast through Little Rock to empty into the Mississippi River near Arkansas Post. Most of the river serves barge traffic to Tulsa, Oklahoma as the McClellan–Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System. Through south Arkansas, the Ouachita River and the Saline River run roughly parallel to the Arkansas, and the major rivers in northeast Arkansas are the White River and St. Francis River. The Red River runs through the southwest corner of the state.
Arkansas has many manmade lakes across the state, many are the basis for state parks, wildlife management areas, or other recreation. Bull Shoals Lake, DeGray Lake, Lake Dardanelle, Lake Ouachita all have state parks along their shores, and Beaver Lake, Table Rock Lake, Greers Ferry Lake, Lake Hamilton and Lake Catherine are also major recreation lakes in the state.The Ozarks is a broad term for many mountainous counties in northwest Arkansas. This region is usually referred to the Ozarks because the term Northwest Arkansas is the colloquial name for the Fayetteville–Springdale–Rogers Metropolitan Area, including Benton, Madison, Washington counties in Arkansas and McDonald County, Missouri. The Ozark, however, span from the Arkansas River in the south through north central Arkansas. The Boston Mountains subset contain highest peaks in the Ozarks.La Junta, Colorado
La Junta is the county seat and the most populous municipality of Otero County, Colorado, United States. The city population was 7,077 at the 2010 United States Census. La Junta is located on the Arkansas River in southeastern Colorado 68 miles (109 km) east of Pueblo.Lamar, Colorado
Lamar is a Home Rule Municipality that is the county seat and the most populous municipality of Prowers County, Colorado, United States. The city population was 7,804 at the 2010 United States Census. The city was named after Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar II during the period that he was Secretary of the Interior in the futile hope that the then town would be named as the land office.List of rivers of Arkansas
List of rivers in Arkansas (U.S. state).
For a list of dams and reservoirs in Arkansas, see List of Arkansas dams and reservoirs Rivers are listed by drainage basin, by size, and alphabetically.List of rivers of Colorado
This is a list of streams in the U.S. state of Colorado.List of rivers of Kansas
This is a list of rivers in Kansas (U.S. state).List of rivers of Missouri
List of rivers in Missouri (U.S. state).List of rivers of Oklahoma
This is a list of rivers in the state of Oklahoma, listed by drainage basin, alphabetically, and by size. In mean flow of water per second, the Arkansas is Oklahoma's largest river, followed by the Red River of the South and the Neosho River.McClellan–Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System
The McClellan–Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System (MKARNS) is part of the inland waterway system originating at the Tulsa Port of Catoosa and running southeast through Oklahoma and Arkansas to the Mississippi River. The system was named for two Senators: Robert S. Kerr (D-OK) and John L. McClellan (D-AR), who pushed authorizing legislation through Congress. The system officially opened June 5, 1971. President Richard M. Nixon attended the opening ceremony. It is operated by the Corps of Engineers.Though it primarily follows the Arkansas River, it also follows portions of the Verdigris River in Oklahoma and the White River in Arkansas. It also includes the Arkansas Post Canal, a short canal named for nearby Arkansas Post National Memorial, connecting the Arkansas and White Rivers.
Through Oklahoma and Arkansas, dams artificially deepen and widen this modest sized river to build it into a commercially navigable body of water. The design enables traffic to overcome an elevation difference of 420 feet (130 m) between the Mississippi River and the Tulsa Port of Catoosa. Along the section of the Arkansas River that carries the McClellan-Kerr channel, the river sustains commercial barge traffic and offers passenger and recreational use and is a series of reservoirs. Total length of the system is 445 miles (716 km).North Little Rock, Arkansas
North Little Rock is a city in Pulaski County, Arkansas, United States, across the Arkansas River from Little Rock in the central part of the state. The population was 62,304 at the 2010 census. In 2017 the estimated population was 65,911, making it the seventh-most populous city in the state. North Little Rock, along with Little Rock and Conway, anchors the six-county Little Rock–North Little Rock–Conway Metropolitan Statistical Area (2014 population 729,135), which is further included in the Little Rock-North Little Rock Combined Statistical Area with 902,443 residents.
The city's downtown is anchored in the Argenta Historic District, which draws its name from the original name of the city; the area includes Dickey-Stephens Park, the current home of the Arkansas Travelers minor league baseball team, and Verizon Arena, the metropolitan area's main entertainment venue. Farther west in the city is Burns Park, one of the largest municipal parks in the United States.Pine Bluff, Arkansas
Pine Bluff is the tenth-largest city in the state of Arkansas and the county seat of Jefferson County. It is the principal city of the Pine Bluff Metropolitan Statistical Area and part of the Little Rock-North Little Rock-Pine Bluff Combined Statistical Area. The population of the city was 49,083 in the 2010 Census with 2017 estimates showing a decline to 42,984.The city is situated in the Southeast section of the Arkansas Delta and straddles the Arkansas Timberlands region to its west. Its topography is flat with wide expanses of farmland, consistent with other places in the Delta Lowlands. Pine Bluff has numerous creeks, streams, and bayous. (Bayou Bartholomew is the longest bayou in the world and is the second most-diverse stream in the United States). Large bodies of water include Lake Pine Bluff, Lake Langhofer (Slack Water Harbor), and the Arkansas River.Russellville, Arkansas
Russellville is the county seat and largest city in Pope County, Arkansas, United States, with a population of 27,920, according to the 2010 Census. It is home to Arkansas Tech University and Arkansas Nuclear One, Arkansas' only nuclear power plant. Russellville borders Lake Dardanelle and the Arkansas River.
It is the principal city of the Russellville Micropolitan Statistical Area, which includes all of Pope and Yell counties.Salida, Colorado
Salida ( sə-LY-də; Spanish: [saˈliða], "exit") is a Statutory City that is the county seat and most populous city of Chaffee County, Colorado, United States. The population was 5,236 at the 2010 census.