Physical Geography

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Entry Category: Physical Geography

Abernathy Spring

Abernathy Spring is a mineral spring located in Polk County, 2.8 km (1.75 mi.) east of the unincorporated community of Big Fork on the north side of State Highway 8. Elevation is 335 meters (1,099 ft.). The spring was owned by Rufus J. Abernathy (1856–1932), who resided at Big Fork and is buried at the Pleasant Grove Cemetery just outside of town and east of the spring. Water from the spring drains into adjacent Big Fork Creek (a tributary of the Ouachita River) and, at one time, was used for domestic purposes, such as for water supply and to keep food cold. There are actually two springs at this location—the primary one is a 75 cm (29.5 in.) diameter galvanized …

Antoine River

The Antoine River rises from a confluence of streams in the Ouachita Mountains of Pike County, just west of Amity (Clark County). From there, it flows southeast, forming part of the boundary between Pike and Clark counties, until it empties into the Little Missouri River near the town of Okolona (Clark County). Some sources call the waterway Antoine Creek. It is one of the shorter rivers in Arkansas, with a total length of thirty-five miles, all of which lie within the state. The area along the river has been the site of human habitation since approximately 10,000 BC. During the historic period, the Caddo Indians controlled this region of southwest Arkansas. French explorers and trappers likely gave the river its …

Arkansas River

The Arkansas River originates high in the Sawatch Range of the Rocky Mountains near Leadville, Colorado, and it ends in eastern Arkansas at the confluence with the Mississippi River where the town of Napoleon (Desha County) once stood. The river is 1,460 miles long and flows across three states before making its way into Arkansas. The Arkansas River is the second-longest tributary in the Mississippi-Missouri river system, the sixth-longest river in the United States, and the forty-fifth-longest river in the world. Three major cities are situated along the banks of this river that drains nearly 160,500 square miles of land: Wichita, Kansas; Tulsa, Oklahoma; and Little Rock (Pulaski County). Significance to Arkansas The Arkansas River, flowing east and southeast across …

Bayou Bartholomew

Located in southeast Arkansas, Bayou Bartholomew was, until the construction of railroad lines in the area in 1890, the most important stream for transportation in the interior Delta. While the Arkansas and Mississippi rivers served their adjoining areas, it was the bayou that provided a transportation route into an otherwise landlocked area. This route allowed the development of one of the richest timber and agricultural tracts in the Delta. Bayou Bartholomew has the distinction of being the longest bayou in the United States, beginning its meandering 359 miles in Jefferson County and passing through Lincoln, Desha, Drew, Chicot, and Ashley counties before proceeding into Morehouse Parish, Louisiana, where it eventually empties into the Ouachita River near Sterlington. The present bayou …

Bayou Meto

Bayou Meto is a slow-moving stream that originates in northern Pulaski County at the confluence of several creeks west of Little Rock Air Force Base and travels 150 miles south and east through Lonoke, Arkansas, and Jefferson counties before emptying into the Arkansas River a few miles southwest of Gillett (Arkansas County); it forms parts of the boundary lines between Lonoke and Prairie counties and Arkansas and Jefferson counties. The bayou has lent its name to different communities along its path, a Civil War action in Pulaski County, and the first wildlife management agency (WMA) established by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC). The origins of the bayou’s name are a matter of debate. Some early French documents dub …

Beaver Dam and Lake

Beaver Lake was created by Beaver Dam in Carroll County. The lake—technically a reservoir since it was created by a manmade dam in order to store water—is located on the White River in the Ozark Highlands region of northwest Arkansas. Approximately seventy-three miles long and a maximum of two miles wide, the lake reaches from Eureka Springs (Carroll County) roughly to Fayetteville (Washington County). About 450 miles of shoreline extend through three counties: Benton, Carroll and Washington. The multi-purpose project provides flood control, hydroelectric generation, water supply, and recreation. While the possibility of a dam on the upper White River was examined as early as 1911, the first feasibility studies by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for constructing such …

Big Island

aka: Montgomery Island
Big Island in Desha County was once the largest island in the continental United States. It is bordered on the east by the Mississippi River. The northern boundary is formed by the White River and the new channel of the Arkansas River, and the western and southern boundaries are formed by the old channel of the Arkansas River. The island is indicated on some maps as “Big Island,” while others—including U.S. Army Corps of Engineers maps—show it as “Montgomery Island,” named after William Montgomery, a prominent early settler in the area. Big Island is about eleven miles long and seven miles wide. However, the meanderings of the three rivers have caused many changes in the appearance of the island over the …

Black River

The Black River has played a significant, but shifting, role in the lives of residents of northeast Arkansas. For the early Native Americans who lived in the area, it was an essential food and transportation source. This remained true for European settlers in the days before roads and railroads. The river was also an essential “highway” for the flatboats and river steamers that transported people and goods to and from the area. The river supported the development of local industry as the means for moving timber from the forests to places such as the Sallee Brothers Handle Mill in Pocahontas (Randolph County), while mussel fishing supplied pearls and mother of pearl for the local button-making industry for many years. While …

Blue Mountain Dam and Lake

Blue Mountain Lake is a manmade lake, or reservoir, on Petit Jean River in Logan County. A portion of the lake extends into Yell County. The dam was built in the 1940s as a flood-control project, but since its completion, the lake has also provided numerous recreational opportunities. It is named for Blue Mountain, an outcropping of Mount Magazine. Land patents on farmland where the lake now lies were granted to William Mobly, James Henard, and Augustus Ward, all in 1861. By 1891, an unincorporated community called Patsie had developed in the area. Several cemeteries had to be relocated during the development of the lake. In 1899, when the Choctaw, Oklahoma and Gulf Railroad was built to the north of …

Boston Mountains

The Boston Mountains in north-central Arkansas are the southern portion of the Ozark Plateau geologic area. The Ozark Mountains extend across northern Arkansas and southern Missouri; this dome of rocks has been a relatively high area for the past 1.5 billion years. The most recent uplift of the Ozarks, including the Boston Mountains, occurred about 300 million years ago, and the mountains have been weathering and eroding since that time. This highland has the greatest relief (difference in the elevation from the valley bottoms to the mountain tops) of any formation between the Appalachian Mountains and the Rocky Mountains. The Boston Mountains portion of the Ozarks extends north of the Arkansas River Valley as a rectangle twenty to thirty-five miles …

Buffalo Island

Buffalo Island is a local name given to western Mississippi County and eastern Craighead County. It consists of the land south of Big Lake between the Little River (not to be confused with a stream of the same name in southwestern Arkansas) and the St. Francis River, containing the communities of Manila (Mississippi County), Monette (Craighead County), Leachville (Mississippi County), Black Oak (Craighead County), and Caraway (Craighead County). The first written mention of the area was by Hernando de Soto, who passed through the area in 1541. De Soto’s party described Big Lake as existing on a high, dry area near the Mississippi River and feeding a moat around a large village believed to be in the area of contemporary Gosnell (Mississippi …

Buffalo National River

aka: Buffalo River
The Buffalo National River, which runs through Newton, Searcy, Marion, and Baxter counties, became the first national river in the United States on March 1, 1972. It is one of the few remaining free-flowing rivers in the lower forty-eight states. The Buffalo National River, administered by the National Park Service, encompasses 135 miles of the 150-mile long river. President Richard M. Nixon signed Public Law 92-237 to put the river under the protection of the National Park Service 100 years after the establishment of Yellowstone National Park, the first national park. The law begins, “That for the purposes of conserving and interpreting an area containing unique scenic and scientific features, and preserving as a free-flowing stream an important segment of …

Cache River

The Cache River arises near the Arkansas-Missouri border at the confluence of a few agricultural ditches and flows south-southwesterly through Arkansas until it empties into the White River just east of Clarendon (Monroe County). Though it is not a major transportation corridor, the Cache River has nonetheless had an important place in Arkansas history, especially in debates about environmental conservation. The town of Cash (Craighead County) takes its name from the river. The Cache River was an important water resource for prehistoric Native Americans; for instance, important Indian mound sites connected to the Plum Bayou culture lie within the Cache River floodplain. These early peoples could exploit the variety of natural resources provided by the river and surrounding area, which was …

Caddo River

The Caddo River of west-central Arkansas is known widely as the Natural State’s premier family float stream. This scenic river is named after the Caddo Indians who settled the Ouachita Mountain drainage area. Since that time, many generations have settled, explored, and enjoyed this watercourse. This spring fed Ouachita Mountain stream offers something for everyone. Visitors to the Caddo can experience diverse recreational opportunity in a safe, easily accessible, natural setting. For centuries, this unique waterway has carved its way through sedimentary rock formations, creating a broad shallow river valley and leaving miles of gravel along its path. In some places, the nearly vertical beds of sandstone and novaculite create rapids and water gaps. The Caddo, known for extremely clear …

Caves and Caverns

Caves and caverns are natural underground openings large enough for humans to enter. They are primarily formed by volcanic activity or the eroding effects of water and wind. The caves of Arkansas are of the latter variety, the result of the dissolution of limestone and other soluble rock throughout the state’s mountainous regions. Hence, the highest concentration of caves is in the northwest and north-central areas of the state. Arkansas boasts several caves of sufficient size to be of interest to tourists and spelunkers, and all of these can be described as “living caves”—caves in which water remains present, along with its continuing ability to alter cave structure. The caves of Arkansas display vast arrays of stalactites and stalagmites, underground …

Cossatot River

The Cossatot River rises in the Ouachita Mountains southeast of Mena (Polk County) and flows southward through Howard County and Sevier County before emptying into the Little River north of Ashdown (Little River County). The upper portion of the river is well known as a whitewater stream and is popular among canoeists and kayakers. The Cossatot River is dammed in Howard County by Gillham Dam. The area around the Cossatot River has been the site of human habitation since approximately 10,000 BC, and there have been Indian mounds located along the course of the river. In the historic period, the Caddo Indians lived in the corner of Arkansas through which the Cossatot flows, though they were coerced into signing away …

Crystal Hill (Pulaski County)

Crystal Hill is a geological formation on the north side of the Arkansas River near Murray Lock and Dam. It is also the name of a neighborhood in the city of North Little Rock (Pulaski County). The formation, about seven miles upstream from downtown Little Rock (Pulaski County)—although many early travelers exaggerated the distance to fifteen miles—is a bluff consisting of sandstone and shale. It also contains significant amounts of iron pyrite, which sparkles in the sunlight. River travelers, seeing the sparkle, gave the hill its poetic name. East Arkansas settlers displaced by the New Madrid Earthquakes of 1811–1812 began to settle this part of Arkansas in 1812. David and Jonathan Pharr, Lewis and John Hynam, and William F. Lockwood …

Current River

The Current River crosses into Arkansas from Missouri at the border between Randolph and Clay counties and flows for approximately forty miles before merging with the Black River near Pocahontas (Randolph County). The river was the site of four Civil War skirmishes at Pitman’s Ferry in Randolph County. This is a well-known river for canoeing and was made a part of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways, a national park located in southern Missouri, in 1964. The Current River arises in the Ozark Mountains from the confluence of Montauk Spring and Pigeon Creek in Dent County, Missouri. Numerous other springs pour into the river as it progresses through Missouri, thus giving it a fairly constant flow of water throughout the year; …

DeGray Dam and Lake

DeGray Dam, located about eight miles northwest of Arkadelphia (Clark County), impounds the 13,400-acre DeGray Lake on the Caddo River. It was built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) for purposes of electricity generation and flood control, as well as establishing a drinking water supply for Arkadelphia, and is the first “pump back capable impoundment” in the Corps’s history. A reregulation dam forms a 400-acre impoundment below the main lake, providing a supply of water that can be pumped back into DeGray Lake during times of drought and used again for hydropower generation and to provide a steady flow of water on the Caddo River. The site where DeGray Dam stands had been considered for a dam since …

Earthquakes

Numerous earthquakes occur every year throughout the state of Arkansas, but most go unnoticed. Earthquakes that are felt can be startling and serve as good reminders that Arkansas is located near one of the most hazardous earthquake zones in the country. Earthquakes have been documented in Arkansas as early as 1699 by missionaries traveling down the Mississippi River near Helena (Phillips County). Although it is uncommon for major earthquakes to occur a great distance from active tectonic boundaries, earthquakes associated with the New Madrid Seismic Zone (NMSZ) have been some of the largest earthquakes ever to strike North America. The NMSZ is an active earthquake zone extending from Cairo, Illinois, into Marked Tree (Poinsett County). Earthquakes are caused by movement …

Eleven Point River

The Eleven Point River rises in the Ozark Mountains of Missouri near the town of Willow Springs and flows south-southeast, passing through the Mark Twain National Forest and entering Arkansas in Randolph County. It empties into the Spring River west of what is now Davidsonville Historic State Park and lends its name to the town of Eleven Point (Randolph County). The part of the Ozark Plateau through which the Eleven Point River flows was home to human habitation approximately as long ago as 10,000 B.C., according to archaeological excavations near Greer Springs, which empties into the Eleven Point. In addition, a few Indian mounds dating from the Mississippian Period have been located in the valley of the Eleven Point. In …

Floods

Floods are one of the most commonly occurring natural hazards in the United States. Their effects can be local, impacting a neighborhood or community, or can occur in large scale, affecting entire river basins and several states. About 3,800 towns and cities in the United Sates with populations of more than 2,500 lie on floodplains. The National Weather Service has documented some ninety-two flood deaths per year in the United States since 1903. This figure does not include flood-related deaths associated with Hurricane Katrina (2005). Since 1997, more than half (about fifty-seven percent) of all flood deaths have been vehicle-related fatalities. Throughout its history, Arkansas has been drastically affected by floods, with the most notable being in 1927 and 1937. …

Fourche Creek

Fourche Creek is a winding stream that flows more than twenty-four miles through southern Little Rock (Pulaski County). It is within the city limits for most of its length, from its headwaters south of Lawson Road at an elevation of 354 feet above mean sea level (AMSL) to its convergence with the Arkansas River near Interstate 440 (227 feet AMSL). Due to the density of the population around Fourche Creek, almost 200,000 Arkansans live within its watershed, more people than reside in the watershed of any other stream that both begins and ends in Arkansas. Fourche Creek was named by French explorers who became associated with the Quapaw who inhabited the bottomlands around Fourche Creek in the mid-seventeenth century. The …

Fourche La Fave River

The Fourche La Fave River rises in the Ouachita Mountains near Boles (Scott County) and flows east-northeast for approximately 140 miles through Yell County and Perry County before emptying into the Arkansas River south of the town of Fourche (Perry County), which takes its name from the river. It is impounded in Perry County by Nimrod Dam. The origin of the river’s name is open to debate; “fourche” is French for “fork,” and “La Fave” may be in reference either to a family that once lived along the river or to early settler Peter La Fave. The “fork” of the river is the South Fourche La Fave River, which rises in the Ouachita Mountains near Onyx (Yell County) and empties …

Fourche River

The Fourche River arises in Ripley County, Missouri, from the confluence of several streams and flows through Randolph County for twenty miles before emptying into the Black River near Pocahontas (Randolph County). It is not to be confused with the Fourche La Fave River, itself occasionally called the Fourche River, in central Arkansas. On some maps, the waterway is designated Fourche Creek for at least part of its length. The Ozark foothills, through which the Fourche River flows, have been the site of human habitation since at least 10,000 BC. In the historical period, the Osage Indians claimed this area as part of their hunting grounds, though they were forced to cede their claims in 1825. Among the earliest white …

Galley Rock

aka: Galla Rock (Pope County)
Galley Rock in Pope County is a two-mile shale bluff that rises almost forty feet high on the north bank of the Arkansas River, just northwest of Petit Jean Mountain. It was a natural landmark for early explorers and settlers. The area was a site for Cherokee settlers of the early 1800s and became a thriving river town in the 1830s. However, by the 1870s, the town experienced a decline, and all that remains today is the town cemetery. During the late 1700s, river travel was the safest and most reliable mode of transportation. French explorers and trappers navigated the Arkansas River with only striking, geologic features marking the locations of their trading posts and hunting camps. Galley (or Galla) …

Geographical Center of Arkansas Marker

The Geographic Center of Arkansas Marker was dedicated on April 12, 1936, as part of the state’s first centennial celebration. The marker was placed at a spot designated by the Arkansas Department of Transportation as the physical center of the state on Highway 5, then called the “Hot Springs Highway.” The presiding officers who participated in the dedication ceremony were Mrs. Charles H. Miller and Jeanne Weinmann, both representing the Colonel Samuel Cherry chapter of the Arkansas Society of the Daughters of American Colonists in Little Rock (Pulaski County). The Little Rock branch had been formed just four years before on January 29, 1932. That chapter was also responsible for a number of other historical markers across the state between 1928 …

Gold Mine Springs Mines

Abandoned mines play an important ecological role as temporary or permanent habitats for various biota. Many of these mines were merely short shafts dug out of the earth during a search for precious minerals or metals, whereas others became lengthy. Moreover, abandoned mines represent unique ecological resources for both invertebrates and vertebrates that utilize the mines on a permanent or temporary basis as sites for breeding, hibernating, feeding, or avoiding predators. In Arkansas, most of these abandoned mines are located within the uplands, especially the Ouachita Mountains, but some are within the Ozark Mountains. For instance, there were numerous abandoned lead and zinc mines scattered about much of the Arkansas Ozarks. Some communities were even named after the mines, such …

Grand Prairie

The Grand Prairie is a subregion of the Mississippi Alluvial Plain (commonly called the Delta) in eastern Arkansas that is known today as a major site of rice cultivation. Prairie County takes its name from this subregion. Located between the bottomlands of the White River and the Arkansas River, it was once a large, flat area of native grassland stretching across what are now Arkansas, Prairie, Lonoke, and Monroe counties, distinguished from the surrounding Delta land, which was largely swampy land dominated by bottomland hardwood. However, since the clear cutting of the Delta, the Grand Prairie is no longer as distinct a feature, though it remains agriculturally significant. Native Americans inhabited and hunted upon the Grand Prairie; the Museum of …