This is the headwaters section of the Ouachita River. It begins in the Ouachita Mountains of West-Central Arkansas near Mena, Arkansas. The river is 605 miles long, with the lower 41 miles being called the Black River.
In the headwaters area it is sometimes referred to as "The Forgotten River", as there is no development, campgrounds, or other man-made features. This is not a bad thing.
The waters are crystal clear and there is an abundance of wildlife that depend on the river. This mountain stream will change as it flows into populated areas, but continues to be a beautiful river for it's entire length.
There are three large reservoirs on the upper Ouachita River. Shown is the Lake Ouachita. Due to the hilly terrain, many islands are located on the lake. Those islands were once the tops of hills before the dam caused the land around the river to rise.
The Ouachita Dams were constructed for flood control, hydro-electric plants, wildlife habitat, a source of water, and recreation. It is a popular lake for boating and fishing. It is home of the Ouachita State Park.
For those paddling the river, the large dams must be portaged.
Beginning near Camden, Arkansas the Ouachita River becomes a navigable waterway, and maintained by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers. Commercial vessels can use the waterway, due to dredging and five Lock & Dams, like the one seen here.
These are different than the dams on the upper Ouachita. They are built strictly for navigation. The dams keep a deep water "pool" above the dams in order to maintain a 9 foot deep channel. The photo shows the lock chamber to the right. In the center are gates that control how much water is to be allowed through (controlling the water level above the dam). At left is a low-head dam that water will spill over the top of, so that the river usually will get no higher than the top of the spillway. Going downriver, vessels and boats will be lowered, and of course raised while going upriver.
As the Ouachita flows through Monroe/West Monroe Louisiana it continues to grow and carry commercial vessels all the way to Gulf of Mexico or the Mississippi River
There are many docks and pleasure craft at Monroe, plus port facilities for the towboat industry.
Monroe is a great place to visit, while boating the Ouachita. As busy as the river is (as seen in the photo) it becomes a beautiful, remote river soon after leaving the city, either upriver or downriver.
Mile markers for the Ouachita River begin at the end and go upriver. Monroe is at mile marker 164 on the navigation charts. The lower 337 miles of the Ouachita is navigable and have river charts.
At Jonesville, LA (Mile marker 41) The Ouachita River is joined by the Tensas River from the east and the Little River from the west. At these confluences the Ouachita River becomes the Black River.
In the natural order of things it is still the same river, regardless of the name change. That is recognized by the Army Corp of Engineers because the mile markers do not change at this point. The Black River miles is included in the Ouachita River miles.
This means that it is the Black River that flows into the Red River (41 miles downstream) but the miles (mile 0) at the Red River is actually Ouachita River miles.
Sound confusing? Sometimes the way rivers were named had nothing to do with the longest or largest tributary.
The fork shown here shows the end of the Ouachita/Black River on the right, flowing into the Red River. This is at mile 34 of the Red River.
It is easy to see that the Red River gains a significant about of water, nearly doubling in size, as it draws all the water from the Ouachita/Black River.
From here the Red River flows 34 more miles to become the Atchafalaya River.