Ouachita (pronounced wáh-shi-tah) is the name of a mountain range, a national forest, a river, a national recreation trail, a lake, and a county. The name Ouachita is allegedly derived from a Choctaw word meaning "good hunting" and/or "sparkling silver water".
The Ouachita Mountains of west central Arkansas and southeastern Oklahoma are likely one of the least known mountain ranges in the U.S. They are unusual in that the ridges mainly run east and west, rather than north and south like most other mountain ranges in the United States. According to geologists, the Ouachita Mountains were once comparable in height to the Rocky Mountains, but due to their much more venerable age, have been worn by erosion to mere nubs of their former magnificence. The Ouachita mountain range was formed beginning about 300 million years ago, during the Pennsylvanian part of the Carboniferous period, when a collision between two tectonic plates caused the former sea bed to buckle and fold. The resulting uplift became the Ouachita Mountains. Geologists refer to this event as the Ouachita-Marathon orogeny. As Charles G. Stone, a retired geologist with the Arkansas Geological Commission, puts it, "They were squozen!"
One of the most striking features of the Ouachitas, and a personal favorite of mine, is what is referred to as a rock glacier. The rock glaciers of the Ouachitas are fields of hard Jackfork sandstone often covering acres of mountainside. Since they are moving slowly down the slope under gravity's influence, vegetation is often sparse or absent. After a heavy rain, the rumbling of unseen water deep below attests to the depth of these formations. The Ouachita mountains also contain quartz crystal deposits near Mt. Ida, AR and novaculite, a mineral used as a sharpening stone.
The Ouachita National Forest covers 1.8 million acres in central Arkansas and southeastern Oklahoma, including much of the Ouachita mountains described above. Opportunities to enjoy the scenic beauty and recreational aspects of the Ouachita National Forest are plentiful and may be enjoyed at little or no cost, depending on the traveler's need for "creature comforts". Facilities range from primitive camping and hiking to full service lodging and restaurants and are provided by Arkansas State Parks, Army Corps of Engineers and other public and private entities. The Talimena Scenic Byway is a National Scenic Byway which winds its way 54 miles along the mountain ridges within the Ouachita National Forest between Mena, Arkansas to the east and Talihena, Oklahoma to the west. Twenty-two Vistas along the Talimena Drive provide photo-ops and a chance to enjoy the scenery without inadvertently driving off the road.
The Ouachita River originates as a tiny mountain stream near the community of Eagleton, AR between Rich Mountain and Blackfork Mountain of the Ouachita range. It then flows east and south through Lake Ouachita, near Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas. After flowing through a series of smaller lakes, the Ouachita river flows nearly 600 miles through Arkansas and Louisiana to join the Tensas and Little Rivers, forming the Black River, then on to the
Red River near where it empties into the Mississippi River. The Ouachita River is commercially navigable from Camden, Arkansas to its terminal point in Jones, Louisiana. Use upstream of Camden is mainly recreational, characterized by deep woods and wetlands.
The Ouachita National Recreation Trail, or Ouachita Trail as it is usually called, stretches 223 miles from Talihina, Oklahoma to Pinnacle Mountain near Little Rock, Arkansas. This trail is maintained largely through the efforts of a non-profit volunteer organization called Friends of the Ouachita Trail. Shorter sections of the Ouachita Trail provide good day hikes or overnight hikes and may be accessed from trailheads located along Talimena Scenic Drive, Highway 270W near Eagleton community, and Foran Gap on Highway 71 north of Mena. FoOt also maintains a segment by segment report on trail conditions. Evidence of pioneer work is sometimes seen along the trail in the form of dry stacked stone walls which stretch for hundreds of yards.
Lake Ouachita is recognized as one of the cleanest lakes in the U.S. and 66,324 acres of water and land make it the largest lake in Arkansas. It is a man-made lake created when the Blakely Mountain Dam was constructed on the Ouachita River. The nearly thousand miles of shoreline are mainly Ouachita National Forest land. Ouachita Lake is popular with scuba divers due to its clean water. Fishermen know it as the "Striped Bass Capitol of the World". The Army Corps of Engineers operates twenty recreation areas along the lakeshore.
Ouachita County is Arkansas' 44'th county, formed in 1842 and is named for the Ouachita River which makes up part of its boundary. The city of Camden is Ouachita county's county seat.
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