The next major river south from the Platte is the Arkansas River. The Arkansas starts in the Sawatch Range near Leadville, Colorado. The Sawatch is a range if 14,000 foot peaks known affectionately in Colorado as 14ers. The range includes Colorado’s highest peak, Mount Elbert at 14,440 feet.
From there, the river descends quickly as a rushing mountain stream as it makes its way in a southerly direction. As the powerful waters gather steam and course their way through the eastern reaches of the Rockies, they create some dramatic scenery. One fantastic example of this is the Royal Gorge. The Royal Gorge is a narrow 1,200 foot deep canyon through solid granite carved over the eons by the mighty Arkansas. The gorge is impressive in many respects, not the least of which are the views that can be had from the breathless heights of the Royal Gorge Bridge. At 955 feet above the water, it held the position as the highest bridge in the world from the time it was built in 1929 until 2001. It is still the highest bridge in North America.
From the Royal Gorge, the Arkansas exits the Rockies and spills out to the plains where it flows across southern Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, and then into its namesake state. The river splits a wide valley between the Ozark Mountains to the north and the Ouachita Mountains to the south before continuing eastward to meet the Mississippi River. The Arkansas was first seen by Europeans about the same time as the Mississippi. The Spaniard, Fransisco Vasquez de Coronado, on a quest of greed to find the fabled golden city of Quivera, crossed the river near present day Dodge City Kansas in 1541.
If you’re searching for a city of gold, you may want to look elsewhere, but if you’re searching for a big, broad, strong river full of history and scenery, the Arkansas is not a bad place to start.