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Cimarron River (Arkansas River tributary) facts for kids

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Cimarron River
Cimarron river near forgan ok.jpg
The Cimarron River, near Forgan, Oklahoma
Map of the Arkansas River basin with the Cimarron River highlighted.
Country United States
State Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma
Cities Cushing, Oklahoma, Mannford, Oklahoma
Physical characteristics
Main source Confluence of Dry Cimarron River and Carrizozo Creek
Kenton, Cimarron County, Oklahoma
4,318 ft (1,316 m)
36°54′24″N 102°59′12″W / 36.90667°N 102.98667°W / 36.90667; -102.98667
River mouth Arkansas River
Keystone Lake, at Westport, Pawnee County, Oklahoma
722 ft (220 m)
36°10′14″N 96°16′19″W / 36.17056°N 96.27194°W / 36.17056; -96.27194
Length 698 mi (1,123 km)
Basin features
Basin size 18,950 sq mi (49,100 km2)
Cimarron River map
The Cimarron River (highlighted in red) flows through four states in the American West.

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).


The river's present name comes from the early Spanish name, Río de los Carneros Cimarrón, which is usually translated as River of the Wild Sheep including Grand Saline, Jefferson (in John Melish's 1820 U.S. map), Red Fork, Salt Fork


In northeastern New Mexico and in far western Oklahoma, the river is known as the Dry Cimarron River. The Dry Cimarron is not completely dry, but sometimes its water entirely disappears under the sand in the river bed. The Dry Cimarron Scenic Byway follows the river from Folsom to the Oklahoma border. The waterway becomes simply the Cimarron River after being joined by Carrizozo Creek just inside the Oklahoma border, west of Kenton, Oklahoma. Carrizozo Creek also originates in New Mexico and exits into Oklahoma before re-entering New Mexico and then returning to Oklahoma before joining the river.

In Oklahoma it is further joined by North Carrizo Creek north-northeast of Kenton, Tesesquite Creek further to the east of Kenton, and South Carrizo Creek yet further to the east. It additionally joins with Cold Springs Creek, Ute Canyon Creek, and Flagg Springs Creek before crossing into Kansas. The river flows along the southern edges of Black Mesa, Oklahoma's highest point. As it first crosses the Kansas border, the river flows through the Cimarron National Grassland.

The Cimarron's water quality is rated as poor because the river flows through natural mineral deposits, salt plains, and saline springs, where it dissolves large amounts of minerals. It also collects quantities of red soil, which it carries to its terminus. Before the Keystone Dam was built, this silt was sufficient to discolor the Arkansas River downstream.

Early explorers

The first Europeans to see the Cimarron River were apparently Spanish conquistadores led by Francisco Vásquez de Coronado in 1541. The Spanish seem to have done little to exploit the area. The Osage tribe claimed most of the territory west of the confluence of the Cimarron and the Arkansas. In 1819 Thomas Nuttall explored the lower Cimarron and wrote a report describing the flora and fauna that he found there. In 1821 Mexico threw off Spanish rule and William Becknell opened the Santa Fe Trail.

Cimarron River NWS
Cimarron River near Guthrie, Oklahoma at flood stage. Photo provided by National Weather Service.
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