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Red River, Shifty River


Satellite image
1. The Red River northwest of Burkburnett and directly south of Granfield Municipal Airport in 1985 had a fairly deep, southward bend. Note the structure to the east (right). (USGS).

The Red River is a shifty river, but that's not meant as an insult. Because of its sandy banks throughout most of its path, the river twists and snakes in an almost tortured manner as the silt allows it to change its shape frequently.


These bends come on rather suddenly and can substantially alter regional history; at the Texas/Oklahoma/Arkansas border, for example, the shifting Red River allowed early Anglo inhabitants to claim Pecan Point as either in Arkansas Territory or Mexican Texas. In that area, oxbow lakes called "Forty-One cut-off" and "Nineteen Oh Eight cut-off" explain how the river has shifted over the years.


Another example of how quickly the river moved can be seen pictorially, from 1985 to 2023, between Wichita County, Texas and Tillman County, Oklahoma.


The first photo is from 1985 (see above), one of the earliest satellite posts of the valley and our reference point. Like the 1985 photo, the 2013 image (2nd image) shows the river bending southward, then rising northward, as it winds its way southwest of Grandfield (OK) and northwest of Burkburnett (TX) -- except in color. Then, in 2015, flooding filled a dry channel north of the bend (3rd image). By 2020, this flooding seemed to have become permanent, as the newly filled channel shortened the river's path and cut off the bend (4th image). But then, in 2023, the new southward bend gave way to a northern loop. (5th image).


The Red River bed's movements is one of the reasons for the lack of towns situated directly on the river today -- most of them have been swept away! It's also why, perhaps, archeological investigations aren't as prevalent along the river as they are in other parts of the country, as so much evidence can be destroyed and moved during these shifts.


--> To check my geography, note the odd-shaped field (looks like a comma on its side) in the upper middle of each image. This is the reference to ensure that each image is of the same location.


Satellite image
2. In 2013, the Red River's southward bend had looped a bit more northward as compared to 1985 (Google).

Satellite image
3. In 2015, the Red River decided to be lazy. The channel meet with the northern loop instead of bending southward... the beginning of an oxbow lake. Note how close the river is to the structure on the east (right) of the bend (Google).

Satellite image
4. By 2020, the oxbow lake is a heap of sand, and the straightened channel is creating a new southward bend. I wonder what it will look like in twenty years? (Google)

Satellite image
5. The southward bend has lessened in favor of a northern loop by 2023 (Google).

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