Pecos River

Last updated
Pecos River
Rio Pecos
Pecos river bridge.jpg
Map of the Pecos River watershed.
Country United States
State Texas, New Mexico
Physical characteristics
SourcePecos Falls
  location29 mi (47 km) north of Pecos, New Mexico
  coordinates 35°58′34″N105°33′29″W / 35.97611°N 105.55806°W / 35.97611; -105.55806 [1]
  elevation11,759 ft (3,584 m)
Mouth Rio Grande
Seminole Canyon, Val Verde County, 37 mi (60 km) northwest of Del Rio, Texas
29°41′59″N101°22′17″W / 29.69972°N 101.37139°W / 29.69972; -101.37139 Coordinates: 29°41′59″N101°22′17″W / 29.69972°N 101.37139°W / 29.69972; -101.37139 [1]
1,115 ft (340 m)
Length926 mi (1,490 km) [2]
Basin size44,402 sq mi (115,000 km2) [2]
  location IBWC station 08-4474.10 near Langtry, Texas [3]
  average265 cu ft/s (7.5 m3/s) [3]
  minimum42 cu ft/s (1.2 m3/s)
  maximum152,910 cu ft/s (4,330 m3/s)
TypeWild, Recreational
DesignatedJune 6, 1990

The Pecos River (Spanish : Río Pecos) originates in north-central New Mexico and flows into Texas, emptying into the Rio Grande. Its headwaters are on the eastern slope of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range in Mora County north of Pecos, NM, at an elevation of over 12,000 feet (3,700 m) feet. [4] The river flows for 926 miles (1,490 km) before reaching the Rio Grande near Del Rio. Its drainage basin encompasses about 44,300 square miles (115,000 km2). [2]


The name "Pecos" derives from the Keresan (Native American language) term for the Pecos Pueblo, [p'æyok'ona]. [5]


The river played a large role in the exploration of Texas by the Spanish. In the latter half of the 19th century, "West of the Pecos" was a reference to the rugged desolation of the Wild West. The Texas storekeeper, bartender, and justice of the peace, Roy Bean, a native of Kentucky, was often described as "The Only Law West of the Pecos", a phrase made popular from the 1956 syndicated television series, Judge Roy Bean , with Edgar Buchanan in the starring role. In the series narration, "West of the Pecos" is described as:

the wildest spot in the United States ... virtually beyond the reach of the authorities, the railroads, then pushing their way west, attracted the most vicious characters in the country. It was said that all civilization and law stopped at the east bank of the Pecos. It took one man, a lone storekeeper who was sick of the lawlessness, to change all this. His name was Judge Roy Bean." [6]

New Mexico and Texas disputed water rights to the river until the U.S. government settled the dispute in 1949 with the Pecos River Compact. [7] The Pecos River Settlement Agreement was signed between New Mexico and Texas in 2003. [8]


Multiple dams have been built along the Pecos River. Santa Rosa Lake is 117 miles/188 km east of Albuquerque. [9] Sumner Lake, formed by the 1939 Sumner Dam, is located between Santa Rosa and Fort Sumner, NM. [10] Two dams are located north of Carlsbad, New Mexico, at Avalon Dam and Brantley Dam, to help irrigate about 25,000 acres (10,000 ha) as part of the Carlsbad reclamation project (established in 1906). Texas has also dammed the river at the Red Bluff Dam in the western part of that state to form the Red Bluff Reservoir. The portion of the reservoir that extends into New Mexico forms the lowest point in that state.

Wild and Scenic river

On June 6, 1990, 20.5 miles (33 km) of the Pecos Riverfrom its headwaters to the townsite of Tererro received National Wild and Scenic River designation. It includes 13.5 miles (22 km) designated "wild" and 7 miles (11 km) designated "recreational". [11]

Pecos River Flume

Pecos River Flume Pecos River Flume 2.JPG
Pecos River Flume

The Pecos River Flume is an aqueduct carrying irrigation water over the Pecos River. Construction took place from 1889 to 1890 and was part of the Pecos River Reclamation Project. It was originally constructed of wood and spanned 145 feet (44 m). It carried water at a depth of 8 feet (2.4 m). In 1902, a flood destroyed the flume and it was subsequently rebuilt using concrete. In 1902, it was identified as the largest concrete aqueduct in the world. [12] [13]

The flume and its surrounding area have been reclaimed by the city of Carlsbad and transformed into a tourist attraction, with park improvements along the river and spotlights to give a spectacular nightly view.

See also

Related Research Articles

Rio Grande River forming part of the US-Mexico border

The Rio Grande is one of the principal rivers in the southwest United States and northern Mexico. The Rio Grande begins in south-central Colorado in the United States and flows to the Gulf of Mexico. After passing through the length of New Mexico along the way, it forms part of the Mexico–United States border. According to the International Boundary and Water Commission, its total length was 1,896 miles (3,051 km) in the late 1980s, though course shifts occasionally result in length changes. Depending on how it is measured, the Rio Grande is either the fourth- or fifth-longest river system in North America.

Val Verde County, Texas U.S. county in Texas

Val Verde County is a county located on the southern Edwards Plateau in the U.S. state of Texas. The 2010 population is 48,879. Its county seat is Del Rio. In 1936, Val Verde County received Recorded Texas Historic Landmark number 5625 to commemorate its founding.

Carlsbad, New Mexico City in New Mexico, United States

Carlsbad is a city in and the county seat of Eddy County, New Mexico, United States. As of the 2010 census, the city population was 26,138. Carlsbad is centered at the intersection of U.S. Routes 62/180 and 285, and is the principal city of the Carlsbad-Artesia Micropolitan Statistical Area, which has a total population of 55,435. Located in the southeastern part of New Mexico, Carlsbad straddles the Pecos River and sits at the eastern edge of the Guadalupe Mountains.

Elephant Butte Reservoir Reservoir on the Rio Grande in New Mexico, United States

Elephant Butte Reservoir is a reservoir on the Rio Grande in the U.S. state of New Mexico, 5 miles (8.0 km) north of Truth or Consequences. This reservoir is the 84th largest man-made lake in the United States, and the largest in New Mexico by total surface area and peak volume. It is the only place in New Mexico where one can find pelicans perched on or alongside the lake. There are also temporary US Coast Guard bases stationed at Elephant Butte. It is impounded by Elephant Butte Dam and is part of the largest state park in New Mexico, Elephant Butte Lake State Park.

Rio Grande Gorge geographic feature in northern New Mexico, United States

The Rio Grande Gorge is a geological feature in northern New Mexico where the watercourse of the Rio Grande follows a tectonic chasm. Beginning near the Colorado border, the approximately 50-mile (80 km) gorge runs from northwest to southeast of Taos, New Mexico, through the basalt flows of the Taos Plateau volcanic field. The gorge depth is 800 feet (240 m) just south of the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, which spans the gorge 10 miles (16 km) northwest of Taos.

Amistad Reservoir reservoir on the Rio Grande at its confluence with the Devils River in Texas and Mexico

Amistad Reservoir is a reservoir on the Rio Grande at its confluence with the Devils River 12 miles (19 km) northwest of Del Rio, Texas. The lake is bounded by Val Verde County on the United States side of the international border and by the state of Coahuila on the Mexican side of the border; the American shoreline forms the Amistad National Recreation Area. The reservoir was formed in 1969 by the construction of Amistad Dam. The dam and lake are managed jointly by the governments of the United States and Mexico through the International Boundary and Water Commission. The name of the dam and lake is the Spanish word for "friendship". The reservoir is also known as Lake Amistad.

Rio Chama

The Rio Chama, a major tributary river of the Rio Grande, is located in the U.S. states of Colorado and New Mexico. The river is about 130 miles (210 km) long altogether. From its source to El Vado Dam its length is about 50 miles (80 km), from El Vado Dam to Abiquiu Dam is about 51 miles (82 km), and from Abiquiu Dam to its confluence with the Rio Grande is about 34 miles (55 km).

J. J. Hagerman American businessman

James John (J.J.) Hagerman was an American industrialist who owned mines, railroads and corporate farms in the American West in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He was one of the most influential men in territorial New Mexico.

Carlsbad Irrigation District United States historic place

The Carlsbad Irrigation District, also known as Carlsbad Reclamation Project or Irrigation system of the Pecos Irrigation and Improvement Company, is a major early water reclamation project located near Carlsbad in southeastern New Mexico. Begun in the 1880s, it is now managed by the United States Bureau of Reclamation, and provides irrigation water to a large area around Carlsbad, diverted from the Pecos River and the Black River. The late 19th and early 20th-century elements of the project were designated a National Historic Landmark District in 1964.

Rio Grande Project

The Rio Grande Project is a United States Bureau of Reclamation irrigation, hydroelectricity, flood control, and interbasin water transfer project serving the upper Rio Grande basin in the southwestern United States. The project irrigates 193,000 acres (780 km2) along the river in the states of New Mexico and Texas. Approximately 60 percent of this land is in New Mexico. Some water is also allotted to Mexico to irrigate some 25,000 acres (100 km2) on the south side of the river. The project was authorized in 1905, but its final features were not implemented until the early 1950s.

The Rio Hondo is a 79-mile-long (127 km) river in southern New Mexico which begins at the confluence of the Rio Bonito and Rio Ruidoso rivers near the town of Hondo, New Mexico. The river flows eastward through the Hondo Valley in the foothills of the Sierra Blanca and Capitan Mountains, roughly paralleling the route of U.S. Route 70 through the towns of Picacho and Tinnie. Near the community of Riverside the river passes through a deep canyon before entering the rolling hills west of Roswell.

Jemez River river in Sandoval County, New Mexico, United States

The Jemez River is a tributary of the Rio Grande in eastern Sandoval County, New Mexico, United States.

Amistad Dam dam in Val Verde County, Texas / Acuña Municipality, Coahuila

Amistad Dam is a major embankment dam across the Rio Grande between Texas, United States, and Coahuila, Mexico. Built to provide irrigation water storage, flood control, and hydropower generation, it is the largest dam along the international boundary reach of the Rio Grande. The dam is over 6 miles (9.7 km) long, lies mostly on the Mexican side of the border, and forms Amistad Reservoir. It supplies water for irrigation in the Rio Grande Valley, 574 miles (924 km) upstream of the Rio Grande's mouth on the Gulf of Mexico at Brownsville, Texas/Matamoros, Tamaulipas.

San Juan–Chama Project

The San Juan–Chama Project is a U.S. Bureau of Reclamation interbasin water transfer project located in the states of New Mexico and Colorado in the United States. The project consists of a series of tunnels and diversions that take water from the drainage basin of the San Juan River – a tributary of the Colorado River – to supplement water resources in the Rio Grande watershed. The project furnishes water for irrigation and municipal water supply to cities along the Rio Grande including Albuquerque and Santa Fe.

Sumner Dam dam in De Baca County, New Mexico

Sumner Dam is a dam on the Pecos River in De Baca County in eastern New Mexico.

Santa Rosa Dam dam in Guadalupe County, New Mexico

Santa Rosa Dam is a dam in Guadalupe County, New Mexico.

Brantley Dam dam in Eddy County, New Mexico

Brantley Dam is a flood-control and irrigation water-storage dam on the Pecos River in Eddy County, New Mexico, about 13 miles (21 km) north of Carlsbad, New Mexico, and 10 miles (16 km) upstream from Avalon Dam.

Avalon Dam dam in Eddy County, New Mexico

Avalon Dam is a small dam on the Pecos River about 5 miles (8.0 km) north of Carlsbad, New Mexico, United States. The dam is a storage and regulating reservoir, and diverts water into the main canal of the Carlsbad Project, an irrigation scheme.

Percha Diversion Dam dam in Sierra County, New Mexico

The Percha Diversion Dam is a structure built in 1918 on the Rio Grande in New Mexico, United States. It diverts water from the Rio Grande into the Rincon Valley Main Canal, an irrigation canal.

Pope's Crossing was a ford on the Pecos River located one mile south of the New Mexico–Texas border on the modern Loving–Reeves county line. Discovered by members of an 1855 expedition tasked with drilling artesian wells east of the Pecos led by U.S. Army topographical engineer John Pope, the ford quickly became the primary crossing of the river on the "upper" military or emigrant road between San Antonio and the ford on the Rio Grande opposite the Mexican town of El Paso del Norte. Heavily used by emigrants, soldiers, traders, and freighters eager to avoid the more difficult and unpredictable crossings further south, Pope's Crossing became a well-traveled part of the network of transcontinental wagon roads that developed across Texas in the 1850s to facilitate settlement and commerce in the southwestern lands recently acquired as a result of the Mexican–American War.


  1. 1 2 U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: Pecos River
  2. 1 2 3 Largest Rivers of the United States, USGS
  3. 1 2 "Water Bulletin Number 75: Flow of the Rio Grande and Related Data; From Elephant Butte Dam, New Mexico to the Gulf of Mexico". International Boundary and Water Commission. 2005. Retrieved 17 July 2010.
  5. Bright, William (2004). Native American placenames of the United States. University of Oklahoma Press. p. 375. ISBN   978-0-8061-3598-4 . Retrieved 11 April 2011.
  6. Billy Hathorn, "Roy Bean, Temple Houston, Bill Longley, Ranald Mackenzie, Buffalo Bill, Jr., and the Texas Rangers: Depictions of West Texans in Series Television, 1955 to 1967", West Texas Historical Review , Vol. 89 (2013), p. 109
  7. "Pecos River Compact".
  8. Pecos River Settlement Agreement
  9. "EMNRD".
  10. "EMNRD".
  11. Pecos Wild and Scenic River, New Mexico Archived 2010-06-10 at the Wayback Machine - National Wild and Scenic Rivers System
  12. Phil T. Archuletta; Sharyl S. Holden (June 2003). Traveling New Mexico: a guide to the historical and state park markers. Sunstone Press. pp. 116–. ISBN   978-0-86534-400-6 . Retrieved 3 December 2011.
  13. American Concrete Institute (2002). Concrete international. Design & construction. The Institute. Retrieved 3 December 2011.