Black Mesa Trip Report
North Flank, 07/02/07
Before our trip to Black Mesa in Oklahoma, my impressions of the state were largely derived from images of Dust Bowl-era migrants and an experience or two driving through its flatter parts. After visiting the Oklahoma panhandle and climbing the highest point in the state, that impression has been substantially changed. The diverse scenery and rugged desert landscape conjured up feelings of respect for the people and the land.
When planning our country-spanning road trip in the Summer of 2007, I wanted to make sure that we visited a few of the State Highpoints along the way. The first one on the list was the highest point in Oklahoma, a nondescript spot on a mesa in the far western part of the state. Black Mesa actually extends for miles into New Mexico and Colorado, and the highpoint of Oklahoma isn't even the highest point on the mesa. Nevertheless, Black Mesa gains the distinction of being the Oklahoma highpoint.
We left Austin, Texas early on the morning of July 2nd, with the plan to drive to Black Mesa, camp in Black Mesa State Park, and then go up the mesa the following day before continuing on to our destination in Utah. We made good time driving across Texas, and after setting up camp, decided to attempt our hike of Black Mesa that evening.
We followed the directions in the Don Holmes book, as well as the excellent signs to the "Black Mesa Summit" trailhead. The summit itself is part of the state park, but the majority of the mesa is owned and managed by the Nature Conservancy. The signs at the trailhead indicate that the mesa is closed from dusk to dawn, but we figured we had enough time to get up and down before it got too dark.
The trail to the summit of Black Mesa can be described as a level walk with a hill in the middle. For the first 2½ miles, we just walked through the desert at the base of the mesa. There were just the slightest undulations as we took in the many plants and animals which are unique to the desert ecosystem. Hannah was doing well from her perch in the backpack, and so was Heather, aside from a couple of aches and pains. We reached the base of the mesa and started to climb.
The climb up the flank of Black Mesa isn't particularly long, and the elevation gained is pretty moderate, but it can be a bit steep for someone who hasn't been hiking in a while. The trail continued to be well defined with signs arrows and mileage markers as we worked our way up to the top of the mesa. Upon reaching the top of the climb, Heather was a bit disappointed to learn that the actual highpoint of Oklahoma was still a mile away. We continued across the top of the mesa, enjoying a fresh new breeze.
The walk across the top of the mesa was relatively uneventful. About 50 feet from the summit marker, we stopped to take some pictures. After taking another step, we saw a rattlesnake sunning itself right in the middle of the trail. We gave him a wide berth as we made our final approach to the summit.
We only stayed a the summit a few minutes, enough time to sign the log, take a few pictures, get some food and stretch our legs. We then began the long walk back to the parking area. The sun went behind some clouds, and although almost an hour before sunset, we didn't see it again that night. We enjoyed watching the desert come alive as more we saw more and more animals (but no more snakes!)
We got back to the car just as the last vestiges of light were fading from the sky, tired, but glad that we had pushed ourselves and completed the hike up and down Black Mesa. We drove into Kenton to try and visit the famous Kenton Merc, but were too late. Unfortunately, the Merc isn't open on Tuesdays, so we weren't able to visit the next day, either.
We stayed that night at Black Mesa State Park, and then got up early the next morning to finish the first leg of our road trip to Utah. Black Mesa proved a good start to our Summer Tour '07. (For the record, we also visited Panorama Point, Campbell Hill, and Woodall Mountain later in our trip.)