Black Mesa is a class one hike on a good trail located in Cimarron County, Western Oklahoma, not far from the New Mexico border. The hike is an 8.4 miles round-trip and tops out at an elevation of 4,973 feet.
The mesa, at 4,973 feet above sea level, is the highest peak to be found in Oklahoma. It is, in fact, the 23rd highest point above sea level in the United States. Black Mesa is the highest point on a 45-mile long volcanic mesa sloping gently up northwest from Oklahoma towards the northeastern part of New Mexico to the Colorado summit of 5,712 feet.
Over two million years ago, huge amounts of lava flowed from vents northwest of Colorado on what is today known as Mesa de Maya. The lava solidified on the valley floor into the basalt that is there today. Erosion wore down the sides of the valley which was composed of softer sedimentary rock. This exposed the basalt rock, leaving it protruding from the valleys of Carrizo Creek and Cimarron river. Sandstone and shale, found in layers, is protected from erosion by the basalt cap above it.
The Oklahoma section of the Black Mesa is three miles long. It varies from half a mile to one mile wide. The Oklahoma tourism and recreation department manages and protects the Black Mesa nature preserve which rises 600 feet above the surrounding valleys.
The Summit is reached by hiking 4.2 miles along the Black Mesa Trail. This crosses a flat plain north of the mesa before rising up the north slope to a flatter top. This trail is easy to follow with markers along the way. You will need to allocate three to five hours to get to the summit and return to the trailhead again.
Expect very high temperatures in summer – there is little in the way of shade to be found. There is also the possibility of serious thunderstorms which occur occasionally in the afternoons. Be sure to have a plentiful supply of water and/or energy drinks. It is advisable to wear a hat and use sunscreen. In winter the trail can be cold and windy. Rattlesnakes can be found along the trail during warmer weather. If you find one, back off slowly. Do not kill the snakes, this is where they belong, and they are protected.
From Kenton, the small hamlet just east of the New Mexico border, you need to travel east on Oklahoma highway 325 for half a mile and turn at the Black Mesa Summit signpost. If you are traveling from the east, proceed west from Boise city on OK 325 for 37 miles to the signpost. From here, drive five miles up the road till you reach the parking space on the left. You will see the Black Mesa from here.
The trail begins on the west side of the parking area. Hike west along the road then across a shortgrass prairie. Here you will have good views of the Black Mesa and other mesas and buttes which rise out of the Carrizo Creek Valley.
After walking 2.2 miles, take a sharp left and follow the trail which begins to climb and become somewhat rocky. It crosses the north face of Black Mesa and after climbing 600 feet, you will reach the top of the mesa. Here you will find a barbed wire fence and some powerlines. Continue southeast for a further mile of the trail across the top of the mesa. It is a scenic view from here. Continue till you reach the eight-foot-tall granite monument that marks the Oklahoma High Point.
There is a large boulder about a quarter of a mile further, and if you are a rock climber, you may choose to tackle this. If you do, stand on this and you will surely be at the top of Oklahoma. Add your name to the notebook that you’ll find in an ammo box next to the monument. You can record your name and add an anecdote about your hike. Once you’re done, you will be ready to return the 4.2 miles back to your car. Keep to the marked trail at all times.
The preserve is open for hiking during the day from sunrise to sunset. However, no camping or overnight parking is permitted. There are camping facilities 15 miles away at Black Mesa State Park. Also in the vicinity are bed and breakfast motels and self-catering rental cabins. Boise city is 37 miles southeast where you will find the usual services such as gas and food. There are limited services available in Kenton.
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