Black Mesa

February 23, 2024.

9.2 mi. | 775′ ele.gain | 4:15 hr.

Photo album

We took a very specific detour on our loop around New Mexico to hit the highpoint of Oklahoma. I’m not a serious highpointer; in nearly twenty years of hiking, I’ve gotten six state highpoints. Those are: Mt. Katahdin (Maine), Mt. Washington (New Hampshire), Mt. Hood (Oregon), Humphrey’s Peak (Arizona), Guadalupe Peak (Texas), and now Black Mesa (Oklahoma). On this cross-country road trip, I thought it would be fun to find the highpoints in the midwest and in states that don’t have the same kinds of dramatic scenery that characterize the west.

As soon as I stepped onto the trail, I was smitten. Just like the places I visited in northern New Mexico, the landscape here brought me right back to Central Oregon. Rolling, grassy meadows. Volcanic buttes. Occasional junipers. Aah, it felt like home. The trail was very well built, with pergolas placed every half mile or so for people to get out of the sun. I was glad to be here in February, because summers must be brutally hot. Clearly, many people hike this trail because it’s a state highpoint. I usually don’t go out of my way to do popular hikes, but this felt like a silly one to pass up. I’m so glad I did.

There were little lomatiums that were so close to flowering, as well as some cute hedgehog cactus near the summit. I bet if I’d just waited another month, the landscape would have been even more spectacular. But as I’ve learned on this road trip, you just have to grab opportunities as they come. The trail gently followed the subtle ups and downs in the lowlands to the base of the mesa, then it rocketed straight up the side. Once above the cliffs and gullies, the trail flattened out again for the last mile or so. The tall obelisk marking the summit was visible for quite a ways away. I pushed through the wind, marker in sight, for many minutes until I was suddenly right on top of it.

My favorite part about reaching the top was seeing snow-capped peaks, clearly much higher, in the background. I assume these were just over the border in Colorado and New Mexico. I’d never felt so NOT on a highpoint while on a highpoint before. I took a left at the marker to walk to the edge of the mesa. There, on the edge of a basalt outcrop, I sat down to paint. I felt like I was on top of Sutton Mountain, one of my favorite places to wander back in Oregon.

I nearly had the whole place to myself. On the way up, I saw no one. Within a couple miles of the parking lot, I ran into two groups of two. I had a nice chat with one pair as they began their hike who asked if I was the one who signed in from Oregon. Yes, I said, and while they reported hailing from South Dakota, they had spent some time in Chemult, Oregon, of all places. It’s a small world.

Which highpoint is next? I’ll be traveling to Arkansas for the eclipse, so maybe there? Missouri? Then of course there are the really flat states like Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa that are parking lots in the middle of fields! The actual challenge of reaching the top doesn’t matter too much to me anymore, because I’ve learned that the journey is almost always better than the goal itself. I’ve had so many meaningful experiences and discoveries on a way to a thing. A list just helps me narrow down all the things I want to do, and a list often takes me to places I wouldn’t have chosen to visit otherwise. Without the list, I wouldn’t have known how incredible this corner of Oklahoma is.

One quick detour of note: on our drive back to New Mexico, we pulled off at a roadside attraction pinned on Google. It had no signage, but the Internet said that it’s a replica of a Brontosaurus femur. Was it worth the stop? I’m not sure. But, if it had truly been something spectacular, I would have hated to think, “should we have taken that 10 minute detour?”

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