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Black Mesa: High Point of Oklahoma

Fast Facts About Black Mesa

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Black Mesa's summit is reached by a 4.2-mile-long trail.

Black Mesa, the highest point in Oklahoma, climbs steep slopes to the flat mesa summit near the New Mexico border.

Photograph © Susan Joy Paul
Black Mesa is the highest point in Oklahoma.

Susan Joy Paul stands next to the granite monument on the summit of Black Mesa, the Oklahoma high point.

Photograph © Doug Hatfield
Black Mesa: High Point of Oklahoma

Doug Hatfield displays a certificate saying he climbed Black Mesa from The Merc store in Kenton in western Oklahoma.

Photograph © Susan Joy Paul
  • Elevation: 4,973 feet (1,516 meters)
  • Location: Cimarron County, Oklahoma.
  • Coordinates: 36.93185° N / 102.99737° W
  • First Ascent: First ascent by Native Americans, probably as long ago as 10,000 years by Clovis hunters.

Fast Facts:

Black Mesa is the highest point in Oklahoma and the 23rd highest state high point in the United States. The high point is 1,299 feet east of the New Mexico border in the extreme western part of the Oklahoma panhandle.

Black Mesa is 45 Miles Long

The highest point on Black Mesa is not actually in Oklahoma but across the border in southeastern Colorado where it reaches a height of 5,712 feet (1,741 meters). Black Mesa is a narrow flat-topped plateau or tableland that gently slopes uphill to the northwest from Oklahoma across the northeastern corner of New Mexico into Colorado where Black Mesa merges with 6,840-foot-high Mesa de Maya, a large volcanic plateau. Black Mesa is 45 miles long. Black Mesa rises over 600 feet above the Cimarron River Valley and North Carrizo Creek. The Oklahoma section of Black Mesa that includes the state high point is three miles long and ranges from a half mile to one mile wide.

Black Mesa is Near 4 Other States

Black Mesa is in Cimarron County in the Oklahoma panhandle and is the only county in the United States that borders four states-Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, and Kansas.

Black Mesa is a Basaltic Lava Flow

Black Mesa is the erosional remnant of a long basaltic lava flow that was extruded from an ancient volcano to the northwest in southeastern Colorado. The lava was deposited in the late Tertiary time about 2.4 million years ago in the bottom of what was then a wide valley. Over the past million years the topography has slowly reversed with the hard erosion-resistant basalt from the lava flow protecting the sediments beneath from eroding away. The surrounding topography beside the lava flow, composed of softer sandstone and shale, was eroded by the Cimarron River and its tributaries, leaving the basalt cap high atop the mesa.

Black Mesa Nature Preserve

The Black Mesa summit lies within the 1,600-acre Black Mesa Nature Preserve, managed by the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department. The preserve is open from sunrise to sunset only. There are no restrooms and camping is prohibited. For camping, Black Mesa State Park is 15 miles away.

Black Mesa Plant Communities

The Black Mesa Nature Preserve includes 60% of the mesa top in Oklahoma as well as the slopes and prairie below. The preserve, with four different plant communities, is an interface between foothills and mountain ecosystems more typical of the lower Rocky Mountains to the west and the shortgrass prairie which covers the southern Great Plains. Habitats and plant communities here are shortgrass prairie with Bluestem and grama grass on the mesa top; juniper and shrub oak on the mesa's talus slopes; and shortgrass prairie on the plains below the mesa. The preserve has 23 plant species and eight animal species that are rare in Oklahoma.

Dinosaur Bones

The sandstone and shale formations below the basalt include Dakota Sandstone from the Cretaceous Period and the Morrison Formation from the Jurassic Period. The Morrison, composed of sandstone, mudstone, and shale, is famous throughout the west for its dinosaur fossils including exposures at Dinosaur National Monument in Utah, and near Grand Junction and Cañon City in Colorado. The area below Black Mesa has yielded abundant dinosaur fossils since their 1935 discovery, including camptosaurus, stegosaurus, brontosaurus, diplodocus, and edmontosaurus bones from quarries. A series of allosaurus footprints lie in a dinosaur trackway along Carrizo Creek north of the mesa.

Dinosaur Trackway on Carrizo Creek

The string of allosaurus dinosaur tracks are preserved in the horizontal sandstone strata next to Carrizo Creek. Visitors can walk down to the creek bed to see two sets of tracks. The area is private property but viewing is allowed during daylight hours only. Find the tracks by driving east from Kenton for a mile. Go left on the paved road toward Black Mesa Nature Preserve. Drive 5.2 miles and turn right on a dirt road north of a bridge and follow it to a parking area. Walk down to the creek bed and tracks. Take only pictures, leave only footprints!

Inscriptions on Summit Monument

The summit of Black Mesa is marked by an eight-foot-tall, four-sided monument made of native Oklahoma granite.

  • The south face says: "Texas 31 miles due south. Highest point in Oklahoma. 4972.97 feet above the sea as determined by a survey ordered by Governor Johnston Murphy and completed May 9, 1954 by Okla. Highway Dept. under direction of G.B. Stoldt, Dir., G.H. Bittle, Engr., G.H. Stout, Ch. Engr. P.S. Survey Party: W.R. McLaughlin, Chief, C.O. Son, James Berry, E.M. Gladney, F.E. Hill, H.C. Husted, P.R. Irwin."
  • The east face says: "Kansas 53 miles ENE. New York City 1605 miles. This obelisk contributed by The Tulsa Tribune, Jenkin Lloyd Jones -- Editor -- Cimarron County is the only one of America's 3070 counties that touches as many as four states.
  • The north face says: "Colorado 4.7 miles due north. This obelisk of of native Oklahoma Indian Head granite quarried and finished in Granite Monument Lks, Granite, Oklahoma. Designed by J.R. Willis. Highest point in Oklahoma 4972.97 feet above the sea. Cimarron County. Lowest point 287 feet on Little River in McCurtain County. ?? 530 mi."
  • The west face says: "New Mexico 1299 feet due west. Los Angeles 895 miles. This is the highest point in Oklahoma. 4972.97 feet above the sea.:

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