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Climbing Black Mesa: Oklahoma High Point

Route Description for 4,973-foot Black Mesa

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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'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
Climbing Black Mesa: Oklahoma High Point

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

Photograph © Susan Joy Paul
  • Peak: Black Mesa
  • Elevation: 4,973 feet (1,516 meters)
  • Location: Western Oklahoma; 1,299 feet east of the New Mexico border. Located in Cimarron County.
  • Range: Mesa de Maya
  • GPS Coordinates: 36.93185° N / 102.99737° W
  • Difficulty: Class 1. Hiking on a good trail.
  • Trailhead Elevation: 4,319 feet
  • Elevation Gain: 654 feet
  • Round Trip Distance: 8.4 miles. 4.2 miles one-way.
  • Maps: USGS Quads: Kenton
  • Camping and Lodging: Nearest camping is at Black Mesa State Park. Lodging at nearby bed and breakfast inns and for-rent cabins.
  • Services: Closest services, including gas and food, are in Boise City, 37 miles to the southeast. Limited services in Kenton.

Black Mesa Geography

Black Mesa, at 4,973 feet (1,516 meters) above sea level, is the highest point in Oklahoma. Black Mesa is the 23rd highest state high point in the United States. Black Mesa, however, does not have a distinct summit in Oklahoma. The state high point is simply the highest point in Oklahoma on the 45-mile-long volcanic mesa, which gently slopes uphill to the northwest from Oklahoma across the northeastern corner of New Mexico to Black Mesa's 5,712 feet (1,741 meters) summit in Colorado. Black Mesa merges in Colorado with 6,840-foot-high Mesa de Maya, a high plateau.

Mesa Formed by a Lava Flow

Black Mesa is a dark basalt-capped mesa that was the bottom of a valley over two million years ago. Lava from volcanic vents to the northwest in Colorado on today's Mesa de Maya spewed out in massive flows, running down the valley floor before solidifying into today's basalt. Erosion later attacked the sides of the valley, composed of softer sedimentary rocks, but left the erosion-resistant basalt as a cap above the floor of today's Carrizo Creek and Cimarron River valleys. Beneath the basalt cap are soft sandstone and shale layers, which are protected from erosion by the hard cap above. 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 a Nature Preserve

Black Mesa, rising 600 feet above the surrounding valleys, is protected in the 1,600-acre Black Mesa Nature Preserve and is managed by the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department. The preserve is open daily from sunrise to sunset. No camping or overnight parking is allowed. The nearest camping is 15 miles away at Black Mesa State Park. There are no services near Black Mesa. The famous Kenton Mercantile Store, usually called The Merc, is now closed.

Black Mesa Trail Beta

The Oklahoma high point on Black Mesa is reached by 4.2-mile-long Black Mesa Trail, which crosses flat land north of the mesa before climbing up its north slopes to the flattish mesa top. The trail is easily to follow and well designated with several trail markers. Allow three to five hours to hike to the high point and return to the trailhead. Be prepared in summer for high temperatures, hot sun, little shade, and occasional severe afternoon thunderstorms with lightning. Bring plenty of water and energy drinks like Gatorade or Powerade and wear a hat to shade your face and head. In winter the hike can be cold and windy; dress warmly. Don't shortcut the trail on the switchbacks or anywhere else to lessen erosion.

Watch for Rattlesnakes

Keep an eye out during warm weather for rattlesnakes, which may be found among rock piles or under bushes along the trail. If you do encounter a rattlesnake, back away slowly. Don't kill snakes since this is their home and they are protected in the preserve.

REACH BLACK MESA ON OK 325

From Kenton, Oklahoma, a small town (population 17) just east of the New Mexico border, drive east on Oklahoma Highway 325 for 0.5 miles and make a left turn on the first road, marked "Black Mesa Summit." From the east, drive west from Boise City on OK 325 for 37 miles to the same turn. Drive five miles up the road to the Black Mesa Nature Preserve parking lot on the left. Black Mesa is the black rock-capped formation southwest of the parking area and west of the access road.

HIKING THE BLACK MESA TRAIL

Begin at the Black Mesa Trailhead on the west side of the parking area (GPS: 36.957154 N / -102.957211 W). Hike west along an old rutted road across open shortgrass prairie on a plain north of the obvious mesa for a couple miles. There are good views of Black Mesa as well as nearby mesas and buttes rising above Carrizo Creek valley.

After 2.2 miles the trail makes a sharp left turn (GPS: 36.95092 N / -102.991305 W). Follow the trail, which steepens and gets rocky as it switchbacks across the north face of Black Mesa. After climbing almost 600 feet, you reach the top of the mesa at a barbed wire fence and a set of overhead power lines at the north end of a jutting promontory.

Continue southeast for another mile on the scenic trail across the rolling mesa-top. You will finally spot an eight-foot-tall granite monument that marks the Oklahoma high point (GPS: 36.931859 N / -102.997839 W) about a quarter-mile away. If you're a rock climber, try the boulder problem and stand atop the pointed obelisk to truly be on top of Oklahoma. An ammo box next to the monument has a notebook where you can record your name and any interesting observations about your ascent or the day. Return 4.2 miles along the trail back to the parking area.

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