#25 Black Mesa, Oklahoma (4,973 ft.)

The drive to Black Mesa is a big deal, or perhaps the biggest ordeal, of the hike. Wherever you come from it’s long, and in summer the bugs will die thickly upon your windshield: a scrim of holy warriors barring entry by dint of body and soul.


I drove east from Taos after summitng noble Wheeler Peak. I remember a distinct point when the downhill part of the trip, with its sonata form of braking and turning and turning and braking, gave way to the long flat of east New Mexico and the Oklahoma panhandle, or what little of it I saw given that Black Mesa, like several state highpoint, is within its state.

I stayed overnight at the venerable Black Mesa B&B, a ranch just on the outskirts of the mesa itself. Grasshoppers were everywhere; the breakfast was excellent.

After a short drive from the B&B you reach the trailhead, marked by a stile, a natural history display board, and a superb wrought-iron fence.


You then begin the walk to the trail up the mesa. Green arrows point the way at regular intervals; benches mark mileposts.


The black lava that gives the mesa its name is omnipresent, sometimes in large balls dotting the plain.

After about 45 minutes or so you reach a gulley and begin the short upward portion of the hike. You gain the lip of the escarpment fairly quickly, which is when the full brunt of the sun and the wind hit you. Watching for rattlesnakes and underfoot prickly pear cacti the entire way, you then follow the dirt seam in the grasses.


Pretty soon the pink granite marker comes into view.


After signing the register and taking the obligatory documentary shots and summit selfies, the ambitious highpointer will no doubt feel compelled to walk to the edge of the mesa and peer out across the land. For that relatively short trek you are on your own, and I can attest that paranoia as to snakes and cacti increases as you pick your way among the thorny brush and lumps of lava.


The great escarpment of Black Mesa is worth it, though. You can see the layers of ash and such deposited by the Capulin volcano 60,000 years ago. There was a little marker or memorial of some sort on the rim when I stopped there: an arrangement of cactus skeletons and silk flowers perched, perhaps romantically, on the perfect spot from which to leap into the void.


I didn’t meet a soul on the trail until nearly the end of the flat portion, almost back at the gate: a student from some Texas university on a weekend lark. He had no hat and was headed up the trail, into the teeth of the heat...

Dolley Shot: Okie-Dokie


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