Ascent of Black Mesa on 2014-07-13

Climber: David Odenwalder

Others in Party:solo
Date:Sunday, July 13, 2014
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Black Mesa
    Elevation:4973 ft / 1515 m

Ascent Trip Report

Black Mesa is a nice highpoint with decent (not spectacular) views and a significant (but not strenuous) access hike. The downside is that the mesa is far from major centers of population, requiring at least 4-6 hours of driving across pretty desolate country. It’s probably arguable whether Oklahoma City or Albuquerque is a better starting point. Or perhaps Pueblo, Colorado. My trip was combined with business in Oklahoma City and subsequent travel to Florida to transport a car one-way.
At any rate, I started the day south of Flagstaff, AZ, with the intention of arriving at Black Mesa late in the afternoon, and making the 4-hour hike prior to sundown. Ah, but the best-laid plans of mice and men… . After stopping to visit an uncle and aunt along I-40, and a much longer drive than had been calculated, I did not arrive at the trailhead until nearly midnight – much too late to attempt the hike that night. It was also too late to knock on the door of the Black Mesa B&B seeking accommodations. So I contented myself with pulling over on a back road and sleeping on the uncomfortable back seat of my car. Soon after sunrise, I drove to the trailhead for the conquest.
In the dark, I wasn’t entirely certain that I had found the right place. In daylight, it’s pretty obvious. You drive across the NM/OK state line, past a half-dozen buildings comprising “Kenton”, and then a short distance further. There is a sign for the Black Mesa B&B. Turn at the sign, drive a mile or two up the road, go past the side road to the B&B, continue a couple more miles to another sign that says “Nature Preserve” or something similar – across the road is parking and a camp-style outhouse – the latter proved very useful on the return trip.
While driving to the trailhead (across miles of dark, flat rural roads on the NM eastern plain), I noted lightning in the nearby CO countryside. Definitely not a good time to be at the highpoint of anything nearby. The good news is that the cloud cover (but not the lightning) continued into the morning hours. So the hike was unusually cool and overcast for a mid-summer conquest.
The trail distance is given as 4.2 miles (one-way) from the trailhead. I’d guess the posted mileage is pretty accurate. I made the round-trip hike in something a little less than 3-1/2 hours, at a steady but comfortable pace. There is a bench at each mile-marker - and someone with talent and metalworking equipment has put up green arrows on poles to point the way. The trail is well-maintained for the most part, and easy to follow. On the slope up the mesa, there has been significant erosion at a couple of spots. The first two miles of the trail are almost level; very little up- or down-hill. At about mile 2.3, you start the ascent up the mesa. For the most part, a healthy climb, but not too steep or strenuous. The third-mile bench is about 2/3 the way up the grade. The total ascent I’d estimate at perhaps 300 feet or so. Overall, the trail isn’t excessively “rocky” by comparison to places further west – but there is some rockiness, especially on the slope up the mesa. It’s called “Black Mesa” owing to a cap of volcanic rock that covers the mesa (and has been eroded down to the valley below).
After reaching the top of the mesa, the rest is pretty level again – about a mile to the giant granite marker at the high point. Being a stickler for details, I noted that there are several boulders near the marker that appeared, to my eyesight, to be higher than the actual point where the marker is placed. My judgment is that the actual natural highpoint may be a boulder behind a couple of juniper bushes near the monument.
I credit some enthusiastic Oklahoma residents with a lot of work and money spent on creating and maintaining a fine trail, and a beautiful marker for their highpoint.
Incidentally, not more than a quarter of a mile north of the trailhead, on the opposite side of the access road, are some fossil dinosaur tracks – interesting to see if one is in the area. Cross the creek/culvert, turn on the first gravel side road to the east, and drive a few hundred yards until the road ends in a “circular” area. Walk down to the nearby creek bed, and look for about a dozen large depressions – clearly the outline of a large animal footprint – in the rock bottom of the creek.
Summary Total Data
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail
    Nights Spent:1 nights away from roads
    Weather:Pleasant, Calm, Overcast
unusually cool, and mostly overcast - some lightning in the area the previous evening

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