Video gamers might know Black Mesa as the main facility in Half-Life, but highpointers and peakbaggers know it as the highest point in Oklahoma, at 4,973 feet above sea level near the very edge of the Panhandle which used to be a favorite hideout for wild west outlaws.
Black Mesa is the remnant of a lava flow from Capulin Volcano in New Mexico from three to five million years ago, and outcroppings on the mesa range in color from dark brown to black. A native Oklahoma Indian Head granite monument is at the highest point, with a logbook in an ammunition box for visitors to sign. The monument has various facts about the area carved in it, including the distance to each state boundary and that Cimmaron County is the only county in the United States that borders four separate states.
During the 1800’s the barren area was a favorite among outlaws like Blackjack Ketchum, looking to lay low after crimes. Small hideouts were constructed where more and more ne’er do wells could find refuge. However when more settlers arrived following up mining leads, they brought with them stricter law enforcement which eventually halted the criminal element.
Black Mesa is also known for its extremely dark skies. Situated in one of the most sparsely populated areas of the United States, there is almost no light pollution, allowing you to see countless stars on clear nights.
Today, the area encompassing the summit and trail is contained by the Black Mesa Nature Preserve. A variety of wildlife may be seen on the trail, including the Texas horned lizard, bighorn sheep, and the golden eagle. The hiker should always keep an eye out for the prairie rattlesnake, especially in the summer. The weather and terrain are very dry, so hikers should bring plenty of water. The remote location of Black Mesa, while excellent for nature lovers and star gazers, will make it hard to restock your provisions.
Know Before You Go
From Route 325 near Kenton, Oklahoma, turn north on a road marked "Colorado" and follow the signs for 4.9 miles to the Black Mesa Nature Preserve and the trailhead. Walk 4.2 miles on the trail to the monument. Watch for rattlesnakes in summer and stray cows from the ranch next door.