Continuing to pursue a quest initiated in 2003, in 2014 it was time to summit another state highpoint. With deep snow and cold weather blanketing the mountains of most western states, Oklahoma was designated the most likely candidate. Plans got underway.
Late in March and gratefully joined on the adventure by sons, Kevin and Randy, Friday evening around 6:30 p.m. found us headed east out of Tucson on Interstate 10. We would be home by Sunday about the same time.
Following a far too brief, and not restorative, sleep in Socorro, New Mexico, we were again on the road early the next morning, now north on I-25. Near mid-day as we drove east on US Highway 56, the Oklahoma panhandle lay just a few miles farther. As had been the case all day, strong winds blew unencumbered across the level open land in this featureless country.
Tumbleweeds by the thousands flew across the pavement, disintegrating when hit. The short tan grass offered little resistance to their flight. Where a stand of trees grew, captured tumbleweeds piled 10 and 12 feet high.
A few miles before leaving New Mexico, Oklahoma’s high point location, Black Mesa, appeared in the distance, a distinctive spot rising several hundred feet above the surrounding territory. Nearly 2.5 million years ago during the late Teritary Period, a basaltic lava flow extruded from an erupting volcano in what would eventually become southeastern Colorado, flowed into an area that became the Oklahoma Panhandle. This material was deposited in a large deep valley, a graben. The hard erosion-resistant basalt has protected the sediments below from eroding away, unlike the soft sandstone and shale material of the surrounding topography. For the past million or so years sediment has been carried away via the Cimarron River, leaving the basalt cap atop Black Mesa.
Basalt is a dark colored, fine grained, igneous rock, most commonly found as an extrusive rock, such as a lava flow. This material underlies more of Earth’s surface than any other rock type. Much of our Moon is underlain with basalt. Basalt’s use is often found as an aggregate in construction projects.
Once the boundaries of western states were established, this location would become the site of Oklahoma’s highest point.
By early afternoon we were geared up for the 8.4 mile roundtrip hike. Sadly, the wind had not diminished.
Passing through a vehicle barrier, as the path to the high point is an old jeep road, we pause to read information boards posted. Our group of three departs the trailhead, standing at 4,318 feet elevation.
Heading west, the well worn trail parallels Black Mesa, meandering just to the north. The high desert land features low grasses, yucca and cholla cactus, with the primary attribute Juniper trees. These pyramid shaped stubby trees dot the landscape in every direction, primarily along the slopes of Black Mesa.
Adjusting to the harsh conditions this area endures throughout the year, the yucca and cholla have adapted, growing to a height barely above the grasses. Long cold winter months, hot and dry summers and nearly nonstop high winds have forced these plants to acclimate for survival.
At the two mile marker the trail abruptly turns south. Shaded by a Juniper tree, a small bench affords a spot to relax. Ahead is seen the point where elevation gain will be achieved. Slashes are observed where the trail switchbacks across the incline. So far we’ve seen just a single other hiker. His only communication: “it’s really windy on top”.
Minimal gains in altitude are felt initially, with much steeper sections of the path soon underfoot. Overall, from trailhead to high point marker, the gain in elevation is 659 feet. Nearly all of it will be completed in this half mile climb to the top of the mesa.
Long since passable with even the toughest 4WD vehicle, the old road is littered with a jumble of volcanic rock. To the uphill side, thousands of various size black boulders decorate the slopes. The steep incline to the right shows evidence where the material removed has been deposited, most having bounced and tumbled to the base of Black Mesa.
Following a slow uphill struggle, the cap of the mesa is reached. From this point forward slightly over a mile remains to reach our goal, with only a few feet to gain in elevation. Being virtually flat, it’s surprising the high point marker, an eight foot obelisk, cannot be seen.
Up here little has changed in the look of the land. Grass, yucca, cholla and Juniper still dominate the open space. Hiking past a sign indicating .3 miles remain, the narrow monument comes into view.
Within a few minutes, we’re standing at the highest point in Oklahoma, a beautifully sculpted obelisk of solid Oklahoma Native Red Granite marking the position, though it’s difficult to know why this spot is any different than a point a short distance away. Survey information etched into the column tells of the effort to locate and mark this location. Reaching this state high point marker brings my total to 12. Kevin and Randy have both now been to the highest point in three states.
In just over two hours an elevation of 4,973 feet has been achieved. Inscriptions on the polished pillar detail information pertinent to reaching this spot. On the South side: Highest point in Oklahoma at 4,972.97 feet as determined by a survey ordered by Governor Johnson Murphy and completed on 5-9-54 by Oklahoma Highway Department. Texas 31 miles due South. East face: Kansas 53 miles ENE. Obelisk contributed by The Tulsa Tribune. Cimarron County only one of America’s 3,070 counties that borders four states. (This county also happens to be the
largest US County at 1,841 square miles) North side: Colorado 4.7 miles due North. Obelisk quarried and finished in Granite Monuments Lks, Granite, OK. West face: New Mexico 1,299 feet due West.
Adding our names to the log book protected in an ammo can completes the goal. Interestingly, found inside a large flat box resting under a large rock next to the monument is a kite! In these gale force winds who wouldn’t want to launch a kite? Kevin gets it airborne and passes the handle to me. In the high wind the string soon snaps, the kite now headed to Colorado. Randy retrieves it, giving us each a hand in its flight, before it is returned to the box.
High point poses are struck and cold beer carried for celebration are enjoyed before we gather our gear and begin the 4.2-mile return hike.
As we’re always looking for entertainment, prodded with hiking sticks and mono-pod, trapped tumbleweeds are released from captivity. They race across the waving grasses, soon to be ensnared once again.
Soon the steep descent is reached and almost as quickly the flat section of trail below the mesa is underfoot. The pace is steady, with few breaks taken. The goal has been achieved and to this point the journey has only reached the half-way point. Despite the wind, the day has been mostly clear and warm, with just a few high clouds racing across the sky.
In far less time than the ascent, we’re back at the trailhead, preparing to depart Oklahoma. Sadly a locally famous nearby store, “The Merc”, had shuttered its doors. In the past, certificates were provided to high point achievers. But we’ve got memories and photos.
As a gorgeous sunset lights up the sky, we motor south. Pulling into Tucumcari, New Mexico, around 9 p.m., it’s time to find food and beds.
Early Sunday morning Tucumcari is in the rearview mirror. Interstate 40 to Albuquerque, I-25 to Hatch, shortcut to Deming and I-10 to Tucson. Just under 1,600 miles and 49 hours later a rewarding and exciting adventure draws to a conclusion. Time spent achieving goals and sharing it with your children are opportunities not to be missed.