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The wind comes sweeping, but no plains in sight!
A trip to the top of Oklahoma may actually remind you more of hiking in Arizona than it will of your stereotypical Oklahoma landscape. Hidden in the far northwest corner of the Panhandle near the small town of Kenton are mesas, canyons, and higher desert vegetation. An old two-track trail carries you from the trailhead in the Black Mesa Preserve to the highest point in Oklahoma. The terrain is generally easy, save for the push up the mesa proper. A trip to the top is an 8.4 mile round trip, so plan accordingly.
There is no entry fee or permit as of September 2016, and the park is open dawn to dusk only. No water is available at the trailhead and do not count on finding any along the way. It's also worth nothing that Black Mesa itself continues into New Mexico (and its elevation is higher there), but the trail is aiming for the highest point of Black Mesa in Oklahoma, not the true summit of Black Mesa.
The Nature Conservancy helped to create the Black Mesa Preserve in 1991, and today the preserve is operated by the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department.
The hike starts from the large dirt parking lot at the trailhead. Black Mesa itself looms directly above, but the true summit within Oklahoma is still a few miles away. There's a pit toilet at the trailhead and a gate that you'll walk through to start the hike. The first two miles are pretty tame, as you gain minimal elevation hiking along the north side of Black Mesa proper on an old two-track. Occasional junipers provide shade and you'll see some washes beside the trail. You will pass a couple of benches that have mile markers etched on them. Their mileage didn't quite align with the mile markers noted using Route Scout, but they do provide decent shade and views of the desert surroundings. At the bench for Mile Marker 2 (Route Scout clocked it in at 2.2 miles), the trail swings south and heads straight for Black Mesa, and you can see the trail cutting up the slope ahead, signaling your imminent ascent. This is where you gain the majority of the elevation for the day - 500 feet over the next mile - first cutting up a side canyon, then hiking up some switchbacks. When you reach the bench for Mile Marker 3, you're near the top of the climb. Continue an ascending traverse to what is now a west-facing slope, and finish your ascent on the mesa top. The vegetation is more sparse here and you are more exposed to the wind, which might feel refreshing on a hot day. This is where the views are best: certainly more so than from the highpoint on the mesa ahead. To reach the true highpoint, there is still a little over a mile to go, but it's now flat again. Keep hiking until you see the large granite monument that signals the highpoint of Oklahoma. Sign in, enjoy the top, and make your way back the same way you came.
No camping is allowed in the preserve, but there is a campsite nearby at Black Mesa State Park, about 9 miles away along OK 325.
Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.
Gate Policy: If a gate is closed upon arrival, leave it closed after you go through. If it is open, leave it open. Leaving a closed gate open may put cattle in danger. Closing an open gate may cut them off from water. Please be respectful, leave gates as found.