Black Mesa (Oklahoma)

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"Black Mesa (New Mexico)" redirects here. For several summits in the United States of the same name, see Black Mesa (summit).
Black Mesa
Black Mesa summit, Oklahoma.jpg
Black Mesa, highest point in Oklahoma
Highest point
Elevation 5,705 ft (1,739 m) [1]
Listing U.S. state high point 23rd
Coordinates 37°04′53″N 103°20′47″W / 37.08141°N 103.34633°W / 37.08141; -103.34633Coordinates: 37°04′53″N 103°20′47″W / 37.08141°N 103.34633°W / 37.08141; -103.34633[1]
Black Mesa is located in USA
Black Mesa
Black Mesa
Colorado / New Mexico / Oklahoma, U.S.
Topo map USGS Jacks Gap
Mountain type Mesa
Easiest route Hike

Black Mesa is a mesa in the U.S. states of Colorado, New Mexico, and Oklahoma. It extends from Mesa de Maya, Colorado southeasterly 28 miles (45 km) along the north bank of the Cimarron River, crossing the northeast corner of New Mexico to end at the confluence of the Cimarron and Carrizo Creek near Kenton in the Oklahoma panhandle. Its highest elevation is 5,705 feet (1,739 m) in Colorado.[1] The highest point of Black Mesa within New Mexico is 5,239 feet (1,597 m).[2] In northwestern Cimarron County, Oklahoma, Black Mesa reaches 4,973 feet (1,516 m), the highest point in the state of Oklahoma.[2] The plateau that formed at the top of the mesa has been known as a "geological wonder" of North America.[3] There is abundant wildlife in this arid prairie environment, including mountain lions, butterflies, and the Texas horned lizard.


The plateau has been home to Plains Indians.[4]

In the late-nineteenth and early twentieth century the area was a hideout for outlaws; the notable ones who made this area their hideout were William Coe and Black Jack Ketchum. The outlaws built a fort known as the Robbers' Roost. The stone fort housed a blacksmith shop, gun ports, and a piano. The present-day Oklahoma Panhandle area, which was then considered a no man's land, lacked law enforcement agencies and hence the outlaws found it safe to hide in the region. However, as new settlers arrived in the area for copper and coal mining and also for cattle ranching activities by grazing cattle in the mesa region, law enforcement became more effective, and the outlaws were brought under control.[3]


The Mesa is situated in the Cimarron County in the Oklahoma Panhandle. The Black Mesa plateau here is part of the Rocky Mountains and the grass prairie.[3] Some features include the Old Maid Rock,[5] and Davil's Tombstone.[6] The mesa's base includes a 200 feet (61 m) escarpment which is parallel with the Dry Cimarron River's north bank.[7] Its highest elevation is 5,705 feet (1,739 m) in Colorado.[1] The highest point of Black Mesa within New Mexico is 5,239 feet (1,597 m).[2] In northwestern Cimarron County, Oklahoma, Black Mesa reaches 4,973 feet (1,516 m), the highest point in the state of Oklahoma.[2]

A hiking trail of 4.2 miles (6.8 km) (one-way) leads from the preserve to the summit which rises about 800 feet (240 m) above the level of the surrounding plains,[8] and a round trip would take 4 hours at a minimum.[9] Visitors are forbidden from overnight camping.[9]

At the highest point within Oklahoma is an obelisk made of granite, and also a register of visitors.[10]


Black Mesa is not only the highest point in Oklahoma but it is also the driest, harshest and coldest place in the state.[11]

Climate data for Kenton, Oklahoma (Elevation 4,330ft)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °F (°C) 83
Average high °F (°C) 50.4
Average low °F (°C) 19.7
Record low °F (°C) −23
Average precipitation inches (mm) 0.40
Average snowfall inches (cm) 4.9
Source: NOAA [12]


The visual and map view appearance of Black Mesa is as an "inverted valley" because erosion has removed the relatively soft sedimentary strata from either side of the resistant Raton basalt of the lava which originally had occupied and filled a river valley. The mesa is capped by erosion resistant basaltic lava formed by a volcanic eruption approximately 3 to 5 million years ago. The lava erupted from a vent in the Raton-Clayton volcanic field in northeastern New Mexico and southeastern Colorado. The volcanic cap to the mesa is 600 feet (180 m) thick, 55 miles (89 km) long and from 0.5 miles to 8 miles wide, which is 65 miles (105 km) to the north-northwest of Oklahoma.[3] The erupting lava filled a stream channel in the Pliocene age Ogallala Formation. During the millions of years since the eruption, the adjacent rock of the Ogallala and older formations have been removed leaving the valley filling basalt perched atop a long ridge. Strata exposed along the mesa below the basalt and Ogallala include the Cretaceous Dakota Sandstone and the Jurassic Morrison Formation.[13]

Since 1935 the location has provided geologists and paleontologists rare opportunities to examine Jurassic and Triassic strata and the dinosaur fossils in them. A large quantity of dinosaur bones has been recovered from the Black Mesa locale; totaling over eighteen tonnes, these remains were split between several species, including stegosaurus, camptosaurus, diplodocus, and edmontosaurus. Clear fossil physical evidence, a distinct line of footprints believed to have been made by an allosaurus, has been found juxtapositioned with the Carrizo Creek, which runs around the modern-day northern edge of the mesa.[3]

Protected area[edit]

View from the summit

The mesa lies in the protected area known as the Black Mesa Nature Preserve which was established in 1991, covering an area of 1,600 acres (6.5 km2). The preserve protects 60% of the area that covers the mesa peak area. The peak is accessible along an 8 miles (13 km) long track by jeep and hikers are allowed to climb to the Black Mesa peak.[3]

Apart from the nature reserve, there is also the Black Mesa State Park encompassing an area of 549 acres (2.22 km2) with a 200 acres (0.81 km2) lake known as the Lake Carl G. Etling. The park is a recreational area with many facilities for camping, hiking and many other outdoor activities. The park is about 15 miles away from the peak.[3]


The flora and fauna reported from Black Mesa are unique to the Mesa. They are typically of "wildwest" type with arid grasslands and rocky buttes. The flora and fauna found here are not found anywhere else in the US, as they are adapted to the harshest climatic conditions.[11]

Black Mesa Nature Preserve in particular covers around 60% of the flat portion of the mesa in Oklahoma.[9] Wildlife reported in the park and the reserve are golden eagles, piñon jays, red-tailed hawks, and mule deer, part from a bird area for bird watchers.[3]


The vegetation of the preserve is mostly short-grass prairie with scattered juniper trees and Cholla cactus. The summit plateau is vegatatively classified as a "Bluestem-grama shortgrass community". The preserve contains 23 plant species listed by the state as "rare".[9]


The prairie rattlesnake is well adapted to the dry conditions on Black Mesa

The indigenous top predator is the mountain lion, although the smaller bobcat is also found. The more omnivorous American black bear is present, along with a variety of prey species including bighorn sheep, mule deer, and pronghorn.[14] Eight native species of animal are state-level designated as "rare".[9] Two lagomorphs are present—the eastern cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus) and the black-tailed jackrabbit (Lepus californicus).[14] Other mammals include the dog-like coyote,[14] as well as the much smaller prairie dog and a species of badger.[11]

There are nine species of snakes found in this desert environment, principally the plains hog-nosed snake, western coachwhip, bullsnake, longnose snake, plains blackhead snake, blackneck garter snake, plains garter snake, lined snake, and prairie rattlesnake. The broad-headed skink, prairie racerunner, red-lipped plateau lizard, northern earless lizard, eastern collared lizard, and Texas horned lizard are also indigenous to the area. Perhaps more surprisingly, two types of turtle, the ornate box turtle and the yellow mud turtle have been found in the Black Mesa preserve. Only one frog is found in this desert habitat, the American bullfrog, but there are six other species of amphibians; the Great Plains narrowmouth toad, New Mexico spadefoot, plains spadefoot, Woodhouse's toad, red-spotted toad, and the western green toad, all toads.[15]

Birds are common, and there are 59 species present during at least some year. Seven different raptors are found, the turkey vulture, American kestrel, golden eagle, ferruginous hawk, red-tailed hawk, Mississippi kite, and the prairie falcon, all of which are classed as being of least concern according to the IUCN. There is one other bird of prey, the western screech-owl. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there are no waterfowl found on Black Mesa. The mourning dove, greater roadrunner, common nighthawk, common poorwill, ladder-backed woodpecker, red-shafted flicker, olive-sided flycatcher, Say's phoebe, ash-throated flycatcher, Cassin's kingbird, and western kingbird are also found. There are five corvids, including the black-billed magpie, pinyon jay, American crow, and common raven, as well as the more local Chihuahuan raven.[16]

Papilio polyxenes, the state butterfly of Oklahoma, is found on Black Mesa

61 species of butterfly are found in the preserve,[17] a list which includes seventeen skippers, three swallowtails, four hairstreaks, a copper, four whites, nine true brushfoots, two satyrs, and a leafwing.[17]

There are 91 species of moths on Black Mesa. No species of fish are found on Black Mesa.[18]


A permanent exhibit that is on display in the Sam Noble Museum is the diorama of the Black Mesa. It is an exhibit that is modeled over an area of 2,000 square feet (190 m2) and is housed in the Hall of Natural Wonders and funds for its creation were provided by the Whitten-Newman Foundation.[11] The diorama is touchscreen computerized and interactive and is set within the boundaries of the mesa. It is a replication of the real shape and form of the mesa and is modeled to a suitable scale which brings out the short-grass prairie habitat next to a rivulet. The stuffed and mounted animals are also on display. The animals on display are the ones found in the mesa and these are birds such as eagles and vultures and the animals like the including mule, deer, pronghorn antelope, a mountain lion, prairie dogs, jackrabbits and badger. An ephemeral lake is also on display in a cross section format.[11] Stargarzers gather each October near Black Mesa for the annual Okie-Tex Star Party with volunteers cooking meals for the astronomers.[19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d "Black Mesa". Geographic Names Information System. United States Geological Survey. 
  2. ^ a b c d "Black Mesa". Geographic Names Information System. United States Geological Survey. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Lewis, Tom; Richter, Sarah Jan. "Black Mesa". Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture. Oklahoma Historical Society. Retrieved June 30, 2015. 
  4. ^ Reader's Digest (2003). Off the Beaten Path: A Travel Guide to More Than 1,000 Scenic and Interesting Places Still Uncrowded and Inviting. Reader's Digest Association. pp. 270–. ISBN 978-0-7621-0424-6. 
  5. ^ Richter, Sara Jane (July 2011). The Oklahoma Panhandle. Arcadia Publishing. pp. 28–. ISBN 978-0-7385-8295-5. 
  6. ^ Capace, Nancy (1 March 1999). Encyclopedia of Oklahoma. North American Book Dist LLC. pp. 130–. ISBN 978-0-403-09837-8. 
  7. ^ Hoppe, Bruce (1 February 2006). Don't Let All the Pretty Days Get by. Back-To-One Books. pp. 70–. ISBN 978-0-9777611-0-4. 
  8. ^ "Oklahoma High Point - Black Mesa - Kenton, Oklahoma". Retrieved 12 Dec 2011. 
  9. ^ a b c d e "Oklahoma:Black Mesa Nature Preserve". The Nature Conservancy. Retrieved 2013-05-27. 
  10. ^ "Black Mesa (Oklahoma) – Climbing, Hiking & Mountaineering". Mountain Forecast.Com. Retrieved 28 May 2014. 
  11. ^ a b c d e "Black Mesa". Sam Noble Museum: The University of Oklahoma. Retrieved 28 May 2013. 
  12. ^ Retrieved 20 February 2011.
  13. ^ "Suneson and Luza, A Field Trip Guide to the Geology of the Black Mesa State Park Area, Cimarron County, Oklahoma" (pdf). Oklahoma Geological Survey. 1999. Retrieved 26 May 2013. 
  14. ^ a b c "Checklist of Oklahoma Preserve Mammal Species" (PDF). The Nature Conservancy. 2011-07-03. Retrieved 2013-05-27. 
  15. ^ "Checklist of Oklahoma Preserve Reptile & Amphibian Species" (PDF). The Nature Conservancy. 2011-07-03. Retrieved 2013-05-27. 
  16. ^ "Checklist of Oklahoma Preserve Bird Species" (PDF). The Nature Conservancy. 2011-07-03. Retrieved 2013-05-30. 
  17. ^ a b "Checklist of Oklahoma Preserve Butterfly Species" (PDF). The Nature Conservancy. 2011-07-03. Retrieved 2013-05-27. 
  18. ^ "Checklist of Oklahoma Preserve Fish Species" (PDF). The Nature Conservancy. 2011-07-03. Retrieved 2013-05-27. 
  19. ^ Richter, p. 34

External links[edit]