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Surprises found in Oklahoma panhandle

(Cathleen Rychner / Red Dirt Report)
Storms at Black Mesa Nature Preserve.
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KENTON, Okla. – Have you ever seen a place so stunning you wanted to tell the world, but also wanted to keep it a secret so it would only belong to you?  That describes my recent trip to the Oklahoma panhandle.  I want everyone to visit and see the spectacular views, but I also want it to remain untouched.

The Black Mesa Nature Preserve in the Oklahoma panhandle has a beautiful and rugged landscape with plenty of interesting and challenging spots to visit.  The hiking trail to the highest point in Oklahoma follows along a rough path that eventually leads up the side of a plateau.  Extremely remote and breathtakingly beautiful, the trail totals over eight miles and takes roughly five hours to complete.  You will most likely not see another soul on the journey.

View of the Black Mesa in the Oklahoma panhandle.  (Cathleen Rychner / Red Dirt Report)

My husband and I started out on the six hour drive to the panhandle, expecting to hike to the highest point in the state at the Black Mesa Nature Preserve near Kenton, Oklahoma and ended up doing much more than we thought we would.  We stayed at the Mesa Valley Guesthouse, a roomy home tucked into the Black Mesa without a neighbor for miles.  With backpacks and plenty of water, we started out on that eight mile hike, not sure what to expect, other than to reach the summit and get some great photos.  What I did not expect was rain, thunder, lightning, and strong winds.  Have you ever been on the side of a mountain, near the top, while it is lightning nearby?  Thunder in the middle of mountains is an extremely powerful sound.  Unfortunately with one mile to go, due to the lightning and late hour, we had to head back, a disappointment for sure. 

After debating on whether we should make the hike again the next day, we decided to check out the other sights in the area – dinosaur tracks, rock formations, and even a volcano.

Dinosaur tracks in Oklahoma?  Yes.  With only a dirt road for access and no signs to mark their location, they are not an easy find, but just drive west past the Black Mesa Preserve and take the first dirt road heading north.

Dinosaur tracks near the Black Mesa Preserve in the Oklahoma panhandle.  (Cathleen Rychner / Red Dirt Report)

Not only can you climb the highest point in Oklahoma and see dino tracks, you can also see three states at once - Oklahoma, Colorado, and New Mexico at the three state marker.  Get back on the main road from the Preserve, heading west.  The road will turn north, and eventually, if you take the left at the fork in the road, you will find it.  I would suggest mapping these sites before your trip and using GPS power out there.  

Three state marker near the Black Mesa Preserve in the Oklahoma Panhandle.  (Cathleen Rychner / Red Dirt Report)

Not only are there spectacular views of the landscape, but diverse wildlife can be spotted out on the Black Mesa.  Deer, cows, a snake, a dead coyote, billions of grasshoppers, Roundtail Horned Lizards, a prairie dog, jack rabbits, cottontail rabbits, and various birds were seen while driving and hiking out there.  You could run into some more dangerous critters, like bobcats, mountain lions, rattlesnakes, and more. 

Roundtail Horned Lizard on hiking trail.  (Cathleen Rychner / Red Dirt Report)

Here are a few tips for this expedition – get an early start, allow for plenty of time, wear good hiking shoes, bring a first aid kit, stay on the trail, and be aware of your surroundings.  A few tips for your overall travel – fill up your gas tank every chance you get.   Gas stations are not at every corner, in fact, there is not a station for about fifty miles.  Bring enough food for your journey.  Food spots are as scarce as gas stations, and the Mesa Valley Guesthouse does not serve meals.  Let’s talk cell phones, shall we?  They are basically useless, unless you are at the Guesthouse using WIFI.  So do not rely on your phone for maps or emergency calls. 

After visiting the local spots, we decided to take a two hour drive out to New Mexico to visit the Capulin Volcano, which turned out to be even better than expected.  If you can stomach the intense drive around the volcano to get to the top, you will see the most breathtaking view.  Take the steep path to the center of the volcano, hike along the rim, or take the Boca Trail.  Any of these will allow you to see some beautiful views.

Looking up at the Capulin Volcano in New Mexico.  (Cathleen Rychner / Red Dirt Report)

It was tough to head back home after seeing the landscapes and being so secluded in the panhandle.  After the huge disappointment of not reaching the highest point in Oklahoma and the fatigue that kept me from completing the hiking trails along the volcano, I felt everything was left unfinished.  I did not want to leave.  I know I will be back soon, a little better prepared, and I will reach the summit and photograph the monument at the top.  I will revisit that volcano and complete all of the trails, and I am sure again I will not want to leave. 

So maybe the weather, the time, the hike itself, or the altitudes will impede your journey to the summit or completing the trails around the Capulin, but hopefully you will finish them all.  I just hope you go and see them.  Plan a trip to the Black Mesa to see the best views in the state.  Walk where dinosaurs tread, climb into a volcano, and do things you never thought you would do.  

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About the Author

Cathleen Rychner

Cathleen Rychner is an Oklahoma native currently working at OU. She also has a passion for...

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About Red Dirt Report

Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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