Spring Break is here. We usually take a trip around mid-March, and this year was no different. A lot of the time, we drive down to the Texas coast to enjoy the state parks and national seashore (where the spring-breaking college students are not, because it costs money to get in). This year, however, was a little different. We bought a new 2017 Toyota Tacoma to replace our elderly Xterra. I won’t go into too much detail about it here, since it’s getting its own post, which I’ll add a link for in a few days, when it’s ready.
Since this was to be our new Tacoma’s maiden voyage, we decided to take a camping trip. Mark has been wanting to do some of the high points in the states around us, and we’ve done several, but we were missing his home state of Oklahoma. I know everyone thinks of Oklahoma as flat plains of wheat and nothing (although these same people frequently drive down I-35 through the Arbuckle Mountains, but I digress.) When you tell people you are hiking to the highest point in Oklahoma, they scoff, of course. Little do they know, Oklahoma actually has the 23rd highest high point in the United States.
First, let’s talk briefly about what that means. Oklahoma doesn’t have the 23rd highest peak in the United States, because that would be crazy. Instead, when you take the highest point of each state, individually, like in the list I linked above, Oklahoma’s highest point is higher than 27 other state’s highest points. That’s pretty impressive, when you think about it. This is of course because the Oklahoma Panhandle sidles right up to Colorado over there, and it happened to steal an actual mesa.
So, what is the name of this mesa, you’re thinking? Why, it’s Black Mesa, which is perhaps one of the most boring mesa names over. Who comes up with this crap? In any event, Black Mesa itself resides of private property, and the state park named after it is some 10 miles away. Thankfully, the property owner allows hikers to visit the mesa, although I can’t imagine what could be done if they did not.
So anyway, on to the trip. We got up early on Saturday morning and packed up our shiny new truck for its trip to Black Mesa. We were on the road just after 7:30, which is making pretty good time, considering we’d never packed this vehicle before. It’s worth noting that the weather was cloudy and warm at home in Denton, and the weather for everywhere we were going was predicted to remain very similar for the duration of our trip. This did not turn out to be the case.
Our day was mostly pretty quiet. We wrapped up our reread of a David Eddings series and moved back into Tony Hillerman, which we’d last read over the summer. It took less time than I’d expected to finish the Eddings book, and since we only had the one Hillerman novel along (A Thief of Time), we were going to be dangerously short of reading material, I could already tell.
The drive to Black Mesa takes about 9 hours, so it was a long, mostly quiet day. Despite the weather telling me otherwise, the temperature dropped steadily as we drove along, getting down to almost 35 degrees at one point. We were wearing shorts, since it was in the 60’s and home and supposed to be 60 in Black Mesa. We were not prepared, but we are tough, so we endured.
When you drive from Denton to Black Mesa, Google Maps recommends that you go through Amarillo, but we do that all of the time, so we decided to take a slightly different route. At Vernon, we turned north and followed 283 up the edge of Oklahoma until we reached the Panhandle, where we turned west. We stopped for lunch in Altus at a Jersey Mike’s Subs. There’s one in Denton, but we’ve never had it. It’s good, though. They have a red pepper relish that’s worth your time, if you like that sort of thing. I think we will visit the one in Denton sometime in the future.
Mark’s been in this area before, since he’s taken photographs of all of the courthouses in Oklahoma. I’ve never been, since it’s out of the way. On one of his last visits, he came across a windmill museum in the little town of Shattuck, which we visited today, too. This was the coldest stop of the day, I think. It was cloudy and misting, and the temperature was in the 30s. Ripley and I mostly watched Mark taking photos from the car.
I think it was about 5:30 when we finally made it to the state park. We settled on a camping spot under several dormant cottonwoods and went about our business setting up camp. The state park is nice, if a little sparse. It’s right next to a small lake, which seems to be popular for fishermen. A mostly dry river runs through the campground to the lake, and we were camped right next to it. We didn’t go to sleep to the soothing sounds of running water, though, since this river is pretty dry.
It was really cold by the time the sun started to go down. We weren’t really prepared for weather as cold as it was. I put on all of the layers I could find to cook dinner. We had tortellini and pasta sauce, which was nice and warm. Once we’d eaten and cleaned up, we crawled into our tent and snuggled up under our blankets to play cards.
Usually when we camp, we bring Ripley’s cage in with us, since there’s plenty of room. With the cold weather, we decided to try something new and let Ripley just sleep loose in the tent with us. She couldn’t go anywhere, and we didn’t expect her to bother us in the night. We didn’t factor in how truly cold it was, though, so she actually ended up in the sleeping bag with us. We have one of those sleeping bags meant for 2, but it definitely had 3 in it for the night. Mark said she was snuggled up against me so tightly during the night that he couldn’t get his hand between us to hold onto me. She’s an excellent heating pad, I’ll give her that, and she was as still as a mouse. I imagine we will let her sleep loose in the tent more often now.
Morning came, and we discovered that the cold air had brought along a wind warning, which meant that we were even colder than the night before. Ripley and I cuddled up in our chair with a blanket while Mark made coffee and tea. The weather said it would be 75 by around 2pm, when the clouds cleared, It was difficult to believe at 7:30 (or whatever time it was). Daylight Saving Time changes are a nuisance. Still, with the fierce wind and cold, we’d be miserable on our hike, so we put off what was projected to be a morning hike until afternoon.
We drove to nearby Clayton, NM to fill our morning instead, where we bought some potato wedges and ginger beer for our lunch a watched all of the spring breakers filing through town. It was really very busy. I was surprised, given the location of the town. It seems out of the way, to me at least.
By the time we returned to our campsite, the weather had turned completely around, and we dressed in our hiking gear and took off for the mesa. As I mentioned, it’s on private property nearby, so you have to drive to the little parking area and hike about 4.2 miles in to reach the high point.
Ripley and Mark were the sherpas for the trip, with Mark carrying our water and Ripley her own. I always luck out and don’t have to carry anything, since having Ripley tugging on me for the entire walk is weight enough. She really likes to go.
You’ll notice in the photo above she’s wearing her backpack and her boots. The area is full of rocks and stickers, so we decided the boots were a great idea. She’s only worn them for about an hour at most up to this point, so this was more practice than anything else. The truth is, she probably wouldn’t have needed them, but we wanted to trail test them, and the stickers were a good excuse.
Most of the hike to the mesa is totally flat. I think only the last 1.2 miles or so has any elevation gain at all, and it doesn’t last for more than half a mile or so. The last half mile is just a walk across the flat mesa top to the obelisk that marks the high point. The first 3 miles are incredibly dusty. Our shoes were a uniform light brown by the time we made it to the top, Ripley’s included.
A couple of other groups of hikers were taking the trail with us in the afternoon, more than we’d actually expected. We only encountered a man and his 10 or 12-year-old nephew more than once, since they were moving a little slower than us and we passed them, then met them again at the top.
Mark tried to walk to the edge of the mesa to get some photos, but the monument was pretty far from most of the edges, so it ended up being too far. When he last visited Black Mesa, he came with his friend Cody, who he pushed up on top of the monument for a photo. He tried to get me to do the same, but if you’re a frequent reader here, you’ll recall I’m afraid of heights (or really, of falling from them), so I politely declined. He asked about Ripley, too, but I reminded him how squirrely she is and he made the wise decision to leave her on the ground.
Everyone had water and a snack at the top, and we signed our names in the guest book. Oddly enough, another couple named Mark and Kristi (yes, with an ‘i’), had written in the book only hours before us. I was more amused by the coincidence than Mark, I think. The man and his nephew arrived a bit after we did, so we decided to move along to give them time to get their pictures. Once you’re up there, there’s not much to see, anyway. It’s not the view that is important, it’s reaching the goal of the high point. Don’t hike Black Mesa expecting stunning vistas, because you’ll be disappointed.
I kept falling asleep in the truck on the drive back to the camp. Ripley was out, as well. Poor Mark had to suffer the drive back while his girls fought to stay awake. We did wake up when we were coming back into the state park, since we saw a huge herd of deer just outside the group campsite. They weren’t afraid of us at all. They just stared at us placidly while Mark took a few pictures. Some of them didn’t even look up. I wonder if someone isn’t feeding them out there. Who can say?
It was after 5pm by the time we returned to camp, and we were finally able to take our shower for the day. I hate being dirty, but it made sense, given the cold morning and the exercise in the afternoon. The water was barely lukewarm and the shower hard to use, but I did better than Mark. My shower simply turned on and continued to run, but his required that you hold down a button just to keep it running. As soon as you let go, it turned off. We figure this must be because the boy scouts use the campground in the summer. That’s how they keep the kids from using too much water.
With darkness closing in, the temperature rapidly dropping, and our damp hair, the prospect of cooking our dinner sounded bleak indeed, so instead we drove back to a nearby gas station for dinner at Subway. It was fine, as Subway is always fine. I almost wished we’d cooked instead, but battling the darkness and the cold would probably have been more trouble than it was worth. Still, we were going to make potato leek soup, which I was sad to miss. I had all of my ingredients ready!
After dinner, we once again retreated to our tent to play cards and watch videos on the GoPro. I know I haven’t talked about that yet, but I had to leave something for part two. Next time, on Travels with Ripley, tune in for a discussion of the new GoPro from Mark’s office, which conveniently attaches to a standard-install GoPro Mount on our windshield and Mark’s obsession with it all. I know you can’t wait.