KENTON — Some travel to the area around Black Mesa because they can see forever, or seemingly hike forever. Others go because they can dream forever. By the time June's visitation numbers come in for Black Mesa State Park, this Panhandle destination likely will have drawn as many or more people each of the past two years than the three previous combined. From 2006 to 2008, about 32,000 people traveled to this state park. But about 29,500 people visited during the first 11 months of the fiscal year that ended Wednesday. "Visitors to Black Mesa come from all over the world, however primary visitors are from Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, New Mexico and Colorado,” said Hardy Watkins, executive director of the Tourism and Recreation Department. "It's on a bucket-list for some hiking enthusiasts who make it a goal to visit Oklahoma's highest elevation point. It's also sought after by astronomers and other stargazers.” Black Mesa is located in Oklahoma's Panhandle along the tri-state border with Colorado and New Mexico. Black Mesa takes its name from the layer of black lava rock that coated the mesa. Visitors can hike to the top of the plateau, Oklahoma's highest point at 4,973 feet above sea level, in Black Mesa Nature Preserve. That's nothing new. In Charles N. Gould's "Travels Through Oklahoma,” published in 1928, he wrote, "We leave our automobile and climb the steep sides of Black Mesa, over great boulders.”
Preserving natureThe nature preserve is operated by the state Tourism & Recreation Department in conjunction with Black Mesa State Park. The nature preserve consists of approximately 1,600 acres where visitors can hike and enjoy 23 rare plants and eight rare animal species. The area marks the point where the Rocky Mountains meet the shortgrass prairie and many species are at the easternmost or westernmost point of their natural range. Black Mesa State Park and the Nature Preserve are a birder's paradise. Other wildlife in the area includes black bear, bobcat, mountain lion, mule deer, bighorn sheep and antelope. Kenton enjoys its semi-arid High Plains climate in the summer since it keeps it a bit cooler than other parts of the state. Its northerly location coupled with the higher altitudes give it a more mild summer. It still gets warm, of course, but only has about seven days each summer with high temperatures at 100 degrees or above, said Gary McManus of the Oklahoma Climatological Survey. That's in stark contrast to even the eastern Panhandle where Beaver sees 21 days with 100-degree temperatures. The low temperatures are where Kenton (like most of the western Panhandle) residents are really lucky. The average low temperature from June to August is 60.6 degrees. July is Kenton's wettest month with an average of 3.14 inches of rainfall and August comes in second with 2.78 inches. In this area, there are many things to see in addition to Black Mesa, including looking at dinosaur tracks, touching a three-state marker or gazing at the old Santa Fe Trail and try to envision the hopes and dreams, as well as the materials, carried across it. "It's very beautiful, rugged and remote,” Watkins said.
IF YOU GOBlack Mesa State Park Where: Located about 15 miles from the nature preserve, Black Mesa State Park is adjacent to Lake Carl Etling. Amenities: Recreational vehicle and tent campsites, picnic facilities, a playground, restrooms with showers and a group camp with bunkhouses. Hours: Dawn to dusk. Hiking: Those intending to hike should allow at least four hours to journey to the top of the mesa from the parking area and back.