Monday, October 26, 2020

Black Mesa - Oklahoma High Point

On a trip that took us previously to two drive-up high points in Nebraska and Kansas, Black Mesa in the extreme panhandle of Oklahoma was a wonderful surprise and treasure. It involved a relatively long 8.4 mile roundtrip hike with 800 feet of elevation gain in gloomy weather with the temperature in the low to mid 30s and a wind chill that was probably in the 20s. It was remote and seemed wild, nothing I had ever associated with Oklahoma. I loved that sense of wilderness. The contrast to our two prior high points made me appreciate this so much more. 
A memorial bench at the trailhead.

Occasional directional arrows let us know we were on the right track. 
The closest town, Kenton, Oklahoma, is 9 miles away, has a population of 17, no store, no gasoline and no supplies. There are a few bed and breakfast opportunities near Kenton, but none that were available to us. To get what we felt were safe accommodations in this time of COVID, we had to stay in Clayton, New Mexico, which is 43 miles away and a 53 minute drive. Our drive to Black Mesa revealed only a few remote farms and lots of open country. 

The landscape is nothing I previously associated with Oklahoma. The mesa is covered by basaltic lava from a volcano eruption 3 to 5 million years ago and is 600 feet thick. Black Mesa is 55 miles long and varies from 8 miles to a half-mile wide. Wikipedia notes that it is the "driest, harshest and coldest" place in Oklahoma and includes mountain lions, bobcats, black bear, bighorn sheep, elk, pronghorn, prairie rattlesnakes and Texas horned lizards in a protected area known as the Black Mesa Nature Preserve. The flora was primarily tree cholla and juniper and it was pretty well disbursed. 
This is the vehicle track trail relatively close to the trailhead. Black Mesa is visible in the background, but the trail curves around the point visible to the far left where it goes up the side of the mesa. 
Tree cholla, which I don't think I've ever seen before, is common, particularly before rising up to the top of the mesa. 

Rubber rabbitbush

The trail follows a vehicle track for several miles and has three benches along the way, marked mile 1, mile 2 and mile 3. The mile 3 bench appeared to be much less than a full mile from the mile 2 bench, but it was about five-sixths of the elevation gain up the side of the mesa and had a great view. However, the summit walk along the top of the Mesa after the last bench then seemed longer than the mile with an added two-tenths. I was wearing a parka and never took it off. On the walk back we were going into the wind, instead of with the wind, and it was quite chilly. 
Bench at Mile 1

Bench at Mile 2

Bench with a view at Mile 3

Photo near the edge of the top of the mesa. The trail is visible to the right. 
The summit itself is pretty unremarkable. It is very flat and nothing suggests that it is a high point other than the granite marker and a bench. 
Judy next to the marker which is made of Oklahoma Indian head granite. The marker let us know that Kansas is 53 miles east north east;  Texas is 31 miles south; New Mexico is 1,299 feet west; and Colorado is 4.7 miles north. 

A bench donated by a Scout troop. 
Although the high point in Oklahoma is 4,973 feet, where the mesa extends into Colorado it attains an elevation of 5,705 feet and in New Mexico it attains an elevation of 5,239 feet. 

We did the round trip hike, including a short stay at the top, in three hours and 17 minutes. 

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Panorama Point - Nebraska High Point

Some state high points are more exciting than others. Judy was questioning the value of traveling the great distance we were traveling to get to the Nebraska high point because it is such an unremarkable place. A comment in summitpost I think gives a good response: "highpointing takes you places you would never think of going. Like a unique tour of America that few get to experience."  

To get to Panorama Point we had to travel roughly 105 miles from Denver International Airport up through a very rural part of Colorado, including a drive up through Pawnee National Grassland which I'd never heard of before. Panorama Point is just barely in Nebraska: it is only about one mile to the intersection of the state borders of Colorado, Wyoming and Nebraska. It is on private property owned by Glen and Jill Klawon known as the High Point Bison Ranch. As we drove onto the ranch we almost immediately saw a pen with bison. 

After a drive of less than a quarter mile, there was a turnoff to Panorama Point with a sign and a kiosk asking for a $3.00 donation per person. 
It is a 1.2 mile drive from there. Along the drive we saw more captive bison in a very large fenced-in pasture with ginormous wind machines in the background. It looks like many of the farmers in this area are supplementing their income by leasing land for the wind machines as they were everywhere. 

As Wikipedia points out, Panorama Point is not a mountain, or even a hill, it is "a low rise on the High Plains." Without the markers, which include a small monument, a bench and a metal box that contains a register, you wouldn't be able to tell where the high point is, even though it is 5,424 feet in elevation. 
Looking north - not much to distinguish in the distance.

Looking the opposite direction, windmills dominate the skyline. 

It was cold and windy.

What made it stand out for me were the bison, the windmills and some pronghorn we saw on the property in a little different location. 

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Mount Sunflower - Kansas High Point

The hardest part of getting to the top of Mount Sunflower, the high point of Kansas, is driving there. We did 23 miles of dirt roads, albeit good dirt roads, driving in from eastern Colorado. GPS is highly recommended as the roads are not all well marked. Because an internet connection is not always available, the map should be pre-loaded. As we got near I was actually able to guess where the high point was, because there was a small rise from the surrounding terrain, but it only has 19 feet of prominence. 
One of the dirt roads with a sign for Mount Sunflower.
Mount Sunflower's high point presentation may be my favorite so far. It is whimsical and fun. The nickname of Kansas is "The Sunflower State" and the sunflower is the official state flower.  Travelers on the Santa Fe Trail noted the presence of sunflowers. State law once labeled it a "noxious weed," but it has become an important crop, providing sunflower oil and biodiesel fuel. So why not name the high point mountain, such as it is, after the state nickname? The entrance dirt road to the "summit" is covered by a cattle guard and sports a sign and multiple sunflowers made out of railroad spikes. 
The entry gate over the dirt road to the "summit."

The summit monument is in the square, looking from the entrance.

Land next door covered with stocks from harvested corn. 
A small fenced enclosure at the highpoint has several metal representations of sunflowers, a mailbox containing a summit registry, and a stone memorial to "Edward and Elizabeth (Fortin) Harold" who homesteaded in Wallace County in 1906. The owners of the land, Ed and Cindy Harold, put up the stone memorial to honor Ed's grandparents which is located in Wallace County, Kansas. 

A sunflower made of railroad spikes.

Nearby is a covered picnic table with a small free library. 

Mount Sunflower has an elevation of 4,039 feet, the 28th tallest high point among the U.S. states.