The Panhandle, by the way, has quite the interesting history. Originally part of the Republic of Texas, the strip was ceded to the federal government when Texas joined the U.S. as a slaveholding state, since that land was north of the 36°30' slave/free cutoff imposed by the Missouri Compromise. It spent the second half of the 19th century as an unorganized no-man's-land, serving as a hideout for outlaws and squatters. Towards the end of the century it campaigned to be recognized as its own Cimarron Territory, but was instead incorporated into the Oklahoma Territory in 1890.
I arrived around midmorning at Black Mesa State Park only to discover that the high point wasn't actually there:
Oh well. At least I saw a roadrunner in the park. Those bouncy-tailed ground-cuckoos are my favorite bird of the Southwest. I hadn't realized they ranged east of the Rockies, but this dry, rocky habitat seemed right up their alley, more like the basins of New Mexico than the grasslands of the northern Plains.
Not long after I'd left the highway, the mesa came into view:
|and it was immense!|
I drove around the mesa's tip, bouncing over cattle guards and past a row of seemingly abandoned buildings:
|An old town?|
|I was gonna get fried.|
The trail began with a westward meander, following an ATV track through the valley:
The grass, dotted with cacti:
|"LarLar, get out of there before you poke your eyes out!"|
The trail was labeled with little arrow-signs every half-mile:
|Black Mesa Thataway|
and supplied with a bench every mile. It seemed a bit excessive to me, but, this being a nature preserve, the designers were probably catering more to the birdwatching crowd than to hardcore hikers. And I can't complain; the benches made good reminders to stop for a drink.
until the second mile mark, where the trail took a 90-degree turn towards the mesa and began to rise. The incline gradually increased as it headed into a valley, then turned to switchback up the mesa walls:
|There was some scree, but nothing too steep.|
and back the way I'd come:
|See the trail?|
|...but several hundred feet higher.|
for another flat mile to the high point:
Oklahoma's summit was marked by a four-sided obelisk, each side representing one of the four states adjoining Cimarron County (more than any other county in the U.S.). To the north, 4.7 miles distant, was Colorado; the southwest corner of Kansas met it 53 miles to the east-northeast; the Texas border lay 31 miles to the south; and New Mexico awaited 1299 feet to the west. I signed the summit register, then rested on the concrete platform as LarLar tried his very first taste of basalt.
|Mmm... it's an acquired taste.|
A furious wind swept up the sides, filling my ears. I planted my feet, faced it, and gazed out over the empty valley:
This, I thought, is the life.
I descended without incident, save for a few more grasshoppers to the face--kind of gross, considering that they appeared to eat dung. The car was an oven upon my return, of course. I left the doors open to air it out as I gulped down cool water from the backup-bottle I'd hidden in the footwell of the passenger seat. Left on the seat, water will heat; out of the sun, water stays fun--there's your camping tip for the day.
On, then, to New Mexico, to luxuriate in my sunburnt skin in all the comforts of a cheap motel in Tucumcari. Down state routes studded with cattle guards I'd drive; through plains and mesalands I'd pass, over red soil and yellow grass, by dark-green juniper that scented the dry air, into the Southwest of my memories. In places, the heat-haze over the road mirrored the sky so well that it seemed my car would lift off and drive straight into the blue.
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