Nestled in the western corner of the Oklahoma Panhandle, southeastern Colorado, and northeastern New Mexico, Black Mesa State Park lies on a plateau covered by black lava rock. This geology is actually where the park gets its name. For RVers, this serene park is the perfect combination of nature, history, geology, and outdoor recreation.
Approximately 30 million years ago a volcanic eruption occurred, splashing its thick lava in this plateau coating the rocks black. Many fossils including those of dinosaurs have been discovered by geologists here. Surprisingly the "real" Black Mesa lies 13 miles west of Black Mesa State Park. At a height of 4,973 feet, this is the highest point in Oklahoma and the second highest peak in the Black Mesa range.
Established in 1959, this 349-acre park features the 200-acre Lake Carl Etling, which is at the center of many water activities like fishing, swimming, and boating. On land, you can hike, view some of the amazing wildlife, or enjoy some stargazing. If you want to spend a few days in the park, you can park your motorhome on one of over 25 designated RV campsites. Oklahoma’s Black Mesa State Park is mainly comprised of three areas of interest: Black Mesa State Park, Black Mesa Nature Preserve, and the Black Mesa Summit Hike.
Just 33 minutes from Boise City, Oklahoma, three hours from Pueblo, Colorado, and four hours from Santa Fe, New Mexico, Black Mesa State Park is on the border of all three states. On your way to the park you can find several scenic drives, such as the Dry Cimarron Scenic Byway, which was named as such by the settlers who went 60 miles without water. Traveling from Cimarron County to Union County, New Mexico, you will see rugged canyons, plateaus, and dormant volcanoes. You will even pass through some ghost towns, where you can get out and take some fantastic pictures to share on social media.
Make sure you fill up your gas tank and buy all the supplies you need in Boise City because this is the last town before the park, almost 40 miles away. The road leading to the park is partly dirt and partly paved. It meanders through the high plains and rocky outcroppings offering visitors a scenic and exciting drive. Depending on where you are coming from, Black Mesa State Park is serviced by two entrances: the south entrance marked as 325 and the north entrance which is closest to Kenton. Interior roads are gravel and give great access to the nature preserve, Summit Trail parking lot, and the campground. There are multiple short hikes in Black Mesa State Park leading visitors to their desired points of interest.
Black Mesa State Park offers a pet-friendly campground with 29 RV sites and 25 tent sites. All of the RV campsites feature water and electric hookups. There is no sewer hookup, but an RV dump station near the comfort station is available. You will also find a picnic table, fire pit, grill, and lantern holder at each campsite. Centrally located showers and restrooms are within walking distance for your convenience.
Most of the sites are shaded and the parking pads range from 30 to 55 feet in length. Make sure you reserve your spot online well in advance to get a campsite large enough for your RV or motorhome. There is public Wi-Fi access near the rangers’ station. Some areas of the park offer fairly good cell phone reception. Campers should carry plenty of food, drinks, and fuel their vehicles since the nearby town of Kenton is rather small. The closest functional towns to Black Mesa State Park are Boise City, which is 40 miles east and Clayton, which is 47 miles southwest.
Gather all the family and pack them in your RV or campervan before heading to the park for a picnic or BBQ. There are two designated picnic areas that you and your family can enjoy during your visit. Equipped with 18 charcoal grills, benches, and picnic tables, families and friends can catch up as they gaze at the pretty black rock of the mesa plateau and the blooming of desert plants. There is nothing like a scenic picnic or BBQ to get you in the spirit of the great outdoors.
You will not be disappointed when you bring your camper to the Black Mesa State Park with your fishing gear in tow. Lake Carl Etling is known for its excellent winter trout fishing. The trout population is supplemented seasonally from November through April. Many trophy-sized rainbows have been caught here using pink power bait worms in the past few years. Anglers can also expect to catch sunfish, large-mouth and small-mouth bass, and perch. Shoreline fishing and fly fishing are permitted. Anglers are required to have a valid fishing license.
Dotted with prairie, juniper, and cactus, this remote region presents hikers with trails of varying lengths and difficulties. If you are the adventurous type, you can pack your camper in the summit parking lot near the trailhead in preparation for the eight-and-a-half-mile trek to the top of black mesa. With little to no shade, the summit hike takes three to five hours depending on your skill level. Aside from half a mile that is steep, the rest of the trail leading to the flat-topped plateau is relatively flat. Visitors should watch for poisonous rattlesnakes, especially in the evening. The area is very humid so make sure to carry plenty of water. You can get the most spectacular sunset at the peak.
There are quite a few awesome caves to check out while you are visiting Black Mesa State Park so make sure you pack your caving gear in the camper. The six Kenton Caves, which are off Highway 325 just east of Kenton, has artifacts and cave drawings from approximately 1300 AD. You can take a guided tour or just explore the rock shelters from the outside on your own. However, you can explore in depth many of the other caves in the area on your own if you like. Just don’t forget a flashlight and a jacket because it gets cold and dark in there.
Exploring northwest Oklahoma is never complete without stargazing at Black Mesa State Park. Aside from the streetlights lining the campground, Oklahoma’s panhandle region has some of the darkest night skies making it a stargazer’s paradise. Don’t forget to load up your campervan with a telescope and a good camera with night vision. If you are an avid astronomer, you should visit in August when the park holds the annual Perseid Meteor Shower Gathering. For perfect night sky photos, campers should move away from the campground area.
Pack your camera and binoculars in the RV before heading to the park because there is a lot of flora and fauna to see here. Black Mesa is also home to 31 rare species, such as the gray bat, peregrine falcon, bald eagle, Longnose Darter, and the Blackside Darter. If you love viewing wildlife in their natural territories, the park is a habitat for bighorn sheep, black bears, and mountain lions as well. Reptilian species such as snakes, collared lizards, and mud turtles are often spotted here too. In addition, there are over five species of toads and over 150 species of butterfly and moths.
Nature lovers should strive to spend quality time in Black Mesa Nature Preserve. Sitting on 1,600 acres, the Nature Preserve covers much of the Black Mesa territory. Designated as a protected area, this nature preserve plays host to some of the rare plants and animals native only to the mesa. Being a transitional point for the Rocky Mountain region and prairie grassland, you can expect to see diverse fauna and flora. If you would rather see some of the historic features like the dinosaur quarry, dinosaur tracks, or the autograph rock, these are right there in the park as well.
If you like birds and you live in the Oklahoma area, then this is the park for you. In the past years close to 60 species of birds have been documented in the mesa region making it one of the go-to birding destinations in the state. No wonder there is a trail named Bird Haven Trail in the Nature Preserve area. If you plan on taking the route, you should remember to carry a pair of binoculars. Many species of raptors and corvids are routinely spotted. Golden eagles, scaled quails, black-billed Magpies, pinyon jays, and red-tailed hawks are just a few birds that may be observed.