by Shelley Fowler
If you had told me a couple of years ago that I would be able, much less willing, to scale the side of the highest point in my beloved state, I would have rolled my eyes and said, “Sure! When pigs fly and cows roost on windmill towers!”
But, times have thankfully changed, along with my body and spirit. Thus, early one morning a week ago I found myself and my true soul and adventure buddy, Marvin, pulling into the graveled parking lot situated on the northeast side of Black Mesa. With camera gear in hand, along with a healthy dose of optimistic energy and enthusiasm, we walked through the gate and began a trek that would prove to be a test of my endurance and a testament to Marvin’s thoughtfulness and patience. For after all, I don’t think…heck, I know…I’ve never walked eight miles in one day!
The sky was that bright blue that only comes so often, accented by ‘post card’ puffy white clouds. The air was pure and the temperature was edging past warm as we walked the first mile or so, gradually wending our way west and then south on the designated path running parallel with the rock-strewn mesa. Soon we began feeling the effects of gradual ascension. At least I did!
Looking up the trail that would soon turn into a series of switchbacks, we rested for a little while in the shade of a large cedar tree that emitted the aroma found only when the sun’s heat mingles with its bark. From his backpack, Marvin produced what seemed to me to be a scrumptious feast – tap water and trail mix! Our bodies being replenished with the food and liquid, we took up walking higher.
We were carefully making our way up a rocky incline when we met a woman walking down. Wiry in stature and clad in ‘real’ walking clothes and floppy brimmed hat, she had two canteens strapped across her upper body. We stopped to visit. She was from Wisconsin and was a “High Pointer”. She had scaled the highest point in Texas the day before, and with Black Mesa she had achieved her 36th climb of the nation’s peaks. She told us the only qualms she had about our highest point was the “rattlesnake” factor. She had never seen one but had heard frightening tales of them! I had to smile when she described her strategy for avoiding the slithering creatures. Beating out a rhythm on the sides of the canteens while loudly singing! I guess it worked, for her – and us – because we saw nary a rattlesnake….or lizard…or horny toad the entire adventure.
It was slow-going as we weaved our way on the switch backs, climbing higher with each turn. The shale beneath our tennis shoes was crumbly and boulders of basalt littered the two-rutted path that when cleared would serve as a narrow road to the summit. Often we would stop, not only so I could catch my breath, but so we could survey the valley floor below us and discuss how it all came to be. All the mesas rising from the earth, all the rugged hills that were scarred by time and wind. I felt like we could have been prehistoric man and woman – or native Indians – or a pair of outlaws – looking at the magnificent and ancient vista all around us.
And as Marvin and I walked higher and higher, and as we stopped and talked of such things, a welcomed breeze would occasionally caress our sweaty skin. By now, the sun was beating its heat upon us, but then would come a cover of shadows cast by the clouds. And so it was, with shade and sun, with breeze and dead calm as our companions, we finally arrived at the summit of Black Mesa!
The summit, yes! The red granite marker marking the summit? We weren’t quite there.
Before we began walking the trail leading to it on the western end of the mesa, we sought a moment’s reprieve in a puddle of shade cast by another cedar tree. Side by side, Marvin and I balanced on one of its ancient branches, drinking more water and eating more trail mix while taking in the parched, yet beautiful, landscape lying in all directions. Fortified for the last leg of the trek, we arose and walked towards our goal.
We were not disappointed when we arrived at the base of the pink granite obelisk that must surely be at least eleven feet tall, not counting the cement base that supports it. I took pictures of Marvin hugging the monument, and then he, being the professional photographer, began documenting the details written upon its four sides as I took off my shoes and socks and sat on the grass-nubbed ground and watched!
Here are some facts gleaned from the marker.
Black Mesa is 4,972.97 feet above the sea. The marker was erected in 1954 and is made of native Oklahoma Indian head granite. To the east , 1605 miles away, lies New York City, while Kansas is but 51 miles distant. Due west is New Mexico and beyond that, 895 miles away, is Los Angeles. Gazing south, Texas appears a mere 31 miles hence. And Colorado is just a stone’s throw away – 4.7 miles due north!
A metal box was nestled against the western side of the monument, and as Marvin went in search of photogenic material, out of curiosity I opened it. There was a log book filled with dozens and dozens of signatures written by those who had come before us and over the past several years. Business cards from all over the nation were tucked in a plastic sack. And on scraps of paper were messages describing the weather, the time of day, the thoughts of young and old who had climbed Black Mesa. A small painted rock, a colorful metal flower, bits and pieces of people’s lives, were in the bottom of the box. I was smiling by the time I closed the lid and returned the box to its nesting place.
The trip down the mesa – the return four miles – went more swiftly it seemed. The random breeze and shadows followed us, as did a brilliant yellow and black butterfly! But, my energy and enthusiasm were just about used up! Marvin became my Pied Piper, sometimes singing and pointing out interesting things along the trail, keeping my feet moving forward. Then just when I thought I couldn’t go any further, and just after I’d drunk our last reserve of water, there appeared in the east a little white Jeep. I became like the horse who sees the barn!
We were two happy and exhausted adventurers by the time we arrived back in Boise City. We had reached our goal and, by golly, had the certificates to prove it! But, paper and ink were nothing in comparison to the sense of achievement I felt in my soul that evening! Even though I fell asleep sitting upright, even though my muscles ached a bit, even though the top of my ears were sunburned…I had done that which I didn’t think I could do!
Thanks to Marvin’s enthusiasm and desire to discover the wonders of Cimarron County – and his willingness to take me by the hand and say, “Come on, girl! Daylight’s burnin’ and there’s places to explore” – I now know I can do anything, yes, anything, when I put my mind to it and keep on walking!