Overlooking the expanse of the great plains from atop the highest point in Oklahoma.
Black Mesa Nature Preserve Overlooking the expanse of the great plains from atop the highest point in Oklahoma. © Kim Baker/Oklahoma Tourism

Places We Protect

Black Mesa Nature Preserve


Black Mesa is the highest point in Oklahoma at 4,973 feet above sea level.

Black Mesa Nature Preserve 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 about 30 million years ago. Visitors to the preserve can hike to the top of the plateau, Oklahoma's highest point at 4,973 feet above sea level!

In 1991, TNC conveyed this property to the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department with restrictions regarding development and other use. The preserve is located inside the Black Mesa State Park and protects about 60% of the mesa top in Oklahoma in addition to talus slopes and plains habitat.

The Life It Protects

The Black Mesa area supports 31 state rare species; 23 plants and eight animals. Here, the Rocky Mountains meet the shortgrass prairie, a unique area where many species are at the easternmost or westernmost portions of their range. Vegetation on top of the nearly flat mesa comprises a Bluestem-grama shortgrass species population. The mesa's talus slopes support a one-seed juniper/shrub oak ecology, while similar slopes of the neighboring smaller buttes support one-seed juniper/pinyon woodland species. The plains below the mesa support a shortgrass prairie.

Black Mesa is a birder's paradise any time of the year. Golden eagles, scaled quail, black-billed magpies and pinyon jays are just a few of the birds that may be observed. Black bear, bobcat, mountain lion, mule deer, bighorn sheep and antelope are some of the mammals that may be seen in the mesa region.

Dark Night Sky

In addition to being an excellent location for wildlife watching, Black Mesa boasts some of the darkest nighttime skies on publicly accessible land in the country. The dark skies draw countless astronomy enthusiasts to the area every year as they make star gazing ideal. The state park is especially popular each August when the annual Perseid meteor shower is visible. It is one of the most viewed meteor showers in the Northern Hemisphere and is best seen from remote areas such as the Oklahoma panhandle.

The preserve is located inside the Black Mesa State Park and is owned by the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department.

  • Open dawn to dusk.
  • Allow at least four hours to walk from the parking area to the top of the mesa and back.
  • A restroom is available at the nature preserve trailhead.
  • Although camping is allowed within the state park, no camping is allowed within the nature preserve borders.
  • Hikers need to be prepared for high temperatures during the summer and are advised to bring plenty of water.
  • Located about 15 miles from the nature preserve, Black Mesa State Park is adjacent to Lake Carl Etling and offers RV and tent campsites, picnic facilities, boat ramps, trout fishing in season, a playground, restrooms with showers and a group camp with 12 bunkhouses. Approximately 36 RV sites with water and electric hookups and 23 tent sites are available on a first come, first serve basis at Black Mesa State Park.
  • For more information, call 1-800-654-8240 or visit the Oklahoma State Parks web site.


Learn more about our work in Oklahoma and explore the other places we protect.