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Black Mesa

Posted by on June 26, 2011

We’re back! We’ve moved the blog to WordPress, and we’re ready to get back to touring this great state! Kicking off our return to the web is this great article written by guest blogger Kristi, who recently visited Black Mesa in the Oklahoma panhandle.

The Black Mesa, I have come to discover, is one of the best places to go birding and very lovely.

I drove to the panhandle (my first time to see it!) over the weekend on May 13 and found the drive to be really pleasant with the overall lack of traffic. The vegetation is mostly yucca and cacti.
Once I entered Cimarron County, I began to see the beautiful ring-necked pheasants lining the wheat fields as I drove – birds I had always wished to view in the wild but never had until now! I was able to see at least four on my drive and even a couple females. They are secretive birds and if I stopped to get a photo, the bird would duck down and slip into the vegetation to hide.
There were also a number of pronghorn I was so grateful to have seen. Those right off the highway were scared, but in the park, I had to actually step on my brakes as one crossed the road! I got some good photos of that one.

Within the park there was also prairie dog towns and the elusive burrowing owls, which rely on prairie dogs to live since they use the rodents’ burrows to nest and hide in.

Once you get past Boise City, there is very little cell phone reception. So, plan ahead when you get to the Black Mesa area.
As I arrive, I check in to the Bed and Breakfast, which is a cattle ranch run by Monty and Vicki Roberts, and then join my birding group from the Oklahoma Ornithological Society.
In the couple of days that follow, we are able to see many different types of birds – especially those that are not really found in central Oklahoma. I also saw some I’d never spotted before, such as the curve-billed thrasher and a Western scrub jay.

Other notable species include: northern shoveler, wood duck, Western grebe, Mississippi kite, Western screech owl, black-chinned hummingbird, Western kingbird, indigo bunting, etc. All in all, an impressive 148 species.
The mesas were formed by lava that once covered the region and they are covered in a thick layer of black basalt that caps them.
I really appreciated the hospitality of Vicki and Monty. Vicki cooked us a luscious and free breakfast of homemade food that was to die for. Everything from scrambled eggs to blueberry pancakes was on the menu and they have two big dogs there to greet you with wagging tails when you go outside! Not to mention a few cats!
My bunk was nice and roomy and very clean. The view is also wonderful.
The Black Mesa is also known for its dinosaur tracks, which I did find, thanks to a map. They aren’t marked, so you need to keep an eye out! The weather was perfect and though the nights were chilly, I could not keep from standing outside in the later hours to gaze up at the sky. I had never seen so many stars before. Thanks to the higher elevation and absolutely no light pollution, the sky was uninhibited as it revealed its myriad of constellations.

I loved every bit of it because it was so nice and quiet and you felt like you descended into a timeless place. The days were warmer for us, but not hot – probably due to a cool front.
The town of Kenton is a good place to see birds, too, and other than residential homes and a few churches, there is not a whole lot there – but that, for me, added to its remote mystique.

Some homeowners had bird feeders to attract hummingbirds, which we did see, and there were swallows that enjoyed gobbling up insects that our cars stirred as we drove.
We also hiked along Camp Billy Joe, which is where we got lucky enough to see various sparrows and jays.
The trip ended wonderfully. I enjoyed a detour up through Kansas and found even more prairie dog towns just scattered throughout the landscape near the highway. I got many shots of the rodents and their burrows with one burrowing owl flying over my lonesome car – the whole experience giving me a glimpse into the not long-ago past of what Oklahoma was like before farms and cattle.
I encourage anyone to take trips to our state’s local parks, near or far.

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