Clayton, NM to Omaha, NE | Hiking Black Mesa, Oklahoma’s Highest Point | Visiting Mount Sunflower, Kansas’ Highest Point | December 7-8, 2021
After an eventful start to our last night of camping, we ended up sleeping very well in the back of the Subaru, and awoke to a beautiful sunrise the next morning. We repacked the car and made sure everything was accounted for, and readied ourselves for a day full of hiking and driving.
We had a long hike about an hour or two away planned for this morning, but that didn’t stop us from first going for a short walk at Clayton Lake State Park. There was a half-mile trail that advertised dinosaur footprints, and since we had never seen any of those before we couldn’t resist. The footprints themselves weren’t even known about until after the lake had been formed and the spillway for the dam cut out. Then, after a particularly rainy season, the spillway flooded over and scoured out the last layer of sediment covering the footprints. Surveyors inspecting the damage after the storm were able to distinguish the discovery and paleontologists were called in.
The small area (about the size of a small house footprint) has several hundred footprints from both herbivore and carnivore dinosaurs, as well as worm paths and holes. It was pretty cool, but we don’t know how anyone could have looked at it and known ‘those are dinosaurs’. Except for a couple, the footprints just looked like rain filled depressions. But we’ll let the experts tell us what’s up.
After that, we got back on the road, taking county roads Northwest headed for the Oklahoma panhandle. As we drove, we saw more historic signs and tracks for the Santa Fe Trail. But even more exciting was seeing our first ever bobcat in the wild, running across the road ahead of us! This has been such an exciting year for animal sightings!
We zigzagged our way over to Kenton, OK then went North. Our main hike for today was to Black Mesa, the highest point in Oklahoma. It wouldn’t be too difficult of a hike, but longer than any of our other hikes on this trip at 8.5 miles round trip. Thankfully the weather today was just as beautiful as it was last week when we drove through the area — sunny, but cool and windy, which was good since this was a very exposed hike. We packed up some water and snacks and set off on the trail.
The first two and a half miles were mostly flat, and we set a good pace and managed to keep Charlotte focused on the trail. After that we began our ascent up the mesa, which slowed our pace a little but still wasn’t too strenuous. The path was wide and easy to follow the whole way up, and there were benches at each mile telling us how far we’d gone. Once we made it to the top of the mesa, we had another mile of flat trail to walk to reach the official highest point. Soon enough, we saw the obelisk in the distance, and were there before we knew it. Curtis found the letterbox, Charlotte, found some good smells, and I managed to bring them all back to get some pictures. The hike back down was all easy and went by quickly — a very easy & pleasant hike all around for high point #24!
We made it back to our car in just under 3 hours. We were pleased with how quickly we were able to complete this hike, but I was a little nervous that we wouldn’t be able to fit in our two other planned stops before sunset at 4:30, Mountain time. We got back on the road and went North into Colorado and the Comanche Grasslands before hitting US-160, then North on US-385.
The other two stops we wanted to make today were at Sand Creek Massacre NHS in Southeast Colorado, and then the Kansas high point on the CO/KS border. Watching the clock, I was doubtful we would be able to fully see Sand Creek and make it to the high point before dark — which seemed important to me so that we could get good pictures. I checked Google Maps again to do the math and realized that Sand Creek was also on winter hours, which meant closed today since it was a Tuesday. Whoops, good thing I checked before we went out of our way! Instead, we simply drove through Colorado and got a few pictures of courthouses on our way through.
We took US-385 to US-40, then went East and entered Kansas. Not long after came our turn for the high point, which was a 12 mile drive North on a gravel road. I had Google Maps to help find it, but there were also signs directing us there. We were thankful that the past week had been dry in this area, because similar to the roads leading to the Nebraska high point, it can be rather slick to drive after it rains. We arrived at Mount Sunflower at 4:15 — just in time to get a few pictures before the sunset. This officially makes 25 high points — we’re halfway there!
Our day ended with driving another hour and a half to Goodland, KS where we finally gave in and stayed in a hotel for the night. It may not have been the coldest night of our trip, but it was still windy, and there were no listings on Free Campsites that were on our route and meant for tent camping.
The next day was our last day of vacation, and a full driving day back home. The fastest route would have been around 6 hours, but we had a row of unvisited counties along the Nebraska/Kansas border that we needed, so it ended up being an 8 hour drive. It definitely felt long and not super interesting, but we drove through each one and got pictures of every courthouse, and now we only have 2 counties left in Nebraska and 8 courthouses. It will probably take another trip out West to get them, but finishing the state while we still live here is definitely within reach! We made it home by 5 that evening, unpacked and cleaned out the car, and went for an evening walk with Charlotte to try to readjust to the cold. This was such a good trip, and a great way to end a year of adventures!