Black Mesa (Kayenta Point) • Highpoint: Navajo County
• Highpoint: Black Mesa Complex
• Navajo Indian Reservation

Date Climbed
1. June 4, 2000
2. May 30, 2004

Elevation
8,168 feet

Distance
13 miles round trip

Time
7 hours

Gain
700 feet
(Gross gain)

Conditions
Clear and hot the first time, a little nicer the second time

Prominence
1,808 feet

Click on the thumbnail to see a full-size version


Black Mesa's impressive cliffs, as seen from Kayenta (behind a Holiday Inn)
 

Klethla Valley from Lolamai Point, 5 a.m. (Navajo Mountain in the background)
 

Bill and Scott check out Monument Valley
 

Beth relaxes at the Monument Valley overlook
 

Beth and Scott at the highpoint cairn

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Black Mesa is the name given to a complex of huge mesas that cover hundreds of square miles in the Navajo and Hopi Nations in far-north Arizona. There are three main mesa bodies of this vast complex, which is the traditional home of the Hopi people. The highest point of elevation on these mesas, and in Navajo County, is a spot elevation of 8,168 feet located about one mile east of BM Kayenta (8,120 feet) on Black Mesa's northernmost rim, just south of the town of Kayenta. Apparently the highpoint itself does not have an official name, although for purposes here I have informally called the whole north promontory "Kayenta Point".

The Hopi Nation is an enclave within the larger Navajo Nation. The boundaries were set in the late 1800s and naturally, no one was happy. The two peoples coexisted for hundreds of years, with the nomadic Navajo occasionally venturing into the Black Mesas while the Hopi, who generally stayed put, built their towns and tended their farm crops. Whereas the boundaries had been unwritten and mostly visual and cultural in nature, the formalities of drawing lines on a map necessarily meant some traditional Hopi lands would be inside Navajo lands, and vice-versa. Over the years the boundaries have been redrawn and tweaked countless times, more often than not to the satisfaction of the big coal concerns who lease the lands up there for their operations. While it may seem natural for the Hopi to get the lands on top the plateau, thus making the cliffs a natural boundary, in reality this is rarely the case. The north rim of Black Mesa is actually within the Navajo Nation. There are even little Navajo enclaves within the Hopi Nation. It's bizarre.

Access to the highpoint can be a bit tricky: there seems to be about a half-dozen viable routes, all involving some combination of long remote dirt road driving, locked gates, cliffs and canyons, and potentially very long hikes. The "traditional" route comes in from the southwest, near Lolamai Point on the mesa's north rim, about 5 air-miles from the highpoint. This route involves a fair bit of hiking, but the road access seems to be the most stable. I have used this route on both my ascents, in 2000 with Ken A. and Andy Bates, and again in 2004 with my wife Beth, Bill Jacobs, and Barb Lilley and Gord MacLeod.

First Visit, June 2000: For this venture, I went with Ken A. and Andy Bates. Ken, I had hiked with a handful of times in late 1999 while visiting other Arizona county highpoints. This was the first time I had met Andy, who at the time was working (I recall) on the range highpoints list of Arizona, a much more expansive list than just the county highpoints. For him, Black Mesa would satisfy one peak on his list and also give him the full set of fifteen Arizona county highpoints. For Ken and I, we were both nearing completion. This would be my 14th Arizona county highpoint. I think it was the same for Ken.

We left Phoenix Saturday afternoon (June 3rd), with plans to car-camp at Lolamai Point and make the long hike (and long drive back home) all on Sunday. Ken was driving his brand new Isuzu SUV. Total driving time was six hours, including the slow dirt-roads leading up from the paved routes to Lolamai Point. We arrived in late afternoon and set up "camp", such as it was, in an open area. Lolamai Point has some communication towers and some free-ranging cattle. The ground is very rocky and covered in a thickish mat of grasses and low cactus. There are a couple of areas that have been cleared over the years and used as ad-hoc camping sites. Most of the fun that night was seeing if Ken would blow himself up with his camp-stove, leaking fuel and lighting it anyway. Ken, Ken, Ken. Andy and I slept in the open under the stars in various clearings, while Ken slept in his vehicle. I recall the weather being nice, a bit warm.

We got moving the next morning about 7 a.m., heading eastish past a fence and along a rough track for about 1.5 miles. We passed an old corral, pretty meadows and soon entered into scrubby forest. The road gave out at another fence, which we crossed. At this point we followed our senses, hiking through the forest (and periodic meadows and rocky balds) and staying as close to the northern rim as possible. Soon, we met up with our biggest obstacle, a canyon that needed to be crossed (Yellow Water Canyon on the map). We had to drop about 150 feet into Yellow Water Canyon and re-ascend the other side. There is no trail but route-finding is generally pretty simple. Once up the other side, we again hiked close to the north rim, crossing three more minor canyons along the way (staying as close to the north rim as possible so as to take advantage of crossing at the main canyon headwall, which usually meant less drop/gain). After the fourth canyon, we came upon a rudimentary road. So far, the hiking was going smoothly. There were no troubles staying on route, although kind of tedious.

This rudimentary road went southeast about 0.3 miles until it junctioned with a major forest road which doesn't appear on the topographic map. This road appears to get somewhat regular use. We followed this road as it went north, then east for a considerable distance (crossing a gate midway). After a while, this road broke out into an open meadow and turned north again. We were now on the main promontory that included Kayenta benchmark and our highpoint. The road went all the way to the north rim, from which we could see the towers at Lolamai way off to the west. To get to the highpoint we followed what appeared to be a dirt-bike track east into the trees, then another few hundred yards through the trees until we came out to the rim again. This section of the rim faced east, so we knew we were close. Now it was just a matter of hiking through the trees south a few paces until we found the rock cairn at the highpoint, which we did about 10 a.m. To here, we'd covered about 6.5 miles in about 3 hours.

We stayed at the top for 45 minutes as we congratulated Andy on completing Arizona's county highpoints. After lunch and photos, we started back for the camp. Andy and Ken went west to visit the Kayenta benchmark while I went south along the road. I just retraced my route. All was well until that final major canyon near the start of the hike. I crossed it alright but started to get weary of the heat and the fact I was just plain tired. I stopped a number of times to rest on that final 2 mile push back to the car, finally arriving at 1:30 pm, where I promptly sucked down a gatorade and dumped some ice-water on myself. Ken and Andy arrived about 20 minutes later. We left the area at 2 pm, stopped for lunch in Flagstaff at 5, then drove back to Phoenix, arriving at 8. The net gain of elevation was only about 170 feet, but including the drops and gains incurred by crossing the canyons and the undulating nature of the dirt road, we probably experienced a gross gain (one way to the summit) of about 2000 feet.

I was happy to have succeeded on this hike, and it was a nice birthday gift to myself (today being my birthday). Andy was a great partner, easy-going and smart. Ken was alright on the trail too, but his driving to and from Phoenix terrified the bejeezus out of me. This was the first time I'd driven with him on a long road trip. Not to go into great detail, but Ken's judgement is not the best, especially where double-yellow lines are concerned (and other things like speed limits, using blinkers, and so on). I arrived home stressed way more than I should have been. On the one hand, I was successful on Black Mesa and that was good since I was just one highpoint short of state completion, so the trip was worth it for that reason. But ultimately I did not have good memories of this hike, merely chalking it up as a "necessary" hike for a larger goal. I never figured I'd be back here, but then I got married...

Second Visit, May 2004: I planned another trip up to Black Mesa with my wife Beth, who herself was nearing state completion of the fifteen Arizona county highpoints. We'd deliberately put this one off mainly due to my lack of enthusiasm about coming all the way back up here for what really is a long slog. I put out an offer for others to join us and in time, we had a group of five: Bill Jacobs, Barb Lilley and Gordon MacLeod. Bill I had "known" through the county highpoint web-group but had never met him until this weekend. Barb and Gord are well-known throughout the western United States for their hundreds of ascents and their familiar log-books they place at the summits. Barb was one of the first women ever to reach the summit of Denali in the 1960s.

Beth and I planned to tackle this highpoint over Memorial Day weekend. We drove up to Flagstaff two nights before and spent yesterday (the 29th) hiking and exploring the Sunset Crater and Wupatki National Monuments just outside of Flagstaff. We then made our way past Tuba City and up the little highway toward Lolomai Point. At this turnoff, we met up with Gord and Barb, who were already there waiting for us. Together, we convoyed the 14 or so miles of dirt road to Lolomai Point, arriving about 3 p.m. in cool, somewhat breezy weather. Beth and I set up our tent, with no help from the steady breeze and occasional gusts. We visited with Gord and Barb for a bit, then as darkness settled in, we all got busy getting some sleep.

The next morning Bill Jacobs came rumbling up at 6:30 a.m. to join us. Bill's a veteran county highpointer and brand new to Arizona, so he was interested in joining us for this hike, and it was good to meet him in person after 5 years of only knowing him through emails. The five of us convoyed back about a mile and started our hike at a gate near Fir Springs. The gate was unlocked, but a hanging lock on it made us skittish about driving in, so we parked outside and started our hike in about 7:30 a.m.

We walked up a road not shown on the map, and then met up with the route I took back in 2000. There really is no other option that avoids the four significant canyons that cleave the mesa. We all crossed Yellow Water Canyon, then took a break at the next canyonhead. Yesterday's wind was now replaced by perfect conditions: cloudless skies, no breeze, temperatures in the 70s, and dry. We all hiked in a loose clump, people pairing off to chat, but generally Beth, Bill and I were the quicker of the five, while Barb and Gord weren't far behind. When we got to the major road about 4 miles in, we took another break.

From here, Beth and I took off way ahead of everyone, but soon Bill caught up. We took another break in the meadow close to the highpoint to let Barb and Gord catch up, then all made our way to the highpoint. Finding the cairn was a bit tricky; Beth, Bill and I split up and I found it, then called everyone over. We arrived about 11:30 a.m. and took an hour lunch break, enjoying the quietness and the rest. Only a handful of names are in the register; I doubt only county highpoint nutcases know about this point. The views out over the rim's edge were amazing, including Monument Valley and mountain ranges in Utah and Colorado.

The hike out went quick. Beth, Bill and I hiked as a unit, and we egressed about 3 p.m. to our cars. Barb and Gord were planning on camping another night on the mesa so they took their time. Bill got moving pretty fast, while Beth and I rested then got moving, eventually getting to our hotel in Chinle, where we visited Canyon de Chelly the next day before driving all the way back home. Everything had gone smoothly and I thank Barb, Gord and Bill for being great teammates on the hike.

For me, this was a very sweet return trip. I had way more fun and an overall rewarding experience than I did in 2000. Of the fifteen Arizona county highpoints that I repeated with Beth, perhaps none were more "fun" the second time around than this one. It exorcised many of the bad vibes and memories I had from 2000, and completely made me reconsider the inherent value of this hike. Yes it's long and tedious, but it's fun and unique and very few people get this way.

(c) 2006 Scott Surgent. For entertainment purposes only. This report is not meant to replace maps, compass, gps and other common sense hiking/navigation items. Neither I nor the webhost can be held responsible for unfortunate situations that may arise based on these trip reports. Conditions (physical and legal) change over time! Some of these hikes are major mountaineering or backpacking endeavors that require skill, proper gear, proper fitness and general experience.