The Mountains of Arizona •
Black Mesa • Kayenta Point • Highpoint: Black Mesa Complex
• Navajo Indian Reservation
• Highpoint: Navajo County

Black Mesa Kayenta Navajo, Arizona
My summit photo from 2000
Black Mesa Kayenta Navajo, Arizona
Black Mesa's impressive cliffs, as seen from Kayenta (behind a Holiday Inn)
Black Mesa Kayenta Navajo, Arizona
Klethla Valley from Lolamai Point, 5 a.m. (Navajo Mountain in the background)
Black Mesa Kayenta Navajo, Arizona
Same general view, later in the afternoon
Black Mesa Kayenta Navajo, Arizona
Two images found on the "wayback" machine, which archives old versions of web pages
Black Mesa Kayenta Navajo, Arizona
Bill and me view Monument Valley

All images

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The Arizona
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Dates: (1) June 4, 2000; (2) May 30, 2004 • Elevation: 8,168 feet • Prominence: 1,808 feet • Distance: 13 miles • Time: 7 hours • Gain: 168 feet (net), nearly 1,000 feet gross • Conditions: Sunny and warm both times • Teammates: Andy Bates and Ken in 2000; βð, Bill Jacobs, Barb Lilley and Gord MacLeod in 2004

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Black Mesa is a complex of mesas covering hundreds of square miles in the Navajo and Hopi Nations of northern Arizona. The highest point of Navajo County is a spot elevation of 8,168 feet located about one mile east of Kayenta Benchmark (8,120 feet) on Black Mesa's northern rim. The highpoint does not have an official name, although for purposes here, I informally call the whole north promontory "Kayenta Point".

Getting to the highpoint is challenging, as there are about a half-dozen possible routes, all involving remote dirt roads, locked gates, cliffs, canyons, and potentially long hikes. The "traditional" route comes in from the southwest, near Lolamai Point on the mesa's north rim, about five miles from the highpoint. This route involves a lot 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 βð, and also Bill Jacobs, Barb Lilley and Gord MacLeod.

First Visit, June 2000: Ken and I agreed to team for a hike to Black Mesa's highpoint, both of us close to finishing the Arizona County Highpoints (I was down to my last two). Andy Martin of Tucson was aware of our plans and introduced us to Andy Bates, also of Tucson, who was down to just this one highpoint to finish the Arizona list. Neither of us had met Andy before. We were glad to have him along.

We left Phoenix Saturday afternoon (June 3rd), planning to camp at Lolamai Point, then make the long hike (and long drive back home) all on Sunday. Ken was driving us in his brand new Isuzu SUV. We arrived to Lolamai Point in late afternoon and set up "camp" in an open area. The ground is rocky and covered in a thick mat of grass and cactus. Ken provided the entertainment, as we watched to see if he would blow himself up with his camp-stove, leaking fuel then lighting it anyway. All this about 10 inches from his car. Andy and I slept in the open under the stars, while Ken slept in his vehicle. I recall the weather being nice, a little warm.

We started hiking the next morning at 7 a.m., about two hours later than we had discussed and agreed upon, heading east past a fence and along a rough track for 1.5 miles. We passed a corral and soon entered into scrubby forest. The road ended at another fence, which we crossed. At this point we followed our senses, hiking through the forest (and periodic meadows and rocks), staying as close to the cliff rim as possible. Soon, we were upon Yellow Water Canyon. We had to drop about 150 feet into the canyon, then ascend the other side.

Once up the other side, we stuck close to the north rim, crossing three more smaller canyons along the way. After the fourth canyon, we came upon an old road. So far, the hiking was going smoothly. There were no troubles staying on route, although it was tedious.

This rudimentary road went southeast about 0.3 mile until it came to a "major" road which doesn't appear on the topographic map. This was the days before satellite maps on the web, so we were surprised to see this road. We followed it north, then east for a mile, crossing a gate midway. The road then entered into a meadow and turned north again. We were now on the main promontory that includes Kayenta Benchmark to the west and our highpoint to the east. The road went all the way to the north rim, from which we could see the towers at Lolamai way off to the west and the spires of Monument Valley to the northeast.

To get to the highpoint, we followed a narrow 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 presumed highpoint, which we did about 10 a.m. To here, we'd covered about 6.5 miles in about 3 hours.

We stayed for 45 minutes as we congratulated Andy on completing Arizona's county highpoints. After lunch and photos, we started back for the car. Andy and Ken went west to visit the Kayenta benchmark while I went south along the road, hiking all the way out by myself. I retraced my route, lagging in the heat toward the end. I was back to Ken's car by 1:30 p.m., and Ken and Andy arrived about 20 minutes later. We left the area at 2 p.m., stopped for lunch in Flagstaff, then back to Phoenix, arriving that evening.

I was happy to succeed on this hike, but not in good spirits aftewards. Andy was a great partner, easy-going and smart. Ken was a walking disaster area. His driving was atrocious, passing trucks on double-yellows on blind curves, a tendency to straddle the center highway line for some reason, never using blinkers, and so on. When he admitted how tired he was after the hike, I jumped and offered to drive us back to Flagstaff, which he accepted. For me, it was a way to govern my own existential fate. We had a bite in Flagstaff, and he drove us into Phoenix, doing his usual thing of straddling lane lines, never signalling, often driving well below the speed limit, tapping the brake incessantly. I've never been in a car that got honked at so many times, yet Ken seemed entirely oblivious to it all. How this guy hadn't yet gotten into a major accident or killed himself is beyond me. I had hiked with Ken a few times in late 1999 and started to sense that this guy was dangerous. I only agreed to go with him on this hike because I really wanted to hike this peak, plus having a third person along helped defray tension. Seriously, after some of Ken's stunts like crossing on double yellows and nearly exploding himself and his car up, I was ready to bash him. And this was not the half of it. Don't ask me about the driving segment between Cameron and Flagstaff. I wanted no part of him ever again, and I have not hiked with him since, except for a couple occasions where it was about 20 of us and I could keep my distance from him. I do not have good memories of this hike, merely chalking it up as a "necessary" hike for a larger goal.

Second Visit, May 2004: I planned another trip up to Black Mesa with βð. We'd deliberately put this one off due to my lack of enthusiasm about this particular hike. I put out an offer for others to join us and in time, we had a group of five: us two, and Bill Jacobs, Barb Lilley and Gordon MacLeod. I had "known" Bill 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.

We 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 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 there waiting for us. Together, we convoyed along the dirt road to Lolomai Point, arriving at 3 p.m. in cool breezy weather. We set up our tent, with no help from the steady breeze and occasional gusts. We visited with Gord and Barb, then as darkness set in, we all got busy getting some sleep.

The next morning, Bill rolled in 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 at 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 βð, 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, we 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, so βð, Bill and I split up and I found it, then called everyone over. We arrived about 11:30 a.m. and took an hour-long lunch break, enjoying the scenery. The views over the rim's edge were amazing, including Monument Valley and mountain ranges in Utah and Colorado.

The hike out went quick. βð, 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 βð and I rested then got moving to our hotel in Chinle, where we visited Canyon de Chelly the next day before driving back home. Everything had gone smoothly and I thank Barb, Gord and Bill, for joining us on the hike.

For me, this was a sweet return trip. I had way more fun and an overall rewarding experience than I did in 2000. Of the Arizona county highpoints that I repeated, perhaps none were more "fun" the second time around than this one. It removed 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) 2000-2019 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.