Big Sky Country

7 minutes
Editor in Chief Nathan Gunter gets back in touch with his sanity at Black Mesa State Park.

Editor in Chief Nathan Gunter gets back in touch with his sanity at Black Mesa State Park.

There’s something in the air at Black Mesa. Or more to the point—there’s very little in the air at Black Mesa. The air at the northwestern tip of Oklahoma’s Panhandle is, in fact, fresh, clean, and wondrously low on humidity in a way that doesn’t apply at all other points in the state—least of all my house, where summertime occasionally feels like being trapped under a warm, wet blanket.

Out at Black Mesa, the sky goes on forever—literally, it seems, especially when stargazing post-sunset, when you can see out to the edge of things, to the place that’s so far away the universe hasn’t been around long enough for its light to reach us. We are so little, and it’s easy to feel that out there.

For me, that’s the connection. That’s the spark within that sings to the eternity without, if I may lapse back into my religion-major self for a second. Because here’s the paradox of Black Mesa: Inside its big, empty, out-to-eternity sky something sits, waits, is. Or to put it in tourism speak: Black Mesa’s where I go when I’m looking for a spiritual mountaintop. And y’all: Stuff’s been hard lately. I need to increase my spiritual mountaintop intake.

You feel it, right? The part of you that’s thinking of burning down the house just to shake things up, that let Taco Tuesday turn into Taco-Day-That-Ends-In-Y and then to FORGET IT LET’S JUST DRINK WINE UNTIL SLEEP HAPPENS, that gets into staring matches with the dog and loses.

It’s possible I’m going a little stir crazy in quarantine.

At any rate, I needed some higher altitudes both physically and mentally, so my husband and I threw the dog into the car along with a cooler—Kenton is thirty miles from almost all food service—and hoofed it for six and a half hours to Cimarron County.

Since the trip, a lot of people have popped into my Instagram comments to ask if we camped and, if not, where we stayed. While I’ve enjoyed camping at Black Mesa State Park in the past, my usual haunt when it comes to Kenton is the Black Mesa Bed & Breakfast, which really just feels a lot like staying with family.

Owners Vicki and Monty Joe Roberts have owned the B&B since 1997. I first met them in 2008, when we spent the Fourth of July with our friends Jayson and Laurie Flynn, our dog Sam, and their dog Hera.

Aside from one unfortunate interaction with a cactus, Fred had no trouble hiking the 1.5 miles of trails at Black Mesa State Park. Black Mesa Bed & Breakfast is a dog-friendly facility, but owners Vicki and Monty Joe Roberts do ask for advance notice when bringing a pet.

Aside from one unfortunate interaction with a cactus, Fred had no trouble hiking the 1.5 miles of trails at Black Mesa State Park. Black Mesa Bed & Breakfast is a dog-friendly facility, but owners Vicki and Monty Joe Roberts do ask for advance notice when bringing a pet.

One of the best parts of Black Mesa B&B is that it’s dog-friendly, though it sits on a working cattle ranch, and there are large Great Pyrenees dogs that roam the property and love to interact with guest dogs. If your dog isn’t other-dog friendly, bringing them might not be a great idea. That said, the Great Pyrenees are friendly and sweet and will come right up for pets.

For her part, Fred was fascinated by and afraid of these white behemoths that were about ten times her size. She wanted to follow them everywhere—at a great distance.

In addition to the rare chance to introduce my best animal friend to the great outdoors a little more, it was gratifying to see Vicki and Monty Joe again—so much so that when we arrived mid-thunderstorm, I rushed screaming out of the car and crashed into a Vicki Roberts bear hug. We gabbed for awhile on the expansive front porch before the storm got worse, driving us inside, where we caught up with each other and another couple that was staying the weekend. When the screen door opened and my buddy Molly O’Connor of the Oklahoma Arts Council walked in with her niece—they were on a road trip around western Oklahoma—it seemed fate was saying yes, you needed to be here. My friend had arrived!

After a nice hike along the trails at the state park—we weren’t sure Fred could do the more than eight miles round-trip to the elevation marker at the top of the mesa—we had some glorious mountain-air naptime back at the B&B. When night fell, we drove out to the three-state marker—the place Oklahoma meets Colorado and New Mexico.

Sunset at the tri-state monument marking the point where Oklahoma, Colorado, and New Mexico meet.

Sunset at the tri-state monument marking the point where Oklahoma, Colorado, and New Mexico meet.

The air is still out there. The stars are too numerous to count and oh so crystal clear, even with a bright moon. I always find myself whispering, as if I’m in the presence of something holy.

Because like I said—there’s something in the air at Black Mesa. Something big and quiet and—for me at least—healing. All Brian and I could talk about on the drive home was how much we’d needed a trip like this. To stare up into the quiet sky, to breathe in lungfuls of non-urban air, to walk a trail and notice the cactus flowers, the dragonflies, and the scrubby grasses that grow by the path.

Written By
Nathan Gunter

Nate is an enthusiastic runner and cyclist and frequently can be seen making his way by foot or pedal through Oklahoma City streets. When not working, Nate is reading, writing, watching movies, playing video games, working in his garden, attending concerts, or taking off on road trips.

Nathan Gunter
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