Serene and surreal, a hike atop Black Mesa to the unofficially named Kayenta Point offers hikers a unique chance to experience the offerings of far-northern Arizona. Black Mesa is actually an extensive network of mesas in north-central Navajo County, elevated above the vast Colorado Plateau and the traditional homeland of the Hopi People. The highest point on the whole mesa is a spot elevation of 8,168 feet on the extreme northern tip of the mesa, overlooking the town of Kayenta below and the famous Monument Valley farther off in the distance. It is the highest point in Navajo County, Arizona, and hikers seeking this elusive point should plan for a full day of challenging forest navigation, canyon crossings and lengthy distances. However, the rewards are plenty, and this will surely rank as one of the more unique climbs you will ever experience!
Sunrise at Lolamai Point, with Navajo Peak in the distance.
There is really only one viable approach for a hike atop Black Mesa, coming in from the west via Lolamai Point and Fir Springs.
On US-160, 50 miles east of Tuba City and 19 miles west of Kayenta, take Indian Route 41 south up a steep grade for 2.7 miles to a dirt road on the left marked 'B-Transfer'. Turn onto this road and stay straight, ignoring a side road marked as private. This road descends into a canyon and comes to a T-junction 2.8 miles later - turn left. Pass through a large gate after another 1.9 miles, then ascend a grade to come upon the plateau. Pass a cattle grate after another 3.9 miles, a gate after another 1.2 miles, another cattle grate after yet another 1.2 miles and come to a fork in the road - and another gate - after another 0.7 miles. This is one possible starting point for the hike. You can also turn left for about another mile to Lolamai Point, and start there as well.
Four-wheel drive is not necessary but high-clearance is. The final road to Lolamai Point is a bit sandy.
Here's a log with cumulative mileages:
0.0: Intersection of US-160 and IR-41.
2.7: Left onto 'B-Transfer'.
5.5: T-junction, go left.
7.4: Large gate. (See Note A)
11.3: Cattle grate.
12.5: gate. (See Note B)
13.7: Cattle grate.
14.4: Fork in road. Left goes to Lolamai Point. (See Note C)
A: This gate has been reported over the years to have lots of locks, chains and unfriendly signs, but it is not reliably locked as the road is used to access the communications towers atop Lolamai Point. Even so, there is a possibility this gate will be locked, and your Black Mesa mission will end here, for all intents and purposes. Probably, however, you will be able to get past this gate. Make sure you close it afterwards! Don't dally- close it, and proceed on.
B: This gate is new (I saw it here in 2004, but don't recall it in 2000), but also seems to remain unlocked. Be sure to close it afterwards.
C: There is another gate at this fork, but you should not proceed past it as it is usually locked, or if unlocked, probably just temporarily.
Lastly, having permits in hand does not grant you complete freedom to be wherever you want to be. Should you happen upon some locals, be friendly and honest and state your business. You should have no problem. But, there is the possibility you could be asked to leave. Much of what I am including here is based on my two trips here and on anecdotal information gleaned from others. On our 2004 trip here, one of our intended partners got stopped by a local and was asked to leave, but he came back a few months later without any difficulty and made the hike. By and large, most people who come this way have no troubles. Do your part by closing all gates and being as courteous as possible at all times.
Monument Valley sprawls out in the distance as seen from the north rim of Black Mesa
Although Black Mesa is within the traditional Hopi homeland, the actual hike and approach roads lie on the Navajo Nation, thanks to some arbitrary placement of the boundaries back in the late 19th century. You'll need a permit to hike and camp on the lands. You can get one in person at the Navajo Vistors Center in Cameron, at the intersection of US-89 and AZ-64 about an hour north of Flagstaff. They are open weekdays only and charge (as of 2004) $10 per adult per day. Their number is (928) 679-2303. Karen Yazzie has proven to be very helpful over the years in dealing with requests over the phone (allow yourself some lead time if procuring permits over the phone and mail). If you just 'show up' and no one's home (as happened to us), go next door to a big souvenir store and ask around there for help.
Cameron Vistors Center
P. O. Box 549
Cameron AZ 86020
If they ask where you'll be hiking, I've simply mentioned "Kayenta Point on Black Mesa". They just want to be sure you won't be near some sensitive religious or cultural sites, and you won't on this hike.
This area falls into a broad gray area regarding public access. The Navajo Nation has a handful of places open to the public, and a handful of places shut to outsiders. Some may assume that if it's not explicitly "open", then it must be closed. I beg to differ: we have been completely forthright to the Navajo Recreation people when telling them where we plan to be and they have granted us the permits for other such "gray" areas. Whether any locals you may meet feel the same way is a different question. Again, our experiences have been positive. We tell whoever we meet our plans and no one has told us to get lost yet. I think a lot of courteousness, friendliness and honesty will go a long way in cases like this. There is always the possibility you may meet someone who has a real beef with your presence. If that's the case, don't push your luck and simply leave.
You will likely arrive the day before and bush camp at Lolamai Point. It's not developed, but there are some flat spots for a tent or two. There are free-roaming cattle in the area. The views down from the rim here are amazing, especially of Navajo Peak (in Utah) to the north.
External LinksMy personal trip report at surgent.net
Black Mesa trip reports on cohp.org
The Peabody Coal Mine
You will certainly notice a conveyor belt suspended across US-160 near the intersection with IR-41, and an enormous silo of sorts to the south. This is a pipeline of coal slurry (coal mixed with water) which is eventually sent to the Navajo Power Plant near Page, AZ. The Peabody Coal Mine operation is a source of contention for both the Navajo and Hopi peoples, for many reasons: the water used by the company has lowered the water table and dried up wells, the company has excavated large tracts of land, and it has had an inordinate amount of say in the various land delineations between the Navajo and Hopi Nations (including contentious royalty battles). Generally, not a nice neighbor. Your presence might be associated with that of the mining company.
Kayenta Benchmark and "Kayenta Point"
Some minor points to consider:
Once on the main northernmost promontory, the map shows Kayenta Benchmark to be located in a thicket of forest on the west end of this broad promontory. However, the actual highest point is to the east (as is described on this page). There is no official name for this highpoint - Kayenta Point is as agood as any. Fans of the highpoint will probably give Kayenta BM a miss, but others will probably want both. I personally have not hiked to the Benchmark on either of my two visits up there. Please see Dennis Poulin's Trip Report (left sidebar) for their journey to the BM.
Keet Seel and Betatakin Ruins - Navajo National Monument
At the intersection of US-160 and IR-41, go north along AZ-564 a few miles to the entrance to the Navajo National Monument and the famous Betatakin and Keet Seel ruins. For more information, see:
Navajo National Monument