Navajo County High Point Trip Report

Black Mesa

Date: August 15, 2002
Author: anonymous

It amazes me how much angst goes into figuring out the best/fastest/safest/etc. routes to these high points! There are at least five separate ways to reach the high point of Black Mesa. Not all are easily accessible, and at least two have the potential for property damage to a vehicle left in plain sight.

1. The so-called "standard" route via the road to Fir Spring and then a rim-walk beyond is not the fastest way to reach the Black Mesa high point, but you will have the least elevation gain/loss of any of the five routes. The problem with this access are two gates, one near a local residence in "Yazzie Wash" (left branch of Yellow Water Wash), and another one out near Lolamai Point. There are actually more than two gates along this road, but these two are the only ones that give most folks fits. The first gate is usually closed, but rarely locked. The second gate is always closed and usually locked. What is not shown on most maps is that this road system leads to two radio tower sites out on Lolamai Point. The service guys who maintain these tower sites are not locals, and to my knowledge do not have any special keys to pass through the first gate. I have never needed a key to get through this first gate either, but I have seen it chained in such a way as to make it appear securely locked. The second gate out on Lolamai Point will be a stopper for any vehicle unless one just happens to be there on a day the local rancher has it opened, and even then I wouldn't try it, as he may lock it behind you later in the day. There are two bypass routes around this gate, but both are tedious, and either will likely get you into trouble with the locals. No matter where you finally park your vehicle, it is still a long walk.

2. The second route is called the Yazzie Trail. It takes off from a parking area near the spot 6262 on the Kayenta West quad map. I have never put together a road log for getting out there, but it is fairly easy to find your way. You will pass by a tall water tank just before reaching the end of the road at a little-used sheep camp. I recommend parking at or near the water tower, as the locals at the sheep camp are not the friendliest folks around. The Yazzie Trail is actually a continuation of this entrance road, but quickly degenerates into a trail. I have found it to be the fastest and least bothersome route of the five. The Yazzie Trail starts near this point It then follows the ridge south to the rim at this point.

3. There is an old jeep road leading up to Tees Spa Spring (shown on the Kayenta West quad). With 4x4 you can almost reach the end of this road, and then it is a hike through an aspen grove and bramble thicket to the rim of Black Mesa. It will be a longer walk via this route than via the Yazzie Trail, but your vehicle will not be as noticeable to the locals (unless they saw you drive in, and even then they don't usually care about such things). There really isn't a trail from the spring to the rim, but there are various animal trails to follow.

4. Drive straight up Coal Mine Wash (CMW) and then hike up to the end of the main left branch. Once at the wind gap at the rim, climb up to the left (northwest) and it's a short walk to the high point. Sounds straight-forward, however there are two gates en route. The first one (just off or north of the haul road on the east side of its crossing of Coal Mine Wash) is usually locked. The second gate just north of the junction of the three upper branches of CMW is also locked. Even with access through that upper gate, the road ends within a little over a mile, so it's just as easy to park at the gate and walk the rest of the way. The main problem with this route is the long hiking distance involved, perhaps even more than coming in via the Fir Spring road. Still, there is no hassle with the locals over leaving a vehicle parked at or near the last gate. If you can find someone willing to come up via the Yazzie Trail and swap vehicles with you, this would be a very nice, although long, day hike.

5. One time I was able to find my way out onto the road system in upper Burnt Trees Wash and park where the maps show the roads closest to the mesa. It was an easy, albeit steep climb up to the backside of the wind gap noted in #4 above, shown in the extreme southwest corner of the Kayenta East Quad. This gap, by the way, is the one north of point 8098 on the maps, rather than the one closest to the highpoint. There is a persistent cliff below the latter that will probably cause you problems. There is an actual trail (of sorts) leading up to the correct gap, but the downside is the extra distance and extra elevation gain/loss. I suppose you could find a road below off the Kayenta-Chilchinbito road that will get you a bit closer to the proper wind gap, but I have never tried that. I crossed over the high point and then returned to my vehicle via the Yazzie Trail and a long cross-country across the flats. I don't recommend this access, mostly owing to the exposed nature of your vehicle, but also because it requires a great elevation gain, and the route up through the Dakota and Toreva formations is a bit steep.

6. One other way to access the Black Mesa highpoint, is by driving all the way up Moenkopi Wash to Rock Gap, and then hiking (a looong hike!) westward along the rim. I have never done it this way, but it could be done by those who are really paranoid about where they leave a vehicle.

I hope some of the above helps sort out the best way(s) to reach the Black Mesa high point. Personally, I would take the Yazzie Trail if I wanted a fast, relatively painless route up. If you have two vehicles, and two sets of folks who don't mind heading in opposite directions, there are all sorts of route combinations possible here without having to backtrack. All of the above routes or combinations of routes can be done as a day hike, provided you camped somewhere in the vicinity the previous night.

Several things. Don't go through the local Chapter House to arrange permits for anything on the Navajo Reservation. They will say no, and also they don't have final authority in such things anyway. If legality is an issue, write to the Navajo Parks and Recreation Department in Window Rock, or stop by the Cameron Visitor Center to pick up a permit in person. Whether you have a permit in hand or not will ultimately be a moot point if you run into hostile locals, as their gun will out-trump your permit every day of the week.

If the safety of your vehicles is a concern, I'd either go in via the Tees Spa Spring ("Aspen Spring") route, or up coal Mine Wash. The "standard" route is not as safe as either of those other two. If you have an old vehicle that looks like it might belong to a local, by all means, use the Yazzie Trail access; it is by far the shortest, easiest, and least likely to get folks lost (especially if it's necessary to return after dark).

If you can find someone who will drive a vehicle back out, you can go in via any of the mentioned routes, and then be picked up at another route, or at the same one later in the day. This may sound absurd, but you eliminate the vehicle problems, and you can do a through-trip, thereby appeasing those of your group who hate to cover the same ground twice on one hike.