Black Mesa Nature Preserve

I just completed an interpretive signage project for my clients in Oklahoma. I started this project last summer, just a few days before the tragic tornado hit the town of Moore. When I heard the news, I contacted my client who lived a mile from the path of destruction. Although many of his friends and neighbors suffered damage, he and his family were spared. He wrote in his email that Oklahomans are a resilient bunch, and pull together in disasters. They’ve certainly had a lot of practice.

The project is located in Black Mesa Nature Preserve in the panhandle. Its claim to fame seems to be that it is the “highest point in Oklahoma”.

But I think they’re just being modest. It turns out to be a really interesting place.


Design and illustration by Denise Dahn.


My clients provided the background information and I wrote text, painted the watercolor illustrations and did the design. The final signs are 3 x 4 feet.

The Mesa is actually the remnant of a giant lava flow that filled up an ancient valley. The hills eroded away, and all that’s left is the black basalt-capped mesa.



Design and illustration by Denise Dahn.


And how do we know this? Geologists, of course. Those rock-loving scientists revealed the geologic history layer by layer, like reading pages in a book.

And, sometime back in the swampy Jurassic, dinosaurs roamed over this landscape, leaving their tracks in the stone. I chose an Allosaurus to illustrate. She doesn’t look as fierce as they are usually portrayed, but I’m sure even Allosauruses mellowed out once in a while.


Design and illustration by Denise Dahn.


And, there’s history too! The famous Santa Fe Trail passed right by the mesa. The Santa Fe trail linked Mexico and the States and was mostly used by freighters rather than pioneers. The trip was wild, rough, and dangerous.


Design and illustration by Denise Dahn


And, it wouldn’t be a Nature Preserve without wildlife. The mesa is a classic “edge habitat”, where overlapping plant communities result in rich species diversity.


Design and illustration by Denise Dahn


If you visit, you can climb a trail up the side of the mesa and southwest until you reach the trail destination spot: the “Highest Point in Oklahoma”. It is marked by a beautiful granite monument.

But personally, I think the geology, the history, and the plants and animals are the true high points of this trail.


Design and illustration by Denise Dahn