Teetering between moderate and easy, this hike appears – from the mostly flat Oklahoma landscape – out of nowhere. The grand mesas attract the eye from a distance and the trail brings you right to the top where you’re greeted by red cedar, prickly pear cactus and buffalo grass. Feel like you’re walking on Mars as the red dirt swirls around you and the gypsum crystal embedded along the path sparkles as far as the eye can see. It’s 1.5 miles roundtrip with 250 feet of elevation gain right off the bat to kick the lungs into gear after a likely long drive there.
Get Ready: Unless you are one of the fewer than 3,000 people that live in Fairview, Oklahoma, you will likely have a drive ahead of you to get toGloss Mountain State Park, home of the Cathedral Mountain Mesa Trail. On top the Mesa would be the perfect place to have a little picnic. Plan to bring lunch, hang out and enjoy the view. Look for wild and plant life – just watch out for the rattlesnakes. The arid prairie habitat is home to jack rabbits, badgers, roadrunners, turkey vultures and more.
Get Set: From Tulsa, you’ll jump on Highway 412 west and stay put for two hours and 30 minutes. There are two tolls so make sure to bring about eight dollars in change. You’ll pass through Enid which is a good place to stop and get gas. About 30 minutes out you’ll pass over the Cimarron River.
At this point, you’ll get your first glimpse of the giant red mesas shooting from the flat earth surrounding them.
The highway straightens out and heads straight into the middle of the towering rock formations. You’ll turn right into Gloss Mountain State Park. Be sure to stop before entering the gate, there are interesting boards describing the history. For example, this area was once hunting ground for plains Indians like the Apache, Kiowa and Comanche. Once called the Glass Mountains because of the way the crystals sparkled in the sun and even at night. A clerical error accidentally changed the name to Gloss. Along with Indians, some outlaws called the mesas home, too.
Go: You’ll park in the roomy lot and head for the trailhead. It’s hard to miss as it ascends straight up the side of the mountain. You’ll be looking up in awe, but be sure to look down too.
The white pebbles on the ground sparkle in the sunlight. On the side of the trail there are buckets that are (sometimes) filled with gypsum for the taking.
The trail up isn’t the usual ascent. Test your balance as you look at the beautiful landscape and try to stay upright on the metal open back stairs that lead you up up and away. The stairs were somewhat difficult for my dogs to navigate but go slow and it’ll work. About halfway up the ascent you’ll scale some white sparkly gypsum. The stairs aren’t over yet, but if you do get tired, halfway up there is a bench to take a rest. Once you crest the mesa, take a deep breath. The trail is easy to follow as it loops around the flat top. A look over the side and you can stretch eyes as far as they can see. Feel the openness of being so high up on such a flat surface.
Effort: For experienced hikers this trail could be done in 30 minutes or less. If you want to take pictures it’ll take longer. For less experienced hikers, it’s a short hike, but the ascent really is steep. There’s no shame in taking your time to soak in the view.
Takeaway: This hike truly is a gem in the middle of Oklahoma. It’s surprising and beautiful; I only wish it was longer.
The stairs on the way up were really tricky for the pups to navigate. They have holes in them and are backless. At one point, my less coordinated hound’s front and back legs slipped through. A quick lift from the belly and she was back on her feet, no harm done. My advice – take it slow.