A beaut worthy of protection
Picturesque Gold Butte is one of Southern Nevada’s little-known treasures
As I drove through the desert east of Las Vegas, I tried to imagine what this place would be like if it achieved national conservation area status.
I have lived in Southern Nevada for more than 20 years but had never traveled to Gold Butte, one of two nearby areas being considered for federal protection.
Both Rep. Steven Horsford and Sen. Harry Reid have introduced legislation to protect Gold Butte and designate 350,000 acres a conservation area, including 129,500 acres of public land and 92,000 acres within the Lake Mead National Recreation Area for wilderness protection.
The Friends of Gold Butte calls the area “the hidden gem of the Southwest.” After seeing pictures, I knew I had to go.
You enter Gold Butte by heading north on Interstate 15 and taking the Riverside exit nine miles south of Mesquite. A paved access road along the Virgin River passes a number of ranches before bending south into the desert. After you climb out of the river valley, the Virgin River arm of Lake Mead becomes visible in the distance.
The pavement ends near Whitney Pocket, a collection of sandstone rock formations. It’s a good place to camp and where my college-age daughter and I set up our tents.
After watching a blazing desert sunset, we cooked dinner at a campsite we shared with absolutely nobody. In fact, we could count the number of vehicles we saw on one hand.
We stayed up watching streaks of light from the Perseids meteor shower and listened to owls hunting. A few jets nearing final approach to McCarran International Airport reminded us that we weren’t completely isolated.
The next day, we set out to find petroglyphs carved into the sandstone. We also drove farther into Gold Butte to find the Devil’s Throat, a 100-foot sinkhole caused by the collapse of a large limestone cave.
We ran out of time and had to save the Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument, Gold Butte ghost town and other sites for another trip.
What would change if Gold Butte received national conservation area status?
For starters, I probably wouldn’t be able to count the number of cars I see on one hand.
The designation also would put Gold Butte on the map and turn it into another one of Southern Nevada’s must-see outdoor attractions.
Some would say those are just as exciting as the Strip.