Did you know that Mesquite is the gateway to Nevada’s newest national monument? A treasure trove of history and natural wonders awaits visitors of all ages and interests. These wonders include thousands of prehistoric and historic artifacts, rare and threatened wildlife such as the Mojave Desert tortoise and desert bighorn sheep, and dramatic geologic features exposing rocks that span millions of years.
Gold Butte National Monument (GBNM) is located southwest of Mesquite. Its northernmost border is just a few miles south of Bunkerville. Situated in between the Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument and the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, the new monument comprises almost 300,000 acres of land with over 350 miles of designated roads.With so much to explore, where does one start? Let this be a guide to help you begin your journey. We offer an easy and satisfying day trip to Whitney Pocket, in the heart of the monument.
How to get there
Traveling south from Mesquite on Interstate 15, take Exit 112 (Riverside/Bunkerville) and drive south for three miles. Cross the bridge over the Virgin River and turn west on the first road past the bridge, Gold Butte Road.
The Gold Butte Road is roughly paved for 21 miles. As you travel this road, you pass farms along the river and a homestead at an oasis. Around mile 11, you will enter the boundary of the monument. Soon after passing the boundary sign, the road climbs over a mountain pass between the Virgin Mountains and Black Ridge, two prominent features that delineate the northern boundary of the monument. As you continue down to the valley below, look to the west for spectacular views of Lake Mead.
Exploring Whitney Pocket
The pavement ends at the Whitney Pocket area and the road splits into two graded dirt roads. The road to the east will take you into Arizona. The road to the south will allow you to continue through the center of GBNM. Whitney Pocket is a spectacular place to see the diversity of history, geology, and ecology in the monument.
Popular for camping, picnicking, and day-hiking, Whitney Pocket is surrounded by large, multi-colored Aztec sandstone formations. Park at the information kiosk and start exploring. For an easy one-mile hike, look to the east of the parking area across the Gold Butte road. There, a designated route, marked by a vertical carsonite sign, circumnavigates a large outcropping of Aztec sandstone. Walking up the hill along this route, you will experience the towering walls of red rock turned completely on its side by geologic faulting. Looking in the opposite direction, you can see the gray limestone rock that comprises the foothills of the Virgin Mountains. Joshua trees and Mojave yucca plants dominate your view in the foreground. These plants give way to the pinyon and juniper forest that climbs the slopes of the mountain.
At the top of the road, there is a break between sandstone rocks, and the route turns south into a large camping area. Stop here and look closely at the walls beyond the wash. You may see the mysterious petroglyphs — images that are etched into the wall. The southern Paiute people call the petroglyphs “rock stories,” as the mysterious images tell of ancient travels and tribulations on this land. Tread lightly here. The ground is covered in a living biological soil crust and the historic sites are sacred to the Moapa Band of Paiutes.
Walk through the camping area until you reach the Arizona road and turn west. The road wraps around the south side of the large red rock outcropping. There is more history to be found here. Look for a stone masonry water trough. Behind it, tucked away in a short slot canyon, is a 20-foot masonry dam that was built by the Civil Conservation Corps (CCC) in the mid 1930s. The CCC was dispatched to the area to help provide infrastructure for ranching operations and flood control efforts. Look across the road and you will find a masonry wall built at the front of a rock shelter to store equipment and tools.
Continue on the Arizona Road until you reach the parking area. Enjoy a picnic among the red rocks. The rock formations are a perfect place to climb and explore with kids. Stay until sunset and you will be treated to a pink-red glow emanating from the rocks around you.
For further information about points of interest and roads in GBNM, visit birdandhike.com. Please be advised that there are no services or bathrooms in GBNM and cell phone service is unreliable. Plan accordingly by telling someone where you are going, when you expect to return, and by bringing plenty of food and water.
Jaina Moan is the executive Director of the Friends of Gold Butte, an organization that promotes responsible enjoyment of Gold Butte National Monument. Visit www.friendsofgoldbutte.org for more information.