My wife Deb and I love hiking isolated trails. Occasionally we throw in a ghost town exploration. Our latest adventure to the Gold Butte area encompasses both plus a side trip to the mother of all sink holes in the middle of nowhere. First was Devil’s Throat (the large hole), next the Gold Butte town site, and finish up with a hike in Lime Canyon.
This adventure was the result of Deb placing third in a Protect Gold Butte photo contest hosted by Friends of Nevada Wilderness and Friends of Gold Butte. She won the opportunity to camp overnight near the Gold Butte town site with other winners and two veteran Gold Butte explorers (Jim Boone and Jose Witt)—including Deb and me, a group of seven.
The Gold Butte region comprises 350,000 mostly wilderness acres administered by the Bureau of Land Management. Parts are designated as Areas of Critical Environmental Concern for its tortoise habitat; cultural and historical resources; and natural, scenic, and botanical qualities. It is located west of the Arizona border, south and east of the Virgin River, and north of the Colorado River. This territory is where the Great Basin, Mojave Desert, and the Colorado Plateau meet, each contributing a colorful piece to the region. People in Mesquite, and other nearby areas, are working hard to upgrade the legal status to National Conservation Area that affords more protection for this fragile environment. The terrain is rugged and high clearance vehicles (and sometimes four-wheel drive) are required for many of the back roads. I highly recommend a high clearance vehicle for this adventure. You can drive to Whitney Pocket in a standard vehicle, beyond that is not a good idea.
There are no restroom facilities or water available in the Gold Butte territory, although the Whitney Pocket locale has primitive camping spaces. Humans have a long history in the Gold Butte region as witnessed by what they left—Native American rock art (petroglyphs), the Gold Butte ghost town, and structures at Whitney Pocket built by Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930s.
We left St. George on a crisp late October morning. The first leg of the journey was simple—go south on Interstate 15 and drive approximately nine miles past Mesquite to Exit 112 (Riverside/Bunkerville exit). Take the exit and continue south three miles crossing the Virgin River. Once across, the first intersection is Gold Butte Road. Turn right (west) at the intersection and set your trip odometer to 0. Gold Butte Road is paved, although not well maintained. The first five miles roughly parallel the Virgin River and take you past some horse ranches. Stop along this stretch for nice photos of the meandering river. Later you’ll see an oasis at ten miles and around 13.8 miles in catch a glimpse of Lake Mead to the west. At 21 miles, near Whitey Pocket, the paved road ends.
We continued south on the now unpaved Gold Butte Road for 7.2 miles and turned right (west) onto Mud Wash Road at the sign for Devil’s Throat and Red Bluff Spring. While there are no additional signs Devil’s Throat is impossible to miss.
At .3 miles is a fork in the road, we went left and quickly reached the parking area. From the parking area we passed through a gate and to the fence surrounding the pit. The fence is meant to keep visitors a safe distance from the hole. However, some of the rim is undercut and even staying outside the fence could lead to disaster if the rim decided to collapse. The circumference of Devil’s Throat is about 150 yards, and we estimated the depth at 120 feet. We circled the abyss snapping photos. This is not so much a hike as a short stop to quickly explore an interesting natural wonder.
After this side trip, we returned to Gold Butte Road and continued south for 12.4 miles (19.6 miles from the start of the dirt portion of Gold Butte Road) to a cattle guard marking the entry to the Gold Butte town site area. After another .4 miles is a fork and we went left (east). In about 10 yards the road passes through an old fence line and into the Gold Butte town site.
The main part of town, established in 1906, occupied an open area about 200 yards wide. Located within this general locale was a post office, hotel, stable, saloon, and general store. Gold was discovered in the area in 1905. Miners poured in, but the ore was poor and the boom petered out about 1910. At its peak in 1908, the town had an estimated 2,000 residents, most living in tents since lumber was expensive to ship in. The entire Gold Butte Mining District only produced about $75,000 in gold, coper, magnesite, lead, and zinc.
By 1910 the gold rush was over and most mining operations ceased. No buildings remain, only a couple concrete slabs/foundations, two well-maintained graves, some rusting mining equipment, and several old mine shafts.
We wandered around for about an hour inspecting the ruins and speculating on the tough life the miners lead.
After a night of snappy campfire conversation and sky watching, our group was up at dawn. (I discovered the world does exist prior to 8:00 am.) After a hardy breakfast, we headed out to hike Lime Canyon in the 23,233 acre Lime Canyon Wilderness. The road, heading northwest (turn right), is only a few yards past the turnoff to Gold Butte town site. It is signed for Red Bluff Spring. After 3.1 miles on a rough dirt road, we turned left (west) off the main road onto a .8 mile long feeder route to the trailhead. (This road is very rough. It is supposed to be one mile long, but we stopped at .8 mile.)
The trailhead elevation is 2,840 feet and the temperature was in the mid-70s with storm clouds beginning to show as our little group began hiking.
The Lime Canyon Wilderness is dominated by rolling hills, parallel ridges running north-south, and sandy washes. Lime Canyon, oriented east-west, cuts through Lime Ridge and drains into Lake Mead. It is quite narrow in places with grey-orange sedimentary rocks towering above, many with rock layers at crazy angels. The hike of 2.7 miles roundtrip took slightly more than 1.5 hours. It is an easy hike with a 240 feet elevation change (downhill going in, uphill on the return trip).
If you need to fill a day with outdoor adventure (and who doesn’t?), try Gold Butte. It is free and no permits necessary. Any one of the three places we explored is a worth the time and effort. All three in one trip is an abundance of outdoor activity not soon forgotten.
1,126 words in the body of the essay October 2016
My name is Tom Garrison and I wrote the above essay. I am now retired and enjoying libertarian life in beautiful St. George, Utah with my wife Deb and two cats. My latest book, Hiking Southwest Utah and Adjacent Areas, Volume Two was recently (September 2016) awarded 2nd place in the non-fiction category of the League of Utah Writers published book contest. It is available at Amazon.com and the Desert Rat outdoor store in St. George. You have my permission to publish my email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
126 North 2940 East
St. George, Utah 84790
Home phone: 435-627-1312
Bird and Hike.com website. “Gold Butte: Area Overview.” Last modified September 9, 2016. http://www.birdandhike.com/Areas/GoldButte_Area/_gb_area.htm
Bird and Hike.com website. “Gold Butte Town Site.” Last modified September 9, 2016. http://www.birdandhike.com/Hike/GoldButte/POI-gb/Townsite/_Townsite.htm
Bureau of Land Management. “Gold Butte.” Last modification unknown. http://www.blm.gov/style/medialib/blm/nv/field_offices/las_vegas_field_office/acec_route_maps.Par.15911.File.dat/Gold%20Butte%20web%20map%20small.pdf
Bureau of Land Management. “Lime Canyon Wilderness.” Last modified October 24, 2013. http://www.blm.gov/nv/st/en/fo/lvfo/blm_programs/blm_special_areas/wilderness/wilderness_info_page/lime_canyon_wilderness.html
Friends of Nevada Wilderness website. “Gold Butte.” Last modification unknown. http://www.nevadawilderness.org/gold_butte
Gold Butte History website. “Gold Butte History.” Various dates for several posts. http://goldbuttehistory.blogspot.com/
Wikipedia. “Gold Butte, Nevada.” Last modified May 14, 2016. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gold_Butte,_Nevada