Photos & Story By Tom Garrison
We all know Nevada for, of course, Las Vegas and adesert seemingly more desolate than that found in southwest Utah. (I live in St. George, Utah.) But, if you have an adventurous spirit, there is a day trip you ought to consider—Whitney Pocket in the Gold Butte area south of Mesquite, Nevada.
If you enjoy wind-sculptured multihued sandstone, easy hiking, some rock scrambling, Native American petroglyphs, and incredible vistas in a mountain and desert wilderness try this exploration.
The Gold Butte region comprises 360,000 mostly wilderness (not a legal designation) acres administered by the Bureau of Land Management. Some is designated an Area 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. It is here the Great Basin, Mojave and Sonoran Deserts, 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. You can reach the destination for this adventure in a standard vehicle.
There are no restroom facilities or water available in the Gold Butte region, although the Whitney Pocket locale has primitive camping areas. Humans have a long history in the Gold Butte area. Whitney Pockets has Native American rock art (petroglyphs) and structures built by Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930s.
My wife Deb and I left St. George about nine on a crisp late November 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 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 a melon farm. Stop along this stretch for nice photos of the meandering river. Later on you’ll see an oasis and at about 14 miles in catch a glimpse of Lake Mead to the west. At approximately 21 miles, and at the end of the paved road, the road forks. The now unpaved Gold Butte Road continues south. Take the unsigned left (east) fork variously named the Arizona Road and Whitney Pocket Road. The parking area, and also the trailhead, is about .3 miles from the fork. Park in a wide spot off the road on the left (north) side of the road.We parked and began exploring, there are no improved trails. From the parking area, walk east and you soon find a concrete water trough. Turn north into a small canyon to explore the 25 feet tall CCC built concrete dam to catch run-off water—very impressive.
Retracing our steps, we examined a large very red rock formation across the road. This formation included a stone room built out of a large pocket in the sandstone.
Directly east of the largest formation, another outcropping beckoned. Walking the perimeter we found one petroglyph panel. If you seriously explore this area, you will probably find others.
Everywhere we hiked the colors were striking. At several locations we availed ourselves to wonderful photos of red, yellowish, and white sandstone formations accented by Joshua Trees and framed by distant grey/brown mountains and white streaked blue sky. These vistas alone were worth the trip.
Along with great views, the eroded sandstone presented incredible formations—small arches and windows, cavities and deep fissures, competed with rock waves for our attention. All of this rising above the flat desert plain.
The weather was fine for a late November hike; temperature in the low 60s with some high wispy clouds. The elevation at the trailhead is slightly above 3,000 feet. Unless you do some serious rock climbing, there is little elevation change. We circumnavigated the three large outcroppings—about 2 ½ miles total in a little more than two hours. We expected to have the area to ourselves, and were surprised by several trailers and at least a couple dozen people. We met and chatted about desert wonders with two couples from Colorado.
I recommend this adventure combining natural beauty with some interesting artifacts. After exploring the wilderness, stop in Mesquite for a late lunch or early dinner. What could be better?
Tom Garrison is retired and enjoying libertarian life in beautiful St. George, Utah with his wife Deb and two cats. His latest book, Hiking Southwest Utah and Adjacent Areas, Volume 1 will soon be available at all e-stores. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org