by Tom Garrison
In the hiking world, the first and most important factor is finding the trailhead. Some are well marked, well-traveled, and easy to find. Others off the beaten path and require some effort. And then there are trailheads waaay out in the middle of nowhere demanding real effort from the hiker to even find the trail. My wife Deb and I have done all three, but prefer the latter two. The harder to reach trails tend to be more pristine and almost by definition have fewer visitors—hence solitude.
Our latest adventure entails the third type—a long drive on back county roads to a seldom visited area. The destination is Little Finland (aka Devil’s Fire or Hobgoblin’s Playground) in the Gold Butte region of southeast Nevada. If you enjoy water and wind-sculpted orange sandstone, easy hiking, some rock scrambling, and incredible vistas in a 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. 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 might be able to make it in a standard vehicle, but do you want to take the chance?
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 (established in 1908), and structures at Whitney Pocket built by Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930s.
We left St. George on a crisp January 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 on 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 3.9 miles and turned right (southwest) onto Mud Wash North Road at the sign for Gold Butte, Mud Wash, and Red Bluff Spring.
We traveled Mud Wash North Road for 3.1 miles and turned right (west) onto Mud Wash Road. The intersection is not signed, Mud Wash North simply merges into Mud Wash Road and winds northwest. We stayed on the main road and passed a wooden corral at 1.8 miles from the intersection.
After four miles we came to the intersection with Little Finland Road and turned right (east). It is 1.8 miles, in a southeasterly direction, from the intersection to the Little Finland trailhead.
The trailhead elevation is 1,740 feet and the temperature during our exploration was in the low 60s under a gray sky. It did clear up a bit toward the end of our time at Little Finland, but photos suffered from the overcast.
We began by following the trail, mostly in a wash. The exciting part of Little Finland is located on top of a relatively flat bench, about 50 feet above the sandy wash through which runs a small seasonal creek. In spots, the surrounding area is stained white by salt deposits. We found a not too step route and scampered up to the mesa.
A big surprise is the size of the strange rock formations. Most are only three or four feet tall. Squatting down to take photos makes them appear larger. Little Finland is an odd place. Rocks are supposed to be solid, stable. Maybe a little bit boring. Not here. Here the bright orange sandstone reaches and bends, folding into impossible shapes. How many millennia did it take for the forces of erosion to carve these marvels? Eventually they will crumble back into sand.
The Little Finland mesa runs generally north-south and extends about ½ mile. Along with great views, the eroded sandstone presented incredible formations—small arches and windows, cavities and deep fissures, competing with rock fingers for our attention. All of this rising above the flat desert plain.
We wandered around Little Finland for about 1 ½ hours and hiked about 1.8 miles.
I recommend this adventure combining strange natural beauty with solitude—we did not encounter any other humans. After exploring the wilderness, we stopped in Mesquite for a late lunch. What could be better?