It would be hard to choose a favorite from all the national monuments we visited during the road trip, but if we had to then Gold Butte National Monument in Nevada would be high up on the list. Created in 2016, it protects a spectacular living landscape of desert and high plateau, filled with dozens of rare species and with sites of cultural and spiritual importance to local Native American bands and tribes. At almost 300,000 acres/121,000 ha, it was an important piece in a large conservation landscape: it connects the Lake Meade Recreation Area to the Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument, which then neighbors Grand Canyon National Park. Joshua trees typical to the Mojave Desert habitat dot the region, within the backdrop of impressive mountains with a complicated geological story. We visited in early November, but spring brings an explosion of colorful wildflowers to this dry landscape and is when you’ll get better chances of seeing desert tortoises. On the northern slope of the Virgin Mountains within the national monument hikers can find relics of Douglas fir, white fir, and Arizona cypress left over from the last Ice Age. You can find here a good description of a trail option that can take you to Virgin Peak. This particular section of the national monument was the most threatened during the 2017 review, but any final decisions remain in limbo. We spent two nights in Gold Butte, discovering the impressive Falling Man Rock Art Site which has now become a popular stop in the national monument (description of the short hike here), a stunningly beautiful area known as “Little Finland” (description here) and the vast Mud Wash dunes (description here). There are undeveloped campsites throughout Gold Butte, with fire restrictions strictly applying to this dry area. Because we were accompanied by Jim Boone, local expert and advocate for Gold Butte and Basin and Range National Monument, we fell completely in love with the beauty of this monument. Jim is also the writer of the most useful online resource for hiking in and visiting these two national monuments, which is why most of our links from this and the previous guide dedicated to Basin and Range lead to his website. He told us about the complicate history of the region, with its ancient cultures clashing with the wave of newcomers in the 19th century, which brought here mining and ranching. Within years of extensive grazing the bundle grasses native to Gold Butte disappeared and introduced ones spread across the ground, which is now the leading cause of wildfires expanding over large areas. Water sources became scarce and most of the activities were abandoned, while mining never really gave the expected results. Ghost settlements remain still from this era and abandoned mining claim markers become deadly traps for birds and other wildlife (read more about it here). More recently, in 2014, the lands now part of the national monument were the site of the Bundy armed standoff. The roads inside the monument are rather rough and suited for 4WD or AWD vehicles. They criss-cross the landscape and can connect you with the Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument in Arizona. We did a section of the drive across the state line on the Arizona Road (map for orientation) and the panoramic views as the road winds up are spectacular, but we decided to return after some time because entirely crossing Grand Canyon-Parashant along one of these rough roads with just one car represents a serious risk of getting stuck in a very isolated, harsh country without enough resources to get yourself out. The main gateway community to Gold Butte is the nearby small city of Mesquite, with a decent range of accommodation and amenities, while Las Vegas is 2.5 hours away. Since we visited Gold Butte with someone who knew a lot about it, we would recommend wholeheartedly to join a guided trip. The local organization supporting the monument, Friends of Gold Butte National Monument, frequently organize events, talks, guided hikes and volunteer days. And to gain a better understanding and appreciation of the Gold Butte National Monument, read the Presidential Proclamation through which it was established.
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