Sunday, December 12, 2010

Trail 1: Gold Butte Backcountry Byway and Mine

Despite a couple of rain and show storms, the 2010-11 Winter riding season is underway around Mesquite Nevada. Offroading Home accompanied the Kokopelli ATV club on its second ride this season (didn't want to brave their first ride in the snow).

There were several 'new' members along to make taking one of the "old standard rides" – the Gold Butte Backcountry Byway – very interesting and enjoyable, even when a sticky automatic-choke valve requred towing and cut the ride a tiny bit short.   [A free Google Earth file of this route is available at: Trail 1: Byway/Treasure Hawk.]

Whitney Junction
Even though we had eight or nine trailers, we were able to swing around the newly environmentalist-inflicted, railroad-tie fenced, control-those-nasty-offroaders parking lot they've landscaped the desert with now at Whitney Junction and still all fit in. That was most assuredly because we all arrived fairly close together and had the same goal as we swung around and parked properly. Surprised that the environmentalist scheme to landscape didn't fit in with what the area is actually used for? I'm not. Who's gonna break it to the campers that their spot is actually supposed to be a parking lot?

Remember that Gordon and I had tried – and failed – to park in the same place two weeks ago and needed to park on the road. There were only three other rigs in the place but they were arranged such that it prevented even one more rig from pulling through and parking. Thousands of dollars worth of crotch-high posts have been "landscaped" about 18-inches inside of the already-existing, naturally-occuring wash and ditch which limited the parking on three of the sides.

Now, with the new hardware, the "fear factor" of hitting one of those below eye level crappers makes campers want to plant themselves right in the middle of the area instead of along the periphery. Chock up yet another wasteful idiocy for the pseudo-land-loving environmental lobbyist who thinks post and cable barricaids and legislation against senior access is "the single silver bullet which will return the unicorns to the fields and the phoenix to the skies."   No information kiosk, nothing to protect the glyphs at First Rock, nothing to protect the glyphs at Mud Wash, nothing to enhance senior-rider safety or multi-use access to… well, anything; but, we sure need more landscaped parking lots!

Gold Butte Backcountry Byway
The "Backcountry Byway" system was "invented" by congress back in a much more citizen-friendly time when the fed system was actually trying to get taxpayers to vacation near home and trying to showcase the public-owned lands that it was managing. Only a few roads in the country recieved congressional action to set them aside as public byways (even if they never did adequately fund it) which prevents them from being closed by the BLM or other "management planning" schemes.

The Gold Butte Road was the major access to most of the mines in the entire area and so is of substantial historical significance. Some time in the past, beyond any of our memories, some grading work was done hence the changed map-label "New Gold Butte Road." It runs from Riverside Drive in Bunkerville, along the Virgin River to Whitney Junction then turns south down the pennisula to Gold Butte ghost town (GT).

The actual Byway forms a boot-shaped loop (sort of) running west from Gold Butte (GT) up the Gold Butte Wash Road, up and over what we call the "mesa at Kurt's Grotto," down into Mud Wash then back east along the wash to Devils Throat (sinkhole) where it re-connects with the New Gold Butte Road again.

Our trip mostly followed the Byway except in reverse order. There were a couple of alternate "designated route" bypasses we took in order to save enough time to allow a side-trip down to a mine from Gold Butte (GT).

Mud Wash
The turnoff into Mud Wash is perhaps a quarter-mile before Devil's Throat. You can recognize it by the BLM sign stating that this is a "Limited Use" area and you must stay on the trail. And, its size bespeaks the volume of water that can flash-flood during a rainstorm. It winds along the bluffs until entering some picturesque red rock with high walls.

Around a bend, obviously weathered into an alcove, above a BLM "protect our heritage" carbonite pole, are petroglyphs etched into the desert varnish. Vandals strategically placed some graffitti two summers ago but now pretty much all that remains is the etching done by the BLMs removal expert.

The raw break of the piece of rock which fell due to the California earthquake last year has already begun to weather and doesn't look "fresh" any more. The BLM claims that they retrieved the piece, are holding it, and feel that it was due to shocks from the earthquake; but, that doesn't stop the claims that it was "those damn offroaders." Unfortunately, adjacent natural cracks seem as though they are opening which doesn't seem to bode well.

Kurt's Grotto Mesa
The Byway continues down the wash to where it too has been closed by the BLM then climbs up onto the mesa. We took the alternate route just several yards down from the glyphs which climbs then parallels the wash up on top of the mesa.

It eventually loops around to the other side where a trail leads down and across a wash on the other side. That is the Gold Butte Wash Road which is well marked with Byway and GPS carbonite signs.

Gold Butte Wash Road
Most of this segment runs between cliffs and is colored with red rock. The route is well marked and there are a couple of side-loops which one can take if you've got the time. The trail provides access to the Lime Canyon Wilderness area (one of two already on the butte in addition to the large controlled access Lake Mead NRA), then runs through Tramp Ridge where the last vestages of a natural fire many years ago can still be seen.

Eventually, the trail runs past some (most offten) empty old watering troughs then out onto New Gold Butte Road immediately across from the empty space on the side of the road that was historic Gold Butte. Only a rusty, non-descript piece of metal remains from more bustling times and the recently-placed markers for two graves. Old-timers who spent their lives on The Butte and wanted to be buried there.

Lower Gold Butte Loop
A trail leading south out of the ghost town runs through a tremendous boulder field of monzogranite. "Pudding rock" some call it, or Mormon Concrete, it is really a conglomerate rock consisting of large quartz and other crystals.

Monzogranite formed from molten rock which cooled under great pressure and deep under the surface of the earth. Consequently, it cooled very slow and made very large crystals which contained many fracture planes. The locations that we know about were moved to the surface for some reason, where they could weather. Amazingly, because the fractures made it fairly easy, huge segments weathered smooth along the fractures and now look like giant boulders that some artisan had joint-fitted together.

Past the side-loop which runs through Pleasant Valley – where an abandoned semi-trailer is slowly disintegrating, the trail eventually leads to an area where until recently an historic gold mine was still active. I posted about this mis-carriage of the public trust last year. This year the removal process is about complete.

Treasure Hawk Mine
The once beautiful care-takers home is flattened to a concrete slab. Assay office is gone, ball mill is gone and tunnel entrance filled with debri, sorting room is gone with its magnificent mahogany panning table and they have bulldozed up the settling ponds.

What most of us begged to leave in place as the best mining museum in the entire country is now a piece of rubble! Thanks BLM! Not content to merely "scrooge" the owner out of his grandfathered lease, they refused to listen to reason (even from important land use groups) and apparently want to erase every possible asset which could be used as multi-use.

Sitting down in Las Vegas, the field office and directors don't want to do anything which would interfere with Harry Reid and his Sierra Club money source's plans to close the entire butte for hikers only.

The trail runs right past what could have been a great museum/ranger office and back to the lower Gold Butte road. Then, it's a simple matter of returning north to the trailhead.

The entire trip is about 52 miles in length as we took it and the 2,000 foot change in elevation was barely noticable for the amazing scenery.

Learn A Little More

Of course I wasn't able to offroad to the vatican to hear this concert in person, but from the looks of this clip it was quite an extraviganza. Even though the recording quality isn't the best, the song showcases John Denver's musical versatility… and makes one shake his head yet again over the tragedy of such an untimely death. What a shame – I'm sure he'd still be performing and writing offroad songs for us "boomers."

John Denver - Little Drummer Boy at the Vatican


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