Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Offroad: Gold Butte - Middle Area for Seniors

Absolutely anyone who has been on Gold Butte more than once in the past three years will immediately recognize the devastating effect the "Great BLM Barricade Project of 2009" has had on Seniors ability to visit sites they have been to for years and years.

Add that to the "landscaping" and "corrals" the fiends of Gold Butte have inflicted on the area and people who have lived here for years can't even recognize the place even if they could get to it.

Even though the Great BLM Trail Closure decimated accessibility to seniors, this post describes a full day ride through the Middle Gold Butte riding area, full of great color and things to see (if you can hike)… and to remember (if you can't).   [A free Google Earth file of this route is available at: Middle Gold Butte For Seniors.]

Whitney Trailhead

Getting around The Butte pretty much is a full day's activity, no matter where you decide to go. So, like your mother used to teach you: go to the bathroom before you go because facilities are "primitive" (i.e. non-existent) once you leave Bunkerville. Additionally, don't even start your car until you have made sure you have 1- a full tank of gas, 2- A MAP, 3- at least a quart of water for every person, 4- good footwear, 5- a walking stick … and 6- a camera!

You can drive your street vehicle all the way to the new "parking corral" at Whitney Junction on the "paved-at-one-time" New Gold Butte Road. At least that's what the maps all call the road into Whitney. Somewhere in history there must have been an "old" version; but believe me, the one you'll be riding on is anything BUT "new."

Turn south off of Riverside Road near Bunkerville and you will run about 21.2 miles along the Virgin River, farm yards and melon fields, through a gap in the Virgin Mountains and onto the Mojave Desert floor above Lake Mead. You know you are there when the pavement stops and you see all the barriers they've recently put up to – well, I don't know, "put everyone in their place." There are natural berms and washes which actually have done the same thing for centuries; but, this gave the "fiends" some press time in the local newspaper.

To the left is Whitney Pockets and the Parashant area, but straight ahead is where we're going: Middle Gold Butte. If you are parking a trailer, so you can ride an offroad vehicle, a staging area is to the right. Camping is either around the corner to the left, or back a ways next to the rocks.

Since the barricades went up, on occasion a driver thinks he will be the only one there and parks skeewampus, so only half the normal number of rigs will fit in the area. In that case you may need to do what others have begun doing and go back to parking all along the road further down the butte.

However, if you have a Jeep or other high-clearance, 4-wheel drive vehicle, you should be fine on the trail we will be taking and will still be able to keep out of the dust (although the center of gravity and wheel base makes for a lot rougher ride). Notice the large bi-colored rock to your left at Whitney. That will be a good landmark to look for when you return this evening. Set your odometer to zero and "saddle up."

Pretty close to 3.8 miles down the road you will drop down into a wash and see signs that others have parked their rigs there, as well as a BLM warning sign about staying on trails and protecting resources. This is Mud Wash and is one of the entrances to Middle Gold Butte, the one we'll be taking. About three miles further on is the exit we will be coming out of, near Devil's Throat.

Mud Wash

The biggest surprise about Mud Wash is that: it can actually still have water - ever! It is full of sand, punctuated with 3-man rocks at strategic intervals to test your under-carriage and driving skills. But honestly, the fall… and winter… and spring storms this year have taught us all that it must. Every time we have come this year, this wash has a completely new landscape! Even big rocks have been moved around – and it's not just "senior moments"… really!

At odometer 4.9 miles there is a small side wash coming in from the south. There is a small sink hole (compared with others on the butte) about 50 - 100 yards up the wash and up the embankment should you want to see it. It is NOT MARKED and has NO FENCE so you really need to watch where you are putting your feet as you hunt for it – better to wait and see a bigger hole on the way out.

At 6.87 miles you will see a trail running back to the east. That is the way we'll be going out and runs back to the Gold Butte Road, via Devil's Throat. For now continue forward, southwest, along whatever route the wash has decided to take today.

At 7.5 miles an obvious trail runs north up the hillside toward the red cliffs – the Lollipops trailhead.

Lollipops Trailhead

"Lollipops" is the name for a set of petroglyphs which look like, well, Lollipops – a circle with a line drawn out of it. Actually, I've not been able to see them yet due to the habit of other blog posters to falsify the locations they are writing about. For whatever reason they may want people to believe they are following, they clearly have no concern that seniors have little energy to waste in "traipsing" and needless wandering.

There are, however, some other quite unique petroglyphs on the cliffs a 0.6 mile hike along a sandy trail from the trailhead. To get to the trailhead, run about 0.5 mile up the trail from Mud Wash to the BLM post and cable barricade.

The hike to the glyphs is through sand, sometimes fairly deep, but is otherwise quite flat and along the base of some nice, deep red cliffs. The trail you are following gives memories of how earth's inhabitants traveled for thousands of years, until the BLM took charge. The locals used this route in their yearly migration to cooler climates and back and gives no surprise that we find "post it notes" of their travels in the cliffs.

You can easily spend a couple of hours getting in and out, having lunch and examining the glyphs; so, this would be as good a time as any to discuss the timing of today's trip. We will be seeing a couple of features right on the trail. Additionally, there are three areas we'll be at where there are possible hikes; this is one of them.

If you have the "oomph" you can choose to hike around two of the places we'll visit, but probably not all three. Lollipops is shortest and easiest, Devil's Fire is second in length and difficulty and Kurt's-Babe's is the longest. All have great things to see. It's a shame to miss any and year-before-last we didn't need to; but, unfortunately, now we need to choose.

Mud Wash Petroglyphs

Not 100 yards along the Mud Wash trail from the Lollipops trailhead turn-off, there is an alcove in the northwest rock wall where massive amounts of either water or wind has worn a protected wall and allowed it to be covered with Desert Varnish. Native Americans then covered it with rock art.

These Mud Wash Petroglyphs are probably about the most easily accessible glyphs on the butte and well worth spending some time at and photographing. A recent marking by a vandal has been removed but the BLMs erasure marks are still visible. Of more concern however, is the fact that layering in the sandstone occasionally allows a portion to slip; coupled by the fact that whenever the humidity changes the rocks "weep" alkaline lechate through their pores, almost making it look like it has snowed.

On the rock wall to the south, about chest height, is a brass geological survey marker – one of many you can see along today's trail, if you are watchful. The route we are on was not only surveyed for mining activities but to lay out the congressionally designated "backcountry byway" that we are following (which is probably the only reason that the BLM hasn't closed it off as well, they can't).

Devil's Fire - Oasis, Formations and Petroglyphs

We need to zero out odometers and head around the corner. At 1 mile you will pass a cattle corral in the middle of the wash. It's on a little higher plane which has allowed it to survive these years midst all the water.

Amazingly, it's visible on Google Earth, just zoom in on the map I have published with this post and see for yourself. Reminiscent of former times one still cannot imagine what those animals could forage on. The BLM has done away with cattle leases long ago so it hasn't been used in many years.

You probably won't notice it, but the wash turns back to the north and at 3.2 miles is joined by another very large wash coming from the east – Red Rock Springs. This is the route to our second area to explore: the Oasis and Devil's Fire (AKA Hobgoblin's, Little Finland) just a mile and a half from this turn off.

The trail up Red Rock Springs Wash runs east then turns back south again before it opens up into a wide sandy playa with red cliffs and palm trees visible in the distance. Actually, last year there was a half-mile hike into the Oasis as well, due to the BLM contractor thinking "this is a better place for a post and cable blockade." Public outcry made the BLM go back to following their original closure plan and remove the barricade.

Now, once again, we can ride across the sand and get near the trees. They are non-native but are extremely old and growing well due to the nearly year long seep of water from the rocks. This is: the Oasis. Above your head, on the cliffs, is Devil's Fire. It has obviously been visited for thousands of years as well, even without the trees. We know this because of the age of the petroglyphs found in the area.

There are two sets, and because I think it's far better that people can walk directly to them instead of wandering aimlessly across rock formations in search of them, I'll tell you where they are. You can get to both sets of glyphs directly without even needing to walk anywhere close to the delicate rock formations!

The first set is in an alcove in the center of the back cliffs behind all the wind-blown tendrils of fire. You need to walk up the sandy incline to the north and hunch through the fence. The blue GPS track should lead you toward them buy bouldering across the flat sandstone to the cliffs then walking along them until you go behind a large rock and into an alcove. The glyphs are high up on the back wall.

The second set is clear on the other side of the Oasis cliff (south side.) Even if you don't want to climb up the narrow ledges to the top, the walk along the Oasis is nice, and mostly flat through sand. Crossing an old fence you eventually come to an open spot sort of surrounded by a very old rock wall. At that point, make your way close to the cliff and you will see a series of flat spots which can act as a "stairway" of sorts with hand-holds to the top.

Once at the top, look around. Within about 50 feet there are three large flat-topped rocks which have glyphs on the top of them (i.e. horizontal surfaces). Don't let your animals or grand-kids climb on them; in fact, they probably shouldn't be up on the cliff anyway.

If you didn't do lunch at Lollipops you'll probably be ready for it now. Down by the trees there is shade and flat places to sit. There are no garbage receptacles anywhere on the Butte, so police after yourselves. In fact, everyone should take at least one extra piece of crap with them off the butte.

When you're ready, head back the way you came into Mud Wash were you should zero out your odometer once again.

Kurt's Grotto and Petroglyphs

We'll now continue on northward in Mud Wash around the corner for 1.1 miles. Believe it or not, this still is the Backcountry Byway. A new fence has been place at that point which creates almost a 5 mile detour to those wanting to go through the "narrows." Fortunately, for us, we don't so the trail up the bank to the south is really where we want to go.

At mile 2.8, there is a trail to the left then one to the right but don't take either. Continue straight up the incline, around a couple of switchbacks, and to the top of the mesa between the Mud Wash and the Gold Butte Wash. You will eventually loop around and find yourself at another post and cable parking corral, at 4 miles.

Nancy Hall, the paid lobbyist for the fiends of Gold Butte, got a lot of face time with the local paper two years ago taking credit for this wonderful piece of crap (my opinion) which prevents safe travel to the grotto. Fearing public outcry from the majority of area residents (i.e. seniors) she pontificated that they would be creating alternate access "for people of all abilities" – yea, right! [Three years have now come and gone. No access; but, we've got two other additional parking garages instead. Again, my opinion]

None-the-less, Kurt's Grotto is down at the bottom of the cliff's before you and through the break in the rocks. And, we should probably talk about this/these hikes as well. There are two things to see on the mesa: Kurt's Grotto and Babe's Butte (over behind the cliffs to the left of where you're looking at). If you want to see them both, it's easier to hike from here, to the grotto, around to Babe's and out to the trail, than it is to walk in and out of both sites. If you have someone to drive around and meet you on the other side, that's the way I'd do it.

The grotto, from here, is about a half-mile down the drop-off, over to the cliffs and around to the opening. Hiking in and out will take 1.5 - 2 hrs. There are ancient petroglyphs all along the cliffs to the right; the entrance to the grotto is nearly hidden by a large Mesquite tree in its opening. There are more petroglyphs (and graffiti) along the narrow passageway between the rocks and an amazingly resilient tree in the middle of the grotto opening.

The passageway narrows again on the other side of the grotto but large rocks have fallen and closed it off not much further on. The whole area is illuminated only from the "skylight" above and is therefore 10-20 degrees cooler – a welcome respite.

Exiting the grotto mouth, look up and to the right and you will see "Kurt's Lizard" – I figure if Kurt can have a grotto he can have a lizard too. Possibly keep his dog, Babe, company.

Now you can either: hike back up the steep trail to the parking lot (0.5 mi); or, turn right (northeast) along the original trail to Babe's Butte trail (0.5 mi). Following the established trail, it's mostly flat along the cliffs until you drop down into a shallow wash. Keep looking to the right on the large boulders and you will see another panel of petroglyphs.

At the "T" in the trail, to the right is Babe's Butte (0.1 mi) and to the left is the main trail (0.3 mi).

Babe's Butte Petroglyphs

You can see clearly where the trail used to end at Babe's Butte below a giant split rock which looks like it's going to fall over. With binoculars you can see petroglyphs right from where you are on a rock directly in front of you, a few feet off the ground. There are two other sets of glyphs around on the back side.

A walking trail continues ahead to the right and winds around behind the large rock face. The trail isn't bad but eventually leads to the need for some bouldering skill/ability. The first panel is thousands of years old and barely visible on a boulder-face.

A second set is between a crack in the cliff back north of the first set – yes, it's a lot easier to approach them this circuitous route than to try and climb up to them from the front. You haven't seen them all until you've walked clear through the crack to the other side.

Back at the "T" intersection, continue straight ahead for only 0.3 mi on flat trail to the main trail (where your buddy is supposed to meet you). From here we are heading off the mesa, back into Mud Wash and out to Devil's Throat.

Devil's Throat Sink Hole

You will run southeast along the trail until a series of switchbacks will dump you out into Mud Wash again where you can zero out your odometer for the last time. Turning right (east) you will pass the Mud Wash Petroglyphs and recognize the turnoff that I mentioned on the way in at 1.3 miles. Keep to the right this time and you will soon find yourself out of the wash and following the brown "backcountry byway" flipper signs all along the way.

At 3.7 miles an unmarked "designated trail" leads to the right and you will soon find yourself behind yet another [needless and expensive] parking corral: Devil's Throat. It's so large that you can see it on Google's satellite images and protected all around with a chain link fence. An "official looking" guy with a "sink hole finder" patch on his shirt told me once that the Butte is pock-marked with sink holes - a great reason NOT to be on the Butte in the dark, especially off the beaten path.

Not 0.3 miles further along the main trail you will appear at the New Gold Butte Road again and you should be able to find your way home from here. You are only 3.3 miles south of where we went into Mud Wash – just head toward the bi-colored rock (north).


Linda said...

I've been to this area and agree that they are not considering seniors like myself when fencing off these areas. They've just done the same thing in the area east of Leeds, Utah in the Red Rock area. Closing these roads shows a complete lack of understanding or consideration for our elderly seniors. Thanks I'll share this page on our Facebook Page. https://www.facebook.com/pages/In-The-Desert/350444715088?ref=hl

Post a Comment

Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. I will, of course, be moderating all comments to make sure (a) they conform to the standards of good taste set forth by Offroading Home; and (b) nope that's pretty much it.