Saturday, March 5, 2011

Offroad: Gold Butte - Virgin Mountains South

Probably one of the "best kept secrets" on Gold Butte (and there are many) are the trails north of Whitney Junction into the south side of the Virgin Mountains and toward the "Natural Area."

It is completely understandable, given the many things to see and do on the Butte, that people would go whizzing by "the Junction" without even looking up at the moutains. But if you are looking for a different kind of ride, sticking in the Whitney Pockets area may be a good deal for a change of pace.

First of all, the view is grand. You can see all of the upper Butte riding area clear down to the lake. And there are the red Aztec Formation sandstone rock cliffs, similar to those down at Valley of Fire. And, you can get at least an overview or "grand scheme" mental map of where else you've been. Also, the area has "adventures" in its own right.

And, fifthly, it's a completely different biome than down on the desert floor – and a lot cooler for a summer ride. Just shortly after leaving Nay's Ranch road up the hillside, the temperature can drop several degrees as you enter the shade of cliffs and the Pinon-Cedar biome.   [A free Google Earth file of this route is available at: Virgin Mountains South.]

To the "Turtle Fence"

If you want to explore the south side of the Virgin Mountains above Whitney Pockets, trailer to any of the trailheads in the Whitney Junction area and ride eastward toward the Parashant.

The first road to the left runs up to a BLM "protect the turtles fence." You can already tell that the ride would be cooler in the heat of the summer due to the cliffs and that even the plants enjoy it.

Just a half mile short of the top you run across a BLM post and cable fence, [arrow 1]. The sign claims that it's to "protect the turtles"; frankly however, between what we have seen of the poor communication and/or lack of accountabiltiy with the "block-em-off" contractors the BLM uses, that statement may just not have any basis in fact. We've seen demonstrated in too many places that, when it comes to actual signage, the "save-the-earth" mind-set of the contractor's give them no compuntction whatsoever against plying all the "spin doctoring" they want in order to "keep the riff-raff out of here!"

The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie -- deliberate, contrived and dishonest, but the myth, persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic. Belief in myths allows the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of actual thought.”
John F. Kennedy
Who knows, there may be turtles in the area; except that the trail runs adjacent and parallel to cliffs and it's got to be a rare breed of turtle, indeed, which climbs cliffs! Just about 800 yards further on is a currently open "designated trail," to which it connects. "Protecting the turtles," in this instance is just too specious of a reason to make any common sense. One suspects that someone thought using the "environmental card" would lessen the public questioning of what may be the real reason: "because we can and we want to."

Upper Gold Butte Overlook

Back on Nay's Ranch Road, the next road which turns off to the north will take you up into the Virgin Mountains. This designated trail, quickly changes biomes and one can easily see why it was chosen for a cattle corral back in the day's before the BLM froze out those with grazing permits on the Butte.

It's interesting to see how cattlemen provided water for the animals and even though they're just historical vestiges now, they still do their job well, only now merely for the indigenous flora and fauna (the turtles - make believe or otherwise - should be happy).

About 1 mile north from Nay's Ranch Road you will come to a "T" intersection [arrow 2]. To the east is toward Virgin Peak and the "Natural Area," where we will go next; for now, turn west (left) to the Whitney Overlook. There are "designated trail" signs along the route, which has been quite eroded in spots.

Near the overlook, the trail makes a sharp turn left due to "route closed" signs, and runs to the edge of the cliff – where someone felt it necessary to put up a "Trail End" flipper-sign [arrow 3]. The view from here is one of the best on the Butte. On a clear day you can see all the way to Lake Mead. Whitney Junction is directly in front of you, behind all the georgeous red rock.

It is completly unclear what the "protect our heritage" signs are warning about. No petroglyphs are obvious, however, we haven't personally scouted all the cliffs. There is a circular mound of sorts back aways from the cliffs. It is pretty non-descript in shape and really could be anything, including of Native American origin.

Virgin Peak and Natural Area

Back at the intersection [#2] head on strait up the trail toward the mountains and Virgin Peak. The day we took this ride it was as if we were going into a "land which time forgot." Possibly from the month of untimely cool and wet weather we had just endured; or, from the Brigadoon-like location between two canyon walls. None-the-less, Pinons were still in full glory laden with unopened cones… nearly two months late.

High canyon walls get even higher the farther you go up the canyon. It's a full 10 degrees cooler, or more, on the trail and even more than that in the segments which narrow between the rock cliffs.

There are several areas where the trail widens and you can tell are favorite spots of someone for spending the night, but the canyon is remarkably well preserved and clean. Other than a couple of fire rings, the day we were there we saw not other vestiges of human presence – well, unless you count a "prospect hole" high up on the cliff side.

We didn't go all the way up the trail however, due to the lateness of the day. We turned around at a clearing but the trail did continue further up the mountainside from where we were, how far we couldn't tell.

The ride back down the canyon is a completely different ride than the one you took coming up – and I don't mean just because you make right turns instead of left.

Obviously the view is different. Instead of seeing mountains you are looking at valleys, and you are seeing all the "back sides" of everything. You notice a lot more things on the way down that you did on the way up – perhaps it's due to not being so much focused, hunkered down into the trail.

At any rate, you are soon warming up as you leave the trees, your ears pop and you are back down to Nay's Ranch Road and the Whitney staging area; with complete and total resolve that you will be back one day to find one of those elusive "climbing turtles" or just whatever it is that the BLM doesn't want the public to see.

Learn A Little More

All this talk about using turtles for a purpose other than which they were intended, got me to thinking about a talk that I heard once by a man who had two passions while growing up: Rodents and Africa. Rodents, becasue he like them and found he could breed them and sell them to pet shops; Africa, because they had students from Africa living in their house and became entranced by their life's stories.

As an adult he turned those two passions into a miraculous synergy – who would have thought: Using Rats to sniff land mines and tuberculosis!


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