A paradise found in the furthest reaches of the state harbors magical discoveries for intrepid travelers.

BY MEGG MUELLER

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There’s a spot in Gold Butte National Monument where if you stretch your arms out wide, reaching your fingertips to their furthest extent, it seems as if you can almost touch Lake Mead and the Grand Canyon at the same time. It’s the southern apex of a landscape that encompasses the wealth of southern Nevada’s beauty and its arid, teeming desert.

Formations in the area known as Little Finland are the result of sandstone hardened and shaped by wind and water erosion. About 150 to 200 million years ago, sandstone deposits were covered by younger sand dunes and solidified. About 10 to 16 million years ago, the stone uplifted and groundwater left minerals that clung to the rocks and hardened, causing harder patches, which erodes at different speeds.

This is no mirage, however. Gold Butte is anything but fleeting or imaginary. It is nearly 300,000 acres of spectacular sandstone structures; surprising pockets of juniper, oak, and pinyon woodlands where you’d least expect them; granitic mountains rising high into azure skies; and miles and miles of dirt roads. Or it could be described as it was on a recent outing—something akin to heaven.

The eastern edge of Lake Mead is 10 miles from Gold Butte National Monument. © Megg Mueller

Depending on the season you choose to visit (skip mid-summer if you’re smart) bighorn sheep or wildflowers may greet you. Roadrunners are plentiful, as are reptiles of all sizes and shapes, including Nevada’s state reptile the desert tortoise. Keep an eye out for this slowpoke on roadways; he always has the right of way.

Springtime wildflowers give the landscape of succulents and shrubs vibrant color. © Jeff Sullivan

WHAT COMES AROUND…

Click to enlarge map.

With so much space to explore, where does one begin? Thankfully, the Backcountry Byway—a roughly 90-mile loop from State Route 170 near Bunkerville—offers the easiest way to see some incredible geologic features in the span of a day. A couple of caveats: One day is barely enough to skim the surface of the Backcountry Byway, let alone Gold Butte. Grab a camper or tent, load up the ATV, and take your time uncovering this remote treasure. And, “easiest way” is a relative term; this is Nevada after all. The loop is a mix of sort-of paved, maintained dirt, river washes, and the like, so this trip is for high-clearance 4WD vehicles only. A Chevy Tahoe served admirably, but always prepare to stay the night when you least expect it by having water, food, warm clothing, gas, spare tires, etc. It’s the Nevada way.

A large parking lot is available, and the view from high on the rocks reveals a caravan of ATVs exploring the monument. © Megg Mueller

DON’T MISS THIS BEAUT

To get to the byway from Las Vegas, take Interstate 15 east toward Mesquite. Take the Riverside Exit 112—State Route 170—heading south. The byway is marked and starts just pass the Riverside Bridge.

Gold Butte National Monument
friendsofgoldbutte.org, 702-208-8377
blm.gov, 702-515-5000

 

Many hiking trails exist throughout the monument, but few are marked so staying with a group is a good choice. © Kurt Kuznicki
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