By Lindsay Schlageter
Joshua trees, Mojave yucca forests, stark mountain peaks, centuries-old petroglyphs and majestic red rocks make up the diverse desert landscape of Gold Butte in southeastern Nevada.
Gold Butte is located between the Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument in Arizona and Lake Mead National Recreation Area, just south of Mesquite, Nev. It is named for the historic mining town of the early 1900s, long abandoned though traces remain.
Recently, my Pew colleagues Carrie Sandstedt, Anders Reynolds, and I joined volunteers and coalition partners on a tour of Gold Butte, with a hike into Little Finland.
Little Finland, also known as Hobgoblin’s Playground and Devil’s Fire, is an amazing red-rock area where wind and water have sculpted the stone into dramatic shapes rivaling those of many popular areas across the southwestern United States. It didn’t take us long to find examples of ancient petroglyphs in hidden places depicting pronghorn, lizards, flowers, and men.
Getting to Little Finland and much of the Gold Butte region requires a four-wheel-drive vehicle. We took three of them in for our tour of this vast landscape. At one point, we left them behind and walked because the clearance of one was too low to make it through. Experienced drivers carry shovels and ramps in their cars for such contingencies.
This rugged terrain attracts all-terrain-vehicle enthusiasts. Unfortunately, we saw the effects of irresponsible riding off designated routes. We were told that this destruction will last for decades. The fragile desert landscape does not recover easily from this abuse.
After a quick lunch we were free to wander around, take pictures, scramble up rock formations, and hunt for remnants of the cultures that inhabited Gold Butte centuries ago. We weren’t the only ones out enjoying the blue sky: We ran into a fellow photographer and a couple enjoying a bite to eat, while we played around.
Afterwards, we headed back to the cars and to the hotel for the night. On the way out, we stopped by an old Civilian Conservation Corps dam. While some climbed up to check it out, my fear of heights forced me to stay back, but I enjoyed the beginning of sunset and took in the quiet of the desert.
Pew is working with a coalition of organizations and volunteers to protect Gold Butte from overuse and further degradation. For more than a decade this group has advocated the areas designation as a national conservation area with wilderness, which would protect its wildest roadless lands while still allowing for vehicle access on access roads. We are hopeful that such legislation will be introduced this year.