The new Gold Butte National Monument covers nearly 300,000 acres of remote and rugged desert landscape in southeastern Nevada. The area is less than two hours from the Las Vegas Strip, but a world apart. Here dramatically chiseled red Navajo sandstone, twisting canyons, and tree-clad mountains of the adjoining Paiute Wilderness punctuate vast stretches of the Mojave Desert dotted with Joshua trees and desert shrubs.
The 99 mile long Gold Butte National Backcountry Byway provides access to a cross section of the area’s features and begins just south of Interstate 15 near Bunkerville, NV. The first 20 miles of the byway to Whitney Pockets are mostly paved and accessible by passenger vehicles. Other unpaved portions of the route can be accessed by high clearance vehicles and some may require 4-WD. Check visitor kiosks for area information.
The brightly hued sandstone provides a stunning canvas for the area’s famously beautiful rock art, and the desert provides critical habitat for the desert tortoise. The byway and other routes provide access outdoor recreation, and visitors to the monument can camp (undeveloped), hike to fantastic rock formations and hidden rock art sites, and visit the area’s namesake mining ghost town. Wildlife viewing and hunting opportunities are available and the area even has a population of majestic desert bighorn sheep. A full array of visitor services are available in Mesquite Nevada just north of the new monument. Stock up on supplies as no services are available on the byway or elsewhere in the monument.
In an area as vast and diverse as the new Bears Ears National Monument in Southeastern Utah, it’s hard to know where to start in exploring. Here are some ideas for capturing a sampling of what the new National Monument offers.
On the Northern end, take state route 211 into spectacular Indian Creek Canyon. Stop at Newspaper Rock, a large and spectacular petroglyph panel with carvings dating back to 2,000 years. Further along, the canyon opens up into a wide valley rimmed by Navajo Sandstone. The iconic “Sixshooter” spires soon become visible. Look for rock climbers scaling the narrow cracks in the vertical Navajo Sandstone.
Further south, Take Highway 261 and 95 onto Cedar Mesa. The twin Bears Ears rise just north of the mesa. This is one of the most significant archaeological regions anywhere, with ancient pueblos tucked into endless canyons. Visiting many of the pueblos require planning ahead as they include hikes and some also require visitor permits. However, a view of the spectacular Butler Wash Ruin is a one hour round trip hike from a developed trailhead while the Mule Canyon Ruin is located along the highway.
Driving south along the rolling pinion uplands of Cedar Mesa does not prepare one for the descent of Highway 261 via the “Moki Dugway”. The route drops precipitously with views of Monument Valley in the distance. Similar landforms to Monument Valley’s famous formations are found along a 17 mile unpaved loop drive beginning at the base of the Dugway which traverses the Valley of the Gods.
A final stop along the southern border of the monument is also a must see. The viewpoint at Goosenecks State Park takes in a spectacular sequence of tight and colorful meanders of the San Jun River carved into the sandstone cliffs.
Many parts of the new national monument are remote and there are no services. Make sure to stock up with supplies in Monticello, Blanding or Bluff which all offer a full array of services as well as accommodations.
In a place where paleontologists are still prospecting for dinosaurs fossils, you can’t help but feel like a kid on an endless playground. Climbing arches, attempting to wrap our heads around this Navajo sandstone and its ability to form these colossal structures. Forever in awe of the desert.
Photo @ladzinski / The twisted and spiraled navajo sandstone of #AntelopeCanyon is one of the most photographed slot canyons in the world. It’s an incredible place to visit in the dead of winter when the crowds have gone and you can walk through the sculpted canyon with nothin but the sound of the wind. @natgeocreative by natgeo
The Navajo sandstone (see http://on.fb.me/1seOVqR) was deposited in a vast desert that covered much of western America around 200 million years ago as the Triassic faded into the Jurassic. Huge sand seas, called ergs (and found in the Sahara today, amongst other places) filled the basins of the region, with dunes moving across the surface and overlaying each other in multiple layers. The typical cross bedding in the photo was snapped in Arizona, and shows the pattern created as sand rolls over the back side of a sand dune. The nearly-horizontal layers are beds that record the changeover from one dune to another, typically with some erosion in-between.