Many Desert Southwest destinations are simply too hot to recommend during the extreme heat of summer, yet these same places are good suggestions during the winter and spring seasons. With cooler temperatures there will be less chance of being stranded way out in the middle of nowhere in vehicle that has overheated, which can present a dangerous survival situation. Vehicle reliability will be a concern for those who explore Gold Butte National Monument or the neighboring Grand Canyon Parashant, because these destinations are in a very remote region that offers little chance for rescue. Taking a tour of the Gold Butte National Monument Back Country Byway is a good place to start, but be sure to check the vehicle over before getting underway!
The Gold Butte National Monument access point is located about one hour north of Las Vegas on Interstate Highway 15 and the Riverside exit ramp is the one to look for. The town of Mesquite, Nevada is the best choice for a basecamp in this region, because the amenities are priced the same as back in the golden age of Las Vegas. Mesquite also caters to off-road vehicle enthusiasts, so this town is an ATV and Jeep haven. The Mesquite area is also the closest place to fuel up, so it is the starting point for most Gold Butte ventures.
For a novice, choosing a good ATV trail to follow requires doing some research. Checking the weather conditions is the most important thing to do before planning any off-road excursion. Jeep trail maps are often provided at 4x4 club websites and some can be found in print at local outdoor sports outfitters. For Gold Butte National Monument excursions, the newly opened Friends Of Gold Butte Welcome Center can be found in downtown Mesquite and this place offers all the information that you will possibly need.
Navigation is of utmost importance when planning an off-road adventure of any kind. GPS systems do work in the back country, but relying on a smart phone mapping system to plot the trip is not wise to do. Once a smart phone loses its data connection, a mapping system search will be useless, so it is best to invest in a dedicated GPS system. Most GPS systems display the dirt roads, but the trip programming should be done while in civilization, where wi-fi access is easy to find. Plotting an off-highway venture on a GPS is far better than using a compass and map, when driving way out in the boondocks.
Fuel, food and water is all that is left for the basic checklist when planning a trip into the vast desert expanses. Of course, packing some camping gear is a good idea too, even if the plan only calls for a day trip. The extra gear will help in case of a vehicle break down, yet better still, you just might find a cozy little spot to call your own way out in the desert wilderness and the camping gear will provide an overnight option!
The reason why a bit of forethought is mentioned is because Gold Butte National Monument is a very remote area in a vast desolate desert expanse. It will take more than one tank of gas to explore every site in this park, so be sure to plan each excursion and top off the tank before heading down the access road. Most importantly, be sure that the vehicle is reliable, because the towing charges from a remote location can break the bank.
Accessing Gold Butte National Monument from the highway is fairly easy to do, even though there is minimal signage. Follow Riverside Road till it crosses the Virgin River and this is where Gold Butte Road will be found. Heading south on Gold Butte Road will lead to the National Monument access point. This same road turns into the Gold Butte National Back Country Byway, so as long as you do not take a side road, a map will not be needed for the rest of the trip to Gold Butte Ghost Town. The total distance from the highway intersection to Gold Butte Ghost Town is about 45 miles, so be sure to check the tires and fluids one last time before making the commitment.
For the first part of the trip, Gold Butte Road is paved, but the road is in very rough condition. High ground clearance two wheel drive passenger cars can manage the first leg of the road all the way to Whitney Pockets, but it is best to have a high ground clearance heavy duty vehicle if continuing onward to Gold Butte Ghost Town is in the plans. A standard two wheel drive SUV or pickup truck can handle the National Back Country Byway to Gold Butte, but a 4×4 vehicle will provide a much smoother ride. For those who want to explore the side roads that branch off of the Gold Butte Back Country Byway, a high ground clearance 4×4 definitely will be necessary, because the sand does get deep in some of the dry wash basins.
Sticking with the main road through the length of Gold Butte National Monument is as easy as following the National Back Country Byway signs. The round trip will be about 90 miles of bumpy road, so be sure to take a few breaks, so the kidneys do not turn into “Jello” along the way. The scenery changes in interesting ways along the road to Gold Butte Ghost Town, so be sure to bring a good camera. Some of the most dramatic desert landscapes that can be imagined can be found along this long stretch of dirt road!
When I did the National Back Country Byway to Gold Butte, I drove a Jeep Wrangler 4×4 that I just purchased. Basically, I set out to test the reliability of this new vehicle on a summer day when the outdoor temperatures were over 105ºF. The Jeep ran flawlessly, so the scenic dirt road drive went off without a hitch. Even the air conditioner held up in the extreme heat, which was a real plus when driving in dusty conditions with the windows rolled up.
Touring the Gold Butte National Monument Back Country Byway to Gold Butte Ghost Town during the winter or spring season is best, because the cool refreshing air will make the extreme heat related health problems less likely to occur. This 90 mile round trip scenic drive on a long dirt road can be as easy as a walk in the park, if you take your time and choose the right vehicle for the job. Jeep and ATV rentals can be found in the nearby towns, so there is no excuse to not get up and go!
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