During my first visit more than a decade ago, I stopped by the Virgin River just to take a few pictures on the way to Whitney Pockets. Back then, there was only the Lake Mead National Recreation Area and the rest was wide open BLM territory. There was no such thing as Gold Butte National Monument back then and some of the landmark names have changed. The Virgin River runs trough this region and just like with many other local points of interest, it still is often completely overlooked by visitors passing through.
The Virgin River is one of a few desert rivers that feed Lake Mead and the headwaters can be found up north across the Utah Border near Zion National Park. The Nevada section of this river begins in the majestic Virgin River Canyon near the border and it ends where it drains into the Lake Mead basin near St Thomas Ghost Town. This is only a short section of river, but it truly is a sight to see in this vast desert wasteland!
The Virgin River is usually a small creek during dry seasons, but when a good winter snow melt occurs on the mountains or a summer season monsoon rainstorm dumps buckets, the river can swell to enormous proportions. The Virgin River is an ancient river, as the geological evidence in the local terrain suggests. Distant canyons and buttes have been carved by this river in the ancient past and in some places the river must have been a few miles wide.
The Virgin River section that is most often used as a recreation area is located on Riverside Drive just south of Mesquite, Nevada. There are BLM camping and hiking options in this area along with opportunities to do some canoeing and fishing. Seasonal canoe rentals, horseback rides and camel safaris are available in the neighboring towns. There are also local farm stands that offer fresh produce, wildflower honey and jerky in this area, because the prized agricultural land is in the river basin.
On the east side of the Virgin River, Riverside Drive intersects with New Gold Butte Road. This river bluff road runs south to a vast wilderness area on the east side of Lake Mead, which is now called Gold Butte National Monument. Both Whitney Pocket and the historic Gold Butte ghost town can be found by following this long dirt road. There are some spectacular views of the Virgin River and the colorful sandstone bluffs along the first section of New Gold Butte Road, so be sure to have a look!
It is well worth the trip from Las Vegas to see the Virgin River and explore Whitney Pocket, which can all be experienced in one day. For those who prefer a weekend excursion, campsites can be found near the Whitney Pocket rock outcrop area. The scenic areas along the Virgin River are a photographers paradise and there are some old antique signs to take pictures of too. The Virgin River is the place to go if you want to experience some green scenery in this desolate desert expanse!
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