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From Fire, to Gold (Butte) | Mid-Winter #4

The winds tore through our camp as ferociously as ever the entire night. Even with 35lbs of water weighing down the ladder of the tent to keep that side from folding up on us, there were several points at which I was sure we were going to be the middle ingredients in a CVT sandwich. I even nudged @mrs.turbodb at 2:00am and yelled through the screaming wind and her earplugs to scoot down on the mattress so we had more of our weight on the cantilevered side of the tent.

It wasn't lost on me that this wouldn't be an issue with a GFC.

Unfortunately, while I'd successfully saved us from a fold-over, my brain failed to register the fact that the gusty wind was also hurling all the fine sand it could through our tent doors, and had long ago blown away the washcloths that @mrs.turbodb had left to dry on the ladder. And so, we awoke to a fine grit on - and in - our sheets, all over our faces, and in our hair. Not to mention little crunchies between our teeth. Splendid.

Have I mentioned my desire for a GFC?

Determined not to let the wind beat us, I climbed down out of the tent well before sunrise and went off in search of the washcloths. To my surprise, I found them both - proudly shuttling them back to the Tacoma, sure I'd be in for a fine reward. Then, I just climbed to the side of the wash and waited - it's not like I was going to get any more sleep anyway.

Still windy, but looking brighter.

Eventually I called @mrs.turbodb out of the tent - probably a bit earlier than normal - so we could eat breakfast and get our day underway - we had a lot of driving in front of us, and it seemed silly to keep "sleeping," when the experience was more like a combo sandblasting/washing machine.

Of course, eating Cheerios in that kind of weather isn't exactly easy, and I'm sure the ants and critters who call the wash home are now our biggest fans. Still, the sun was making things look fancy as we pulled out, so our complaining was short lived as we continued to shake sand out of our hair.

Underway. As usual, with a headwind.

I see you hiding in there, Bowl of Fire!

What would you say if I told you that all of the mountains are red underneath? The whole area will be spectacular in a few million years.

From the Bowl of Fire, we had a few miles - perhaps eight or so - to travel east on highway (NV-167) before we'd find ourselves at the southern end of the Bittersprings Trail Backcountry Byway. This was a trail we'd travelled last year, but never made it all the way through due to time constraints and a lack of knowledge about what lay to the south. A good excuse to come back, I'd said at the time.

Back on dirt.

Not three minutes into our drive north, we saw a black stallion near the side of the road. In what I was sure would end poorly, I turned off the truck to see how close I could get for a photo.

Hey there buddy.

Please don't kick me.

As it turns out, while I was out of the truck, a second reasonably tame horse approached from behind, and soon @mrs.turbodb was also out, risking life and limb. I obviously don't know the history of these horses, but while they were roaming free-range, they were extremely curious and tame - sniffing our hands as we held them out, and allowing a quick pet on the nose. Pretty cool experience, if a bit on the stupid side on our part.

Anyway, the first section of Bittersprings Road reminded me of Canyon Sin Nombre in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park as we wound our way through a wide wash, mountains rising up in the distance. High praise, given that Canyon Sin Nombre was probably my favorite from our two week trip to the park.

Still before 9:00am when we approached the foot of the Muddy Mountains, our early start would end up paying dividends - giving us a bit more time to enjoy ourselves on the Byway, rather than simply using it as a dirt route to I-15 - our ultimate route to Gold Butte National Monument.

Muddy Mountains seems like an appropriate name for these.

Just past the Muddy Mountains - or I guess more correctly, once we were in the mountains - we started to see the colorful outcroppings of Buffington Pockets. These candy-cane striped layers of sandstone are what make this area really special, and we took a few minutes to get out of the truck and climb on a few of them - only the cool, gusty, wind driving us back to the relative warmth of our seats.

Recognize that snow-covered peak? I didn't either - at first. @mrs.turbodb did, however, it's Telescope Peak!

As I alluded to earlier, I'd planned to just use this route as a nice 30-mile stretch of dirt to get us between point A and point B - we had, after-all, explored this place before. But as we pulled up on the heart of Buffington Pockets, we couldn't resist checking out the owl dam, as well as some nearby petroglyph panels, and being that it wasn't yet 10:00am, we figured we could spare an hour or so poking around.

Always striking.

Touched up with fresh paint since last year, me thinks.

The petroglyph panels in this area - at least the ones we know about, though I'm sure there are many we don't - are not far away or hard to get to, as long as you know where they are. Of course, if you don't, you can have just as much fun scouring the rocks and enjoying their color - something we did more of on this visit than on our previous trip; no pressure to find the glyphs this time.

A new rock fall exposes unvarnished stone!

Perpetual raindrops. Or rock freckles. You decide. (And what are they really?)

Tiny striped arch.

Of course, we did make it to the petroglyph panels, and they were as striking as ever. It was interesting to notice the different levels of patina on the panel, an indication that new glyphs were etched over the top of old, over a significant length of time!

We also made an unfortunate new discovery. Someone in the last 11 months had created their own panel of new glyphs. Luckily they weren't all that close to the historic panels - we don't even know if they ever found those - but still, the lack of respect was a bit indicative of what we've seen over the last year. Hopefully something that will get back to normal as the outdoor frenzy caused by the pandemic, eases.

Not cool.

Hopping back in the Tacoma, we wrapped up the last few miles of the Bittersprings Trail Backcountry Byway and started east on I-15 towards the town of Mesquite where we planned to fuel up and buy a half gallon of milk to cover the remainder of our breakfasts.

Initially - and if I'm being honest, because I was lazy - I figured we ought to just travel the 60 miles of pavement aired down and at a lower rate of speed. But 15psi, a 5300lbs truck, and a strong headwind - having shifted again as we changed directions, and now blowing out of the north - weren't making for a good combination. Even @mrs.turbodb could tell the Tacoma was struggling, and we decided that we'd have the least enjoyable lunch of the trip - on the side of I-15 while I aired up the tires.

That whole situation ended up working reasonably well - our tuna sandwiches disappearing just as the last tire reached full pressure - and the potato chips distracted from my initial lame decision making, thank goodness.

The rest of the trip to - and through - Mesquite was uneventful and we soon found ourselves driving past what we refer to as the Crazy Bundy Ranch on our way into Gold Butte.

Just a bit of snow... for now.

The most under appreciated National Monument? Perhaps.

On our previous trip to Gold Butte we'd explored several of the petroglyph sites in the heart of the monument, but we'd done almost no exploration along the series of roads that form a loop around the edge. Our goal this time was to remedy that - focusing on the border and trying our hardest to resist the interior.

The only road from the north passes through Whitney Pockets before heading south around the lower part of the monument, but we limited our stop to airing down, since we've been here before.

Back on the road and away from the crowds that cluster around Whitney Pockets.

Some ten miles south of Whitney Pockets - on a road that's uncomfortable even at 15 psi - is Devil's Throat. According to a sign posted at the edge of this 120' wide, 120' deep sinkhole, the catastrophic event was witnessed by cowboys in 1908 as they were riding nearby and noticed a large cloud of dust rise into the air.

There are several - at least seven - more of these sinkholes found in the monument. Each was created when a layer of gypsum - sandwiched between limestone below and alluvium above (poorly consolidated rocks, gravel, sand, and dirt from alluvial fans eroded off surrounding mountains) - was dissolved, leaving a cavern that could not support its own weight.

Terra firma, or not so much?

Of course, it is not only under the existing sinkholes that the geology of the area matches this description. Something to keep in mind - or not - as you're driving around in the monument!

Continuing south now, there wasn't a whole lot to see until we reached the very southern end of Gold Butte - at least, not a lot that we knew to go look at. @mrs.turbodb took the opportunity to nap, and I enjoyed the vast desert views - green just starting to spread across the yellow and red ground, contrasting nicely against the partly cloudy sky.

Looks like a volcano to me...

A short side trip at the bottom of the route brought us to an old vermiculite mine, much of its sorting equipment strewn across the site - perhaps under an unreasonable expectation that it would be used again one day.

There also seemed to be a bunch of calcite in the area.

Only a few miles from the vermiculite mine was the old town site of Gold Butte. Gold was discovered here in 1905, and a tent city and post office, store, saloon, and brothel were established in 1906. Soon, more than 2,000 people lived in the area - all in tents, making it easy for them to move on when the gold ran out. Still, a couple of hearty ranchers (Bill Garret and Art Coleman) stayed for the next 40 years, well known for their hospitality to anyone who happened by on the Gold Butte Trail. Both are buried near the site of their old home. (Gold Butte Townsite Marker)

As we wrapped up our reading and poking around of the area - which didn't take long as there isn't much left to see - we had a decision to make. My original plan had us camping here - or somewhere nearby - for the night, heading north again in the morning. But, we still had a few hours until sunset and it seemed a shame to waste them, so we decided to push on - perhaps to camp nearer our first hike of the morning, allowing us an early start.

And so, we headed north - up the western side of the monument - through a forest of Joshua Trees and a few water gathering devices.

Never got the memo that it was a Joshua Tree. Assumed it was a palm.

Usually these water collection (and distribution) devices are placed near a spring that dried up for some reason, since animals knew to come to the area for water, already.

The road on the west side was significantly less travelled than the one we'd driven down on the east, making it much more comfortable and allowing us to make reasonably good time as we headed north towards Little Finland.

Road with a view.

Getting closer.

Before we explored Little Finland however, we made a slight detour to a spot that I hoped would be just as dramatic - Seven Keyholes Slot Canyon and Kirk's Grotto. This, it turns out, was contained in the heart of the red rock formation we'd been enjoying for the last twenty minutes, and as we parked at the trailhead, we were excited to give it a closer look.

A playground of color.

Red rocks rising.

Like the Bowl of Fire, this is a place where you can spend as much or little time as you please. We started assuming it would be "much," but after wandering for 10 minutes or so, a group of about 20 loud UTVers showed up and we decided to cut our time short. Still we found plenty of petroglyphs, and enjoyed the Keyhole Slot immensely.


Wind and water work wonders.

Hidden glyphs on a dark panel.

A striking outcropping.

Looking back now, we probably rushed things more than we needed to - we may have been able to wander into some adjacent canyon, or lose ourselves away from the crowd - but the fact that we didn't means we have a good reason to return. This is a place that most certainly holds additional secrets to be discovered!

As it was, we climbed back in the truck - now reasonably close to our jumping off point in the morning - we were keen to find a good spot to camp, and a key feature tonight was going to be finding somewhere sheltered from the wind!

Time to find camp.

Winding our way down into a wash, it didn't take long for us to find a tributary that was labelled with the perfect sign: "Dead End." We didn't know how long the road would be, but we knew that if there was no one else up there, it'd be our home for the evening.

It turns out the side wash was only a quarter mile deep, the walls tall enough to block the wind, and yet easy enough to climb for sunrise in the morning. As the last of the sun played across the sky, we counted ourselves lucky; splitting the jobs of deploying camp and getting ready for a dinner of tacos and guacamole.

We had one more thing to do before climbing into bed: we removed all the bedding to shake out the sand that'd blown in the night before. While we were at it, we also pulled the Exped Megamat and anticondensation matt from the tent to wipe out the floor as well. A good 3 tablespoons of sand was removed - sand that could have found its way into our underwear, hair, and even our drooling mouths, if we hadn't taken care of it before hitting the sack.

Would the night be just as good? There was nothing to do now, but hope.


The Whole Story


  1. Brandon
    Brandon March 19, 2021

    Another excellent Adventuretaco story. You convinced me to keep the Snugtop shell on my Tacoma and use that as my emergency sleeping area for windy days. I have an old ground tent I use for camping in calm weather. We have powerful winds in SoCal and that's always been my concern when outdoors with the family.

    A GFC setup is pure badass, sweetness!

  2. Kim Barton
    Kim Barton February 27, 2023

    Wow, when did the owl painting happen? I was last there in 2016 and there was no owl.

    I'm slowly getting through all your adventures I haven't read yet. Always wonderful!

    • turbodb
      turbodb February 27, 2023

      I first visited in 2020, and the owl was there then. I suppose that I assumed it had been there for a really long time but it's interesting to hear that it wasn't there in 2016!

      • Kim Barton
        Kim Barton February 27, 2023

        I guess it's art and not vandalism if it's on a man-made dam, haha.

        • turbodb
          turbodb February 27, 2023

          I dunno, I think it's always vandalism, even when it's on a man-made structure (what if it was your house, which is also man-made?), but at least this vandalism was reasonably tasteful (personally, I'd even say beautiful).

          Case and point: the vandalism done to the Goldome Mine in Mojave National Preserve was done "in the guise of an art project" by the (despicable) group INDECLINE, but all it did was really destroy what was a pretty cool mine to explore. Plus, their work has led to others treating the area with even more disrespect, and now the whole place has been burned more than once and is a total shit show.

          So yeah, sometimes the vandalism can be nice, but if I had to choose to get the nice with the bad, or none at all, I think I'd go none at all (unfortunately).

  3. Kim Barton
    Kim Barton February 27, 2023

    I had to look up that group, and I'd say you're right....they are a group of vandals with quite a history of disgusting "art projects." I do have to point out, though, that we all enjoy all the ancient petroglyph and pictograph "graffiti"....I definitely don't approve of modern graffiti, but I do find it ironic that we all love it if it's old enough:)

    • turbodb
      turbodb February 27, 2023

      I do have to point out, though, that we all enjoy all the ancient petroglyph and pictograph "graffiti"....I definitely don't approve of modern graffiti, but I do find it ironic that we all love it if it's old enough:)

      Fair enough, it's hard to disagree with that! ?

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