Gold Butte National Monument in Nevada
Come along with me on a photographic journey through this beautiful desert in Southern Nevada. We will explore the desert landscapes, wildflowers and animals that I encountered on my recent trip.
I’ve just returned from a wonderful vacation to Gold Butte National Monument in Nevada. It is a beautiful park minus the hordes of people that ruin the nature experience in a lot of other parks. Most of you have probably not heard of Gold Butte NM. It is a recent addition to the national monuments list, established in December 2016. According to the BLM website, it is 300,000 rugged acres of the Mojave Desert located northeast of Las Vegas.
As one of the newest parks in the US, Gold Butte does not yet seem to be a well-developed park. You will find no established campgrounds or picnic areas, no detailed brochures telling you where to go and what to see… none of the typical park stuff. This is exactly what makes the park so appealing to me. There is a real sense of exploring and discovery.
Gold Butte is a very rugged desert landscape with varying types of terrain. It features everything from wide-open flats to mountains and everything in-between. This area must have a very interesting geologic past. I wish I could have witnessed what happened… or maybe a time lapse of it! Big colorful rock formations just push up from the desert floor. The rocks vary in color from golden to dark red, often twisting together to make multi-colored formations. Some are jagged, others are eroded and smooth. Some areas of the park feature tilted up flats that have eroded away revealing multiple layers of the ancient sea bottom.
Landscapes in the Desert
Wildflowers in the Landscape
Certainly, wildflowers are beautiful when examined up close, but they are also spectacular when viewed in masse in a desert landscape.
Sunrise & Sunset in the Desert
The People and the Petroglyphs of Gold Butte
In more recent times, Gold Butte attracted miners. Old mines scatter the landscape. The town of Gold Butte has old corrals and some water tanks. There is not much left of the old townsite. I imagine that living and working a hard job such as mining must have been very difficult in the blistering summer heat.
Before the Miner’s, this area was home and considered sacred to the Moapa and the Las Vegas Bands of the Paiute Indian Tribe. The area is rich in petroglyphs which tell the stories of the tribes. It is estimated that the tribes inhabited the area for as long as 12,000 years. I stand in awe of how they lived and survived in such a harsh environment. It is obvious that hunting the Desert Bighorn Sheep were an important part of their survival.
Gold Butte Wildlife
Despite being early in the season, we saw plenty of lizards, a few snakes and lots of birds. The higher regions of the park are home to Desert Bighorn Sheep which I would have loved to photograph. In addition to the Bighorn Sheep, Gold Butte is home to a Mojave Desert Turtle. These animals are elusive and will provide me with a valid reason to return. In the meantime, please enjoy the wildlife we did see, most of it on a smaller scale.
The Rescue of a Regal Horned Lizard
On one of our drives, Dan spotted this Horned Lizard in the road. I don’t know how he saw it. It is a Regal Horned Lizard, I believe, but I am not a lizard expert. This lizard has perfect camouflage to match the roadway. If it had not twitched, we would have run over it. The lizard was so confident of his camouflage, that it allowed me to get quite close to photograph it. We did not want to leave it in the road so Dan picked it up, allowing me a few more up-close images, then he placed it off the side of the road. The lizard looks grumpy, probably annoyed that we interrupted his basking. He did not seem to appreciate being placed in a safer location.
The Goblins of Gold Butte
The rocks of Gold Butte have been twisted and eroded into what appears to be mythical monsters and dragons. The rock is rather soft and the wind blows furiously. As a result, the goblins are constantly shaped and shifted by the forces of wind and blowing sand. I can certainly see why Indians would consider this place sacred.
Milky Way With Goblins
Above all, one of my main objectives this trip was to backpack out into a region of fantastical rock formations to photograph them under the Milky Way. Photographing the Milky Way is still a challenge to me. Even when I don’t quite get it right, I always am rewarded with a peaceful evening under our beautiful heavens.
As we were setting up camp on our first evening with the goblins, Dan called out… “Sand storm coming!”. A wall of thick sand was coming straight for our camp. I thought we would have a few minutes to prepare but it was upon us in an instant. All we could do is hunker down and let it pass. Fortunately, the wind settled down after midnight and I was able to enjoy a peaceful night under the stars with my camera, photographing that beautiful place.
Wildflowers in the Desert
Wow! We timed our trip perfectly for the desert wildflower bloom this time. I wish I could claim that I planned it that way, but, it was simply good luck. The wildflowers are usually a hit or miss kind of thing. The bloom can happen early or late or not at all. It all depends on the weather in any given year. When we first arrived, the Joshua Trees and the Yuccas were in full bloom. During our stay, the Mexican Gold Poppies bloomed in vast sweeps near our campsite. Before we left, the prickly pear cacti were just beginning to bloom. I am not sure if Spring 2019 was an official super bloom but it was grand enough anyway.
Agave in the Desert
However, wildflowers don’t own the whole show in the desert. The abundant forms of cacti have stunning blossoms too.
Cacti in the Desert
Shrubs in the Desert
In addition to cacti and flowers, there are plenty of shrubs in the desert, in fact, there is a wide variety. I found these shrubs thriving in the sand around the Goblins. They seem to take advantage of every place that a little sand manages to accumulate.
Shooting Wildflowers with a Vintage Lens
On the other hand, shooting wildflowers with a vintage lens is a new and wonderful challenge. Wildflower photography was amazing this year in Gold Butte. Many of the flower images where shot with my Dad’s Vintage Pentax 50mm ƒ1.2 lens on my Fuji XT3 camera. What a treat! It renders shallow depth of field with a creamy background. There are distortions and chromatic aberrations that have been manufactured out of most modern lenses. I think it is those ‘defects’ that I like the most.
Just for Fun
I wouldn’t be a photographer worth my weight in salt ( or lenses) if I did take an image just for fun every now and then! It’s hard to tell where the grass ends and the shadows begin! 🙂
Patterns in Sand and Stone
To a photographer’s eye, I could not help but see the amazing patterns etched into the stones and the rock walls. There are patterns created by water but I think most are created by the ferocious wind and blowing sand. I want to share with you some of the patterns I found in the rocks themselves. It’s almost as if mother nature refused to be outdone by petroglyphs left by the native people.
A Landscape with a Pattern
Sometimes the patterns are spread across the landscape, not just little details in stone such as this image of desert cobblestones. I have never before seen such a pattern of wind and sand.
A Vacation Well Spent
In conclusion, this was one of the best desert trips we’ve had in a long time. There is an endless supply of things to discover and photograph in Gold Butte. I am positive that I have only scratched the surface of all there is to see. My eyes have been opened to all that is left for me to explore. I am sure we will return many times in the years to come.
Feedback requested… I am a photographer, not necessarily an expert on the flora and fauna of the desert. If I have incorrectly identified a plant or species, please let me know and I will make corrections. In addition, there are several images that are not identified.
Thank you for getting to the bottom of this long-winded article. If you made it this far, you are a kindred soul that also appreciates the rugged and sometimes harsh beauty of Mother Nature. May I ask a favor? Will you kindly leave a Like or a Comment below? More than anything, I love your feedback and questions. Let’s talk about it!
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