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Gold Butte National Monument in Nevada

Gold Butte National Monument Sign

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

Even dogs enjoy the desert view at Gold Butte National Monument.

Ruby seems to enjoy the desert view as much as I do!

Gold Butte Arch

While exploring at Gold Butte we discovered this hidden arch.

Two goblins I call Which-Way and That-Way in Gold Butte National Monument, Nevada.

This is a typical scene at Gold Butte National Monument… Red Rocks and Joshua Trees.

Palm Trees found a little spot with enough water to grow in Nevada's Gold Butte National Monument.

There is a little seep of moisture that runs along the base of the cliff, just enough to support several big palm trees… Or perhaps it was a desert mirage? 🙂

Desert wash in Gold Butte National Monument, Nevada.

A desert wash runs along the bottom of rock formations.

Joshua Trees and Rock Formations, Gold Butte NM

This is a typical view in some of the more open areas of the monument. There is a plant in the lower center part of the photo that is called Desert Rhubarb.

In the higher elevations of Gold Butte National Monument you can find Pinon Pines.

Parts of Gold Butte are higher in elevation and feature a different variety of plants and animals. Here is a Pinon Pine.

Gold Butte Barrel Cactus Landscape

Barrels Cactus sticking their heads up through the grass. I think this is my favorite cactus. You can see their fuzzy red spines sticking up all across the landscape.

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.

Gold Butte Washes are full of wildflowers.

Often the wildflowers hide-out down in the washes, taking advantage of any extra moisture they can.

Mexican Golden Poppies bloom in abundance at Gold Butte National Monument in Nevada.

The view from our camp. The Mexican Gold Poppies were blooming all around us. It was made even more beautiful by the colorful rock formations of Whitney Pocket.

Sunrise & Sunset in the Desert

Fiery Sunrise at Gold Butte National Monument in Nevada.

My duty as a photographer is to get up to see every sunrise and every sunset. On this morning, I was fully rewarded with this grand show.

Soft colors after sunset at Gold Butte NM, Nevada

It seems contradictory to have such soft and beautiful sunsets in the desert.

Soft colors just after sunset in the Gold Butte Desert

There is a quiet peacefulness in the desert. The evenings were often quite beautiful.

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.

Looking for Petroglyphs in Gold Butte National Monument in Nevada.

Hunting for Petroglyphs – There are some well-known petroglyphs but we discovered may on our own. You must hike and scramble and keep an eye open at all times as the petroglyphs are easy to overlook. Dan’s pretty darn good at it! 🙂

The famous Falling Man Petroglyph at Gold Butte National Monument in Nevada.

This is the Falling Man Petroglyph. There must be a story behind this petroglyph but it’s a story I can only speculate about. It is in an area where it would be easy to stumble and fall. I hope this petroglyph is a warning to be careful and not a record of someone’s fate.

Unknown Petroglyph in Gold Butte National Monument

I have no idea what this one is but I can speculate that it signifies the importance of the wildlife to support the local tribles. It is amazing.

Bighorn Sheep Petroglyphs at Gold Butte National Monument.

Bighorn Sheep Petroglyphs are a common petroglyph on the rock walls in Gold Butte National Monument.

A big panel of petroglyphs and 2 bullet holes at Gold Butte National Monument in Nevada.

I have seen many walls like this, often called Newspaper Rock because of the number of petroglyphs. Notice the 2 bullet holes near the center. Makes me sick and very sad. Someone got 2 minutes of fun but the damage they caused will last forever.

Petroglyph at Gold Butte National Monument in Nevada.

Spiral Petroglyphs were a common theme. Dan thought they meant going down or going up depending on the direction of the spiral.

 

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.

Gold Butte Butterfly

I tried but I can’t identify this butterfly. I can tell you that it’s wings perfectly match the sand in Gold Butte. It’s wings are tattered. I think living in the desert is perhaps not so easy.

Gold Butte Lizard

This lizard has an attitude. It did not like Ruby and lunged at her… much to Ruby’s surprise and horror! Lizard 1 – Ruby 0. 🙂

Golf Butte Lizard

I wish I knew what sort of lizard this was, but alas… too many lizards in my book and none look like the one. I first spotted this lizard running across the sand. For a moment, it popped up and I thought it was going to run on its back legs. It did not sorry to say, but it did lead me to its hiding spot under a shrub.

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.

Horned Lizard Sleeping in the Road

The next 3 images tell a story. Dan saw this Horned Lizard basking in the road. I don’t know how he saw it as it’s camouflage is perfect! We knew to bask in the roadway was a very bad idea and worried that he would become a lizard pancake, so Dan moved him to the side of the road.

Horned Lizard Close-up

The price of relocation services was a minute of close-up photography. The lizard looks grumpy and not very appreciative, probably because we disturbed his basking which he appeared to be thoroughly enjoying.

Horned Lizard under a bush.

Here he/she is at the side of the road. I still think I’m getting Stink-Eye! Ha Ha!

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.

A noble goblin with his nose in the air at Gold Butte National Monument.

Goblins seem to like living in Gold Butte. They have a colony here! Fortunately for me, they are the friendly type of Goblins. We had lots of fun togehter!

Goblin and Sunstar, Gold Butte National Monument, Nevada.

The Goblin with the Sunstar!

Two goblins I call Which-Way and That-Way in Gold Butte National Monument, Nevada.

These Goblins crack me up. I named them Which-Way & That-Way. I think they are keeping an eye out for intruders.

A beautiful desert view in Gold Butte National Monument, Nevada.

A landscape I love in Gold Butte National Monument.

A grand goblin towers overhead at Gold Butte National Monument.

A grand goblin towers overhead at Gold Butte National Monument.

Dog at Camp

Our little 4 legged furry goblin, Ruby. She’s a desert dog for sure! 🙂

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.

Milky Way and Goblins, Gold Butte National Monument.

Goblins and the Milky-Way.

Milky Way at Gold Butte National Monument in Nevada.

Goblins, Milky-Way & Jupiter… A fun photographic challenge! 🙂

Milky Way on a clear night at Gold Butte National Monument in Nevada.

The last night with the Goblins, I captured my favorite Milky Way shot! 🙂

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.

Ruby watching over camp.

The morning after the ‘Big Blow’… It looks so peaceful now! 🙂

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.

This plant is still covered in sand from a sand storm.

A beautiful little flower still covered in sand from a wind storm.

Life finds a way, even in the sand and rocks.

This was an odd plant. It has green branching sticks with no typical leaves. Beautiful none-the-less!

Tufted Evening Primrose at Gold Butte National Monument in Nevada.

The Tufted Evening Primrose is such a delicate looking flower to live is such a harsh place.

A Desert Marigold with a little beetle friend at Gold Butte National Monument in Nevada.

A Desert Marigold with a little beetle friend at Gold Butte National Monument in Nevada.

Straggling Mariposa Lily at Gold Butte National Monument in Nevada.

Straggling Mariposa Lily… Such a delicate beauty for such a harsh environment.

Gold Butte Indian Paintbrush

Indian Paintbrush in Gold Butte NM. I think paintbrush is almost as widespread as dandelions but I like paintbrush much better! 😀

Agave in the Desert

However, wildflowers don’t own the whole show in the desert. The abundant forms of cacti have stunning blossoms too.

Yucca bud about to bloom in Gold Butte National Monument.

A Yucca Bud. This thing is huge… amost the size of a shoe-box!

Yucca Blossom at Gold Butte National Monument.

A Yucca in Bloom. Beautiful!

A Joshua Tree bud about to bloom.

This is a grand bud on a Joshua Tree. When we first arrived, the Joshua Trees were all in buds. In no time at all, they bloomed in abundance. Before we left, they already had fruit. They don’t waste time in the desert I guess! 🙂

A Joshua Tree in full bloom at Gold Butte National Monument in Nevada.

Joshua Tree in full bloom.

Cacti in the Desert

Beavertail Prickly Pears blossoms really stand out in the desert at Gold Butte National Monument.

These Beavertail Prickly Pears are the show-offs of the desert! Their brilliant pink blossoms stand out from a mile away! 🙂

Top view looking down on a Barrel Cactus at Gold Butte National Monument in Nevada.

One of my favorite cacti has to be the Barrel Cactus. These things grow quite large, maybe up to a couple of hundred pounds. They are stout to resist the desert weather. When you look across the desert landscape, you can see their pink fuzzy heads sticking up everywhere!

Barrel Cactus Gold Butte National Monument in Nevada.

The spines on a Barrel Cactus are colorful and very sturdy. They have great patterns too!

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.

A desert bush manages to find a place to thrive at Gold Butte National Monument.

This little shrub found the most perfect perch. A little sand to cling to, lines in the desert to point you out and make you look awesome and last but not least, a little white fringe to add detail. I tell ya, this plant thought of everything! 🙂

A desert shrub holds on for life in the Nevada desert.

A desert shrub holds on for life in the Nevada desert.

Conditions can be harsh in the desert but these shrubs seem to manage.

The cycle of life – A new shrub takes hold here an old one perished.

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.

Gold Butte Foxtail Cress Grass

I was intrigued by the purple and green colors of this grass. It’s called Foxtail Cress. It was fun to photograph with my vintage lens. 🙂

Gold Butte Mexican Gold Poppies

More fun with the vintage lens. These are Mexican Gold Poppies in the early morning. Poppies close up at night, sometimes even when a cloud passes overhead. I guess they don’t see a purpose in unfurling their petals unless it’s sunny! 🙂

Mexican Gold Poppy at Gold Butte National Monument in Nevada.

Taken with my vintage Pentax 50mm ƒ1.2 lens, this Mexican Gold Poppy really pops! 🙂

Mexican Gold Poppies and Foxtail Cress at Gold Butte National Monument in Nevada.

Another photo from my vintage Pentax lens. The Mexican Gold Poppies were amazing but I was also intrigued by the Foxtail Cress Grass in the left corner. That vintage lens is a blast! 🙂

Buckhorn Cholla, a Gold Butte Resident.

The Buckhorn Cholla probably has more sharp spines than most plants in the desert! Photograph with care and from a safe distance! 🙂

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! 🙂

Foxtail Cress grass... hard to tell the grass from the shadow!

Grass & Shadows… Shadows & Grass. 🙂

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.

After a wind storm, sand settles into little pools in the rocks at Gold Butte National Monument.

After a wind storm, sand settles into little pools in the rocks at Gold Butte National Monument.

Interesting patterns are plentiful in the eroded rock at Gold Butte National Monument in Nevada.

Interesting patterns are plentiful in the eroded rock at Gold Butte National Monument in Nevada.

Mother Nature's own style of petroglyphs in Nevada's Gold Butte National Monument.

Mother Nature’s own style of petroglyphs in Nevada’s Gold Butte National Monument.

Natural rock patterns at Gold Butte NM.

I love this pattern. It looks like a mountain range. 🙂

Mother Nature's art work at Gold Butte National Monument in Nevada.

Mother Nature’s art at Gold Butte National Monument in Nevada.

X marks the spot to see beautiful landscapes in Gold Butte National Monument in Nevada.

X marks the spot to see beautiful landscapes in Gold Butte National Monument in Nevada.

Natural Rock formations that look like waves lapping on a shore, Gold Butte NM.

Natural Rock formations that look like waves lapping on a shore, Gold Butte NM.

Colored rock and with swirls of white at Gold Butte National Monument in Nevada.

Colored rock and with swirls of white at Gold Butte National Monument in Nevada.

Almost looks like an ancient eye at Gold Butte National Monument in Nevada.

Almost looks like an ancient eye at Gold Butte National Monument in Nevada.

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.

Interesting wind patterns look just like cobblestones in Gold Butte National Monument in Nevada.

Wind erodes the stone and then fills the pockets up with sand. It looks like cobblestones.

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!

If you enjoyed this article, you might also enjoy Hiking and Photographing Dutch Flat Lake

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10 Responses

    • Thank you so much, Shari! It was a very enjoyable trip with a million photographic opportunities. I’m addicted to that park! 🙂

  1. I’m blown away! You have such a good eye for seeing the beauty of Gods creation. I cannot begin to tell you how much I enjoyed this display! Thank you!

    • Thanks so much, Del! I love Oregon with all my heart but I am also blown away by the beauty of the desert. It’s such a harsh environment, it’s easy to assume there wouldn’t be that much out there. Thankfully that assumption is completely wrong. There is so much to see if you keep your heart and your eyes open! 🙂

  2. What wonderful and educational collection of photographs! Thank you, Lori for sharing your talent. I enjoyed reading your comments with each photo. Not only are you a great photographer you are a good story teller. Excellent.

  3. Hi Lori,

    What an amazing collection of photograph you have put together. I’ve never been to this part of the country so it was interesting to see things from your perspective. The Goblins and surrounding area are fascinating. Thanks for sharing your trip and comments. 🙂

    • Thank you, Marcie! I had never been there myself until last year. I was eager to go back again this year but each time I go, I learn how much more there is yet to discover. Needless to say, we are going again next year. It’s an amazing place! 🙂

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