Gold Butte, Bonelli Peak


By: Bob Michael


I am glad I have not been young without wild country to be young in. Of what avail are four freedoms without a blank spot on the map? - Aldo Leopold

The Plateau - Basin and Range Transition is for geologists one of the magical places of this continent. In the space of a few miles, one can go from tremendously complex Great Basin geology that has been folded over, thrust, tilted, and broken into mountain blocks to the flat skylines and serene simplicity of the Plateau stacks of almost undisturbed, layer-cake strata marching across the landscape in unbroken cliff bands. (Structurally the Grand Canyon country is much closer to Kansas than either Nevada to the west or the Rockies to the east. Kansas just never got regionally uplifted and eroded into glory.)

And, nowhere have I seen this transition as clear-cut or dramatic as just east of the "Nevada Strip" (my term), the southeast corner of the state south of Mesquite and east of the Overton Arm of Lake Mead. Like the adjoining Arizona Strip to the east, this is a lonely blank spot on the map, a dead end on the way to nowhere. (Listed Virgin Peak is in the northern part of the Nevada Strip.) To the north and south, the Plateau-Basin and Range Transition, though always fascinating, tends to become a bit more fuzzy But. In this area, you can stand atop a crazily tilted fault block and look across to a flat Plateau mesa, where the rocks have been virtually undisturbed since they were laid down in tropical Carboniferous lagoons and mud flats a third of a billion years ago. (This is the sort of thing that sends shivers of ecstasy through a geologist's scalp!)

There are several worthy peaks in the "back of beyond" south of Virgin Peak. The highest. Jumbo peak (5763’) is reported by Wes Shelbcrg in the 7/91 Sage to be unclimbable. We got a good look at the enormous, sheer to overhanging granite dome which is the summit and agree with Wes. Other peaks over 5.000' in the area include Mica Peak (57738'), a pleasant pinyon forested summit which Vegas George Quinn. a Colorado friend, and I climbed in 1990. Gold Butte (5.042'), an easy hike mostly on trail which has given its name to this whole area: and the very remote Bonelli Peak (5,334'), which was George's and my destination in February.

Leaving I-15 at the Riverside exit, we drove the paved portion of the Gold Butte road as though going to climb Virgin. At the pavement's end, in a picturesque area of Aztec Sandstone called "Whitney Pockets", we turned south on the excellent dirt road (a BLM "Scenic Byway") which leads to the townsite of Gold Butte, once reportedly inhabited by a dude named "Crazy Ed" who had a disconcerting habit of waving a rifle at flatlanders who got too close to his trailer. A dirt road east of the townsite (now apparently abandoned) goes south from the main Gold Butte road to the start of an old ·4WD road, now deteriorated to a foot trail- that goes up the north flank of Gold Butte to a mine in white pegmatite a few hundred feet below the bouldery· summit.

After a quick bag of Gold Butte, we continued on the Scanlon Ferry Road (fair to good dirt) to our campsite at the junction of Twin Springs Wash and the canyon which gives access to Bonelli. The Southern Nevada insert on the AAA San Bernardino County map proved very helpful in navigating this country! A 4wd road overgrown with mean. paint-scratching mesquite goes up this canyon past "Ruby Spring". We found a good parking place about 0.6 mile south of Twin Springs Wash. The straightforward route goes up the canyon on the 4wd track to where one strikes due south to climb a rather steep rib which tops out on a ridge which leads south to the summit. (We took a gentler route back by veering west into a broad drainage.)

Views from the summit are possibly the best from any Southern Nevada summit (and I've been on a bunch of them). The entire eastern end of Lake Mead spreads out below the Grand Wash Cliffs, the dramatic edge of the Plateau. You are quite close to the mouth of the Grand Canyon, but a subsidiary ridge blocks the view of the river exiting the gate. To the west on this crackling clear day we could see structures such as the Luxor hotel on the Las Vegas Strip 60 miles away through a gap south of the Muddy Mountains. Far to the south in Arizona, the Hualapai Mountains rose behind Mount Tipton. "A great good country". as Ed Abbey once said.

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