Native American Cultural Gem at Risk

Gold Butte, Nevada. Photo by Ron Hunter.

Some places just deserve to be saved, and protection can't come soon enough for Gold Butte. It doesn't take long to realize you're in a spectacular place when visiting the Gold Butte region of Nevada. If the dramatic sandstone formations and red rock cliffs don't do it for you, surely the thousands of Native American petroglyphs and prehistoric sites will.

The place commands the awe and respect of most travelers that meander through.

But in recent years, Native American rock art and other cultural sites have been shot up with bullet holes and painted with graffiti.

One congresswoman wants to see that changed with legislation that would offer the area greater federal protection.

In September, Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., introduced legislation that would grant deserving protection to Gold Butte, which graces the southeast corner of the state, bumping up against the border of Arizona and Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument.

Berkley's bill would designate the area as the Gold Butte National Conservation Area. The designation would give protection to the important cultural resources of the area, while allowing responsible recreation activities such as hiking, camping and off-road vehicle use on designated routes. In addition, it would designate Wilderness areas within that larger area.

Unique cultural treasures need protection

Gold Butte is home to spectacular cultural resources including petroglyphs and agave roasting pits. When exploring the area, one may find prehistoric rock shelters dating back over 4,000 years along with evidence of the continued use of roasting pits dating back to 400 B.C.

In recent years, Gold Butte has become a destination for more and more travelers and recreationists. And with that, irresposible off-roading recreation has skyrocketed causing environmental damage. Vandalism of cultural sites has also increased.

Two small areas of Gold Butte are, in fact, designated Wilderness, but, the rest of the area remains unprotected. Berkley's bill would designate more than 220,000 acres more Wilderness within the area, thus protecting the best wildlife habitat and cultural resources from future motorized use. 

A unique desert home

Gold Butte is home to many species of desert animals and plants, including the threatened Desert Tortoise, Desert Bighorn Sheep, Golden Eagles, and the only pocket of Arizona cypress in Nevada.

The unique landscape consists of Great Basin, Mojave, Sonoran, and Colorado Plateau desert life zones.