Gold Butte: A link to the ancient world

Located between the Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument and Lake Mead National Recreation Area, the stretch known as Gold Butte encompasses almost 350,000 acres of cultural, historic and natural wonders about 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas.

Gold Butte is not as well-known as some other iconic landscapes of the Southwest, but in recent years, it has become a destination for more and more travelers and recreationists, enchanted by its awe-inspiring desert landscape and rich archaeological legacy.

Unfortunately, with that popularity has come more irresponsible off-road recreation, vandalism and other threats—increasing the need for protection.

Gold Butte is much more than just a striking landscape. Local Native American tribes hold this place dear just as their ancestors did, and petroglyphs and artifacts attest to the strength of this 3,000-year-old connection. Within the broader Gold Butte complex lie more than 2,000 archaeological or cultural sites, ranging from the remnants of huge outdoor ovens to rock art panels longer than a city bus.

Not only do these sites preserve the everyday heritage of local tribes, but they add to our knowledge of the past by helping archaeologists and other experts.

These cultural highlights are set into a landscape that would be plenty wild on its own. Gold Butte's craggy desert scenery harbors rare and threatened wildlife such as the Mojave desert tortoise and desert big horn sheep amid dramatic rock formations and and fossil track-sites dating back 170 to 180 million years ago.

In addition, Gold Butte is an amazing place where people can experience the great outdoors through hiking, hunting, birding, camping, off-road vehicle use on designated trails and many other activities.

Gold Butte is a unique treasure, and with increased visitation comes new threats. 

Two sections of Gold Butte are already designated federal wilderness, but most of the area is without permanent protection. This means ancient burial sites damaged, sensitive land torn up by recreational vehicles and Joshua trees toppled. A recent report documents these issues, including extensive vandalism of historic and cultural sites.

A number of legislative attempts to permanently protect Gold Butte have fallen short, but local support remains strong, with 71 percent of Nevadans supporting national monument status in a 2016 poll. In a situation like this, a president could use the Antiquities Act to make Gold Butte a national monument, which would, among other things, help it get the staff it needs to properly manage the area.

Passed in 1906, the Antiquities Act authorized all future presidents to protect historic landmarks or objects of “scientific interest” on public lands as national monuments. The bill grew out of a movement to preserve deteriorating archaeological resources, some of which had become targets of vandalism, like Gold Butte.

We call on President Obama to recognize that now is the time to protect Gold Butte as a national monument, before it’s too late.