Sunday, April 4, 2010

Where is Gold Butte

The large expanse of desert country that has become known as Gold Butte has grown significantly over time. In the beginning Gold Butte was the name of a peak in the heart of this rough country. Gold Butte Peak was encased between the Virgin and Colorado Rivers before their confluence into what is now Lake Mead. In the early 1900’s when the prospects of a mining boom heightened and Copper City, near the Lincoln Mine, started to grow, the area became known as the Gold Butte Mining District. This included mines like the Lincoln, Tramp, Black Jack and various other smaller mines in the surrounding hills. When the mines didn’t pan out, the few tent saloons that essentially made up Copper City packed up and moved on in hopes of the next great strike. However, the name Gold Butte came to encompass areas like Lime Ridge, Tramp Ridge, Azure Ridge and the country in and around Cedar Basin.

After the prospectors headed out, cattle grazing became the main stay of those trying to etch a living out of the Gold Butte country. In the late teens and early twenties the rains came, the grass was good and those running cattle were able to survive. However, as many old timers in this desert country will tell you, the rains come and the rains go. As the dry spell set in and the grass and water for the cattle dried out, so did many of those who ran cattle in this rugged country. They ranchers supplemented their income with a combination of prospecting, cattle grazing, and even moonshine from time to time, but for the most part, the permanent inhabitants of this country blew through like a dry desert wind. It wasn’t just the winds that affected the ranchers in Gold Butte and through out the west, the Taylor Grazing Act of 1934 signed by President Roosevelt changed how much of public lands were administered. Among many other things the Taylor Grazing Act created grazing districts. One of the districts that got created was the Gold Butte Grazing district at just under 270,000 acres. Yet again the area that was to become known as Gold Butte grew in size.

In the 1960’s, Howard Hughes, known mostly as an aviator, held many of the grazing permits in Southern Nevada. One of these permits was Gold Butte. For those familiar with the area, the North end of the allotment starts at the cattle guard four miles south of Whitney Pockets. The east side is the Nevada-Arizona state line and the south and west borders are the Lake Mead (or the Virgin and Colorado Rivers if the lake gets any lower). In the 1970’s, the LDS Church bought many of Hughes’s grazing permits. My Grandfather, Donald Whitney ran the cattle on many of these grazing allotments, one of which was Gold Butte. Of the Gold Butte area Gramps tells me “the cactus done well and the most money we made was when we sold rough stock to the rodeos.” On average, while he was running the range on the Gold Butte allotment, they ran 500 head of cattle year round. However, on a good year with decent rains you could run a lot more without detriment the range. The church sold the Gold Butte permit in the 1980’s but was eventually bought with US tax dollars by the BLM and was retired. Due to invasive grasses and the lack of grazing there have now been multiple fires in the Gold Butte region since it was retired as a grazing allotment.

The entire region south of I-15, between the Virgin and Colorado Rivers, has now been labeled Gold Butte. A sign has been put up near the Bundy farm on the Gold Butte Road, letting people know they have now entered the Gold Butte Region. Gold Butte, whether it be the actual Gold Butte at Headquarters or the entire region, has a history that is as rich and colorful as the sandstone mountains found in this beautiful desert country. As the theatrics play out on the politics of public lands at Gold Butte, all of us who enjoy this region need to take part in the process to ensure that a reasonable management plan is created that will provide protection with access to our public lands.