Devil’s Throat ~ Gold Butte National Monument
Suggesting travel destinations that suit the season is a basic sustainably green approach to tourism and it makes sense from a comfort standpoint. For example, promoting destinations in the Southwestern sun belt during the winter season is best, because the outdoor temperatures will be mild. Promoting western destinations north of the sun belt or in high elevations during summer is best for the same reason. On the flip-side, if solitude is what you seek during the summer season, then head toward the places with the hottest temperatures in the Southwest, because nobody in their right mind would tour these places when the outdoor temperatures are over 115ºF!
Gold Butte National Monument is one such place in the sun belt where a visitor will be absolutely alone during the months of June and July, because the high summer temperatures are just too much for most people to bear. During winter, Gold Butte sees a fair amount of visitors each day and the same can be said about spring.
Gold Butte National Monument is so large that a tourist could spend a two week vacation driving the Jeep trails in this place and still not see it all. There are some great campsites in the Whitney Pockets area that offer majestic views from the high elevations and camping near the old Gold Butte Ghost Town is a unique experience in itself. There are a few Jeep trails that lead to the Virgin River and Lake Mead in this park, so there are some beachfront property camping areas too.
Mesquite, Nevada is the base camp choice for all Gold Butte National Monument excursions. The newly opened Friends Of Gold Butte Visitors Center in Mesquite is a good place to start, because all of the information needed for a Gold Butte venture can be found under one roof. Outdoor outfitters can be found in Mesquite and this town also has ATV and 4×4 rentals, which are a necessity for traveling in Gold Butte where the dirt roads are not exactly smooth.
There are several landmark destinations in Gold Butte and the Devil’s Throat is fairly easy to find, although it does take about one hour of off-highway driving on a rough dirt road to get to this place. To find the Devil’s Throat, all it takes is following the Gold Butte National Scenic Back Country Byway route from Riverside Drive to the Devil’s Throat destination. When starting in Mesquite, the round trip will be about 70 miles, so be sure to top off the tank!
Upon arrival at the Devil’s Throat sign marker on the Gold Butte Back Country Byway Road, one may wonder why so many wooden fence posts were pounded into the ground by the roadside in this solitary section of the long dirt road. Basically, the posts at the Devil’s Throat access point are a reminder to stay on the existing dirt roads in this region. Riding cross-country across the virgin terrain is taboo in this protected region, because vehicles can destroy the fragile wildlife habitat. In a desert, it can take decades to repair the damage done, because so little rain falls in this place. It is only the sparse vegetation and the dry mud crust that keeps the soil from blowing away, so off-road travel is not permitted. Another reason is because the Devil’s Throat is a gigantic sinkhole and where there is one, there may be more. Discovering a new sinkhole while driving a 4×4 through a desert field is a dangerous proposition that could be compared to searching for landmines by sense of feel.
The Devil’s Throat is fenced off for a reason, but the gates are always open. This is an “enter at your own risk” area, so it is best to proceed with caution, especially if you travel alone. Keeping pets on a leash and small children at bay is a good idea, because the ground around the sinkhole is unstable and it is easy for the dried up mud rubble to give way close to the edge. The result of a fall into the big sinkhole would only be about a twenty foot drop, but it would nearly be impossible to climb back out without assistance. Being stuck and possibly injured in a sinkhole out in the middle of a desert that only sees a handful of visitors each day is not a pleasant thought. Hence the Devil’s Throat is the appropriate name for this place!
The Devil’s Throat is the result of an underground cavern that recently collapsed within the last couple of decades. When peering over the edge into the Devil’s Throat, one will notice that the walls of this pit are nearly vertical, so the ground collapsed like a gigantic round plug all at one time. When looking into the abyss, one will also notice the underlying soil composition, which looks like dried up ancient ocean bottom mud that is very compacted and dense. Since there are tall mountains uphill and an ancient river basin below, it is easy to see that there is plenty of underground water seepage flows underground. Over time, the seepage can turn into underground rivers and aquifers, which can become unstable when they dry up. The instability is amplified even more when the earthen strata is composed of dry mud and rock rubble. The Devil’s Throat is a prime example of how a sinkhole can form in these conditions.
The Devil’s Throat has only existed for a few decades, so it is a recently sculpted geological wonder. The edges of this sinkhole are still fresh and clean, because the erosive forces of nature have not had enough time to do their work. The ancient soil strata can also be seen in this sinkhole and one can notice where the composition of the pit wall is shaped like an arch with part of a hollow smooth cavern underneath. This view obviously was an underground water aquifer at some time in the ancient past, that has since dried up and collapsed.
Natural geologic wonders are great destinations, because they provide insight into the world around us. Therefore, the Devil’s Throat is as much of an adventure as it is a learning experience! When visiting Gold Butte National Monument there is plenty to experience in this vast desert wilderness area and the Devil’s Throat is one of the geological features that a visitor will simply not want to miss while there!