David Bly, Editor, Desert Valley Times-Published 4/26/2011
It’s not uncommon for people to ask about the gold in Gold Butte, thinking perhaps to stumble across a nugget or two. While there’s no shortage of old mining sites in this region, most of those appear to represent dreams that turned to dust.
Nevertheless, the Virgin Mountains, the Virgin Valley and Gold Butte country abound in treasure. You may not be able to take that treasure to the bank, but you will come away enriched.
Our most recent expedition into Gold Butte was a casual one — we had a herd of grandkids who just wanted to play in the rocks at Whitney Pockets, and this grandfather doesn’t need to be asked twice.
Sometimes the journey to Whitney Pockets is done in stages because of a couple of kids whose stomachs can’t tolerate the dips and curves of the Gold Butte road for more than 10 minutes at a stretch. This time it was Grandpa who held up the cavalcade, because he couldn’t drive two miles without stopping to check out the spring flowers.
Everyone likes flowers, I’m sure, but not everyone feels it necessary to photograph every one of them. Still, there was plenty of running around for kids to do while I was down on my knees getting acquainted with the newest dune evening primrose or stalk of blue phacelia. You can’t have too many pictures of dune evening primroses.
Then I had to stop for the Mexican gold poppies that had just started to appear on the steep slopes just this side of the Juanita Springs Ranch. Flowers can be seductive, and I was enticed up the slope by one blossom after another: poppies, purple mat, sand verbena, sun cups . . .
We hit the road again, but our progress was again hindered, this time by clumps of globe mallow that looked like they were on fire.
Then I found gold. Mysterious mounds of gold. We just had to stop for a closer look. We found shrubs covered in golden tendrils, and thought maybe that particular species of shrub had a strange way of blossoming, but we found the tendrils on different kinds of plants. My granddaughters called it the spaghetti bush, because the plants looked like they were festooned in golden spaghetti.
It was dodder or witch’s hair, a parasitic plant that sprouts from a seed, but as soon as it attaches itself to a host plant, it drops its root and is totally dependent on its host. It’s an amazing sight. I don’t know why I haven’t seen it before.
As we parked at Whitney Pockets we found plenty of winding mariposa lilies, delicately-hued mauve blossoms that grow low to the ground, seeking protection among hardier plants. It’s hard to say what the most beautiful desert flower is, but the mariposa lily is a contender.
Unless you happen to be partial to the brilliant magenta of the blossoms found on beavertail cacti strawberry hedgehog cacti, and there was no shortage of those. I found a couple of early blossoms on a silver cholla cactus, and some buds on a tiny barrel cactus — more treasures to be enjoyed in the coming weeks.
The kids scampered up a draw among the red rocks, then stopped and called to me. They had spied a bird in the bushes. I didn’t think much of it until I got close and found a hummingbird sitting on its tiny nest in a creosote bush, unwilling to move despite the nearby crowd. When it became plain the crowd wasn’t moving on, the bird zipped up from its nest and did a little dive-bombing in an attempt to scare away the interlopers. We got close enough to see a tiny egg and a new hatchling, and then moved on. The hummingbird quickly returned to its nest.
Lizards scampering among the rocks and plants were the next attraction, and I had to issue frequent warnings that it’s not a good idea to stick your hand into dark holes under rocks in the desert. No one (including the lizards) was harmed.
The main event of the next phase was a baby chuckwalla that emerged from under a rock to watch the parade, and kept edging its away around the rock as curious kids approached.
The chuckwalla is a fat-bodied lizard that can grow to become as long as 18 inches from nose to tail tip, but this one was only about six inches long.
It was a perfect day, one of those “this is why we moved here” days.
My first view of Nevada was back in the early 1970s when I was on assignment, flying from Salt Lake to California. I looked down at Nevada and thought what a dreary place it was, and wondered who would want to live there.
But I’ve since learned it’s a landscape full of countless riches when you take the time for a closer look.