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Gold Butte and Radio Crystal Mine

St. George Jeepers Trail Report-February 21, 2017

Gold Butte and Radio Crystal Mine, Nevada

Despite several previous days of intense rain throughout the region, the decision was made to do the scheduled Gold Butte trail ride. As it turned out, the trails were perfect, no dust and no mud. The weather was pleasant, partial sun and a light breeze. Partly due to concerns about muddy trails, having visited the area recently, and partly due to confusion about the group meeting location, turnout was much lighter than recent trips. Eight vehicles gathered for a very enjoyable and educational ride. The leader was Bud Sanders and the tail gunner was Dan Gastineau. Thanks to retired geologist Steve Mulqueen for his instructive narrative along the trail.

This ride was pre-run under the leadership of Don and Linda Gilmore. They maintain an excellent website, They have compiled numerous trail descriptions and reports from throughout the desert southwest, along with photos, videos, educational articles and much more. Cut and paste their above URL to your browser, go to their website and explore. Check out the "About Us" link and then their "Day Trips" link. Go to "Nevada" and then all the way to the bottom for their Gold Butte photos, video and text. This report will expand upon the history of the area.

In late 2016, former President Obama, in a controversial action, declared the area a national monument. 

How the designation will impact recreational and grazing access is not yet clear. As of this writing, nothing has changed and BLM representatives have voiced opinions that little will change. They are currently developing a management plan. Concern has long been expressed about vandalism to the extensive Native American artifacts in the area and about vehicles leaving designated trails. The designation is described as an attempt to minimize that risk, partly through increased patrolling and education.

"The 300,000 acre monument will serve as a connection between Lake Mead National Recreation Area and the Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument, protecting a wildlife corridor for desert bighorn sheep, mountain lions and the threatened Mojave Desert tortoise," said Christy Goldfuss, former managing director at the White House Council on Environmental Quality. According to the White House, the designation also will protect early 20th century ranching heritage and sites associated with Spanish explorers from the late 18th century.

Whitney Pockets

The Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) completed some work at Whitney Pockets from 1933 to 1942. A concrete dam was built at a crevasse in the sandstone in an attempt to catch water. Piping from the dam leads to a livestock watering trough. A nearby cave, south, across the road, was walled in by the CCC. Parts of the walls are now disintegrating rapidly and a sign urges the public to assist in conserving what remains. In spite of CCC and cattlemen’s efforts to harvest the scarce water supplies, this region does not favor successful ranching. The summers are unbearably hot and often the winters are quite harsh. 

Carol Steck investigates a dried up wash with colony of "Coyote Melons" at Whitney Pockets. 


Sunny day scenery along the road to Gold Butte Mine

Falcon perches on a rock along the trail. 

Gold Butte

Mica was first discovered here in 1873, and then gold in 1905. Some historians believe that Spanish explorers camped in the region in the 1730s and crushed gold and silver ore, long before others sought riches here. It is known that the Gold Butte Mining District saw activity in 1873 when Mormon pioneer Daniel Bonelli discovered and began to mine vermiculite sheet mica.

A gold rush in 1908 brought in more people, and the town site then had a hotel, livery stable, post office, mercantile, and several residences. Some 1,500 to 2,000 people lived in the area during this mining "boom". Another camp named Copper City was started two miles west at the site of the short-lived Lincoln copper mine. Although a number of small companies were organized to work various properties, no important discoveries were made. The total production from the district has been set at about $75,000, mostly in shipping ores.

It is known that more copper than gold was mined during the Gold Butte Mining District’s heyday. Lincoln and Old Tramp Mines to the north produced high-grade copper ore. Mining activity slowed down during 1910 and the post office closed on February 28, 1911. The town was dismantled and those desert- scarce building materials were reused at St. Thomas, Nevada. Some additional copper and zinc was shipped from the District up until 1918. Mule teams (plus horses and oxen) were used to pull ore wagons (freighters) to the rail spur at St. Thomas.

By 1910 the gold rush was over and most mining operations ceased, however, minor gold production continued in the district through 1941. No buildings remain, only a couple concrete slabs/foundations, two graves, and several old mine shafts. Most of the homes were moved to St. Thomas which is abandoned and is now below the high water line of Lake Mead. In 1936 the principal operation in the district was that of the Lake Shore Mining Co. 

Mine shafts in the Gold Butte area

Arrastra (Photo-2017) 

Another photo from same viewpoint, taken in 2014 before the drag stone was removed. 

An Arrastra (or Arastra) is a primitive mill for grinding and pulverizing (typically) gold or silver ore. The simplest form of the arrastra is two or more flat-bottomed drag stones placed in a circular pit paved with flat stones, and connected to a center post by a long arm. With a horse, mule or human providing power at the other end of the arm, the stones were dragged slowly around in a circle, crushing the ore. Some arrastras were powered by a water wheel; a few were powered by steam or gasoline engines, and even electricity.

Arrastras were widely used throughout the Mediterranean region since Phoenician times. The Spanish introduced the arrastra to the New World in the 16th century. The word "arrastra" comes from the Spanish language arrastre, meaning to drag along the ground. Arrastras were suitable for use in small or remote mines, since they could be built from local materials and required little investment capital.

For gold ore, the gold was typically recovered by amalgamation with quicksilver. The miner would add clean mercury to the ground ore, continue grinding, rinse out the fines, then add more ore and repeat the process. At cleanup, the gold amalgam was carefully recovered from the low places and crevices in the arrastra floor. The amalgam was then heated in a distillation retort to recover the gold, and the mercury was saved for reuse. For silver ore, the patio process, invented in Mexico in 1554, was generally used to recover the silver from ore ground in the arrastra." (Source: Encyclopædia Britannica, et. al.)

Carol traversing a tight spot near the arrastra

Graves of William H. Garrett and Arthur Coleman


William Garrett and Arthur Coleman moved to Gold Butte in 1916. They were partners in several enterprises, including some cattle ranching and some prospecting. It is said that they rather enjoyed their homemade moonshine. Both lived at the town site until their deaths, Coleman in 1958 and Garrett in 1961. 

The above two headstones mark their gravesites. Fencing, scattered junk such as kitchen appliances, and the cemetery are about all that remains of the town site today.

The men’s graves — and the remains of the old town site where they ran cattle, brewed moonshine and hunted for gold long after Gold Butte faded away — are in a nearly 600,000-acre area federal authorities closed in April, 2014, to round up cattle belonging to rancher Cliven Bundy. Coleman's grave was dug up right around the time of that now-infamous standoff near Bunkerville between the Bureau of Land Management and Bundy. It’s unclear if the burial site was disturbed while the land was closed or after federal authorities released the cattle they had collected and left the area on April 12.

Authorities still don’t know who disturbed the small burial plot or why. The Clark County coroner’s office collected the bones left scattered around the grave site on April 23, 2014, the day after the damage was reported to authorities. Coroner John Fudenberg said DNA testing was unsuccessful, but investigators were able to determine that the remains belonged to an adult man and had been previously embalmed. They concluded that based upon evidence they probably were the remains of Mr. Coleman.

Fudenberg’s office released the remains to the BLM in late October of 2014, and the BLM turned them over for burial by the Moapa Valley Mortuary and a local nonprofit called Partners in Conservation. About 30 area residents gathered at the remote grave site in late March, 2016, to remember Coleman and return his remains to the ground. Logandale native Lindsey Dalley, who helped organize the reinterment, said the crowd included residents of all ages from the Virgin and Moapa valleys. He said the same “common-sense conservation group” was responsible for filling Coleman’s grave back in after investigators were done with it in 2014.

A church contingent from Bunkerville led the graveside service. The mortuary in Moapa Valley donated a pair of thick, concrete burial vault lids that should keep anyone else from digging up the graves at Gold Butte.

Some of the pockmarked, rounded Gold Butte granitic boulders along the trail.

For you geology enthusiasts:

"The Gold Butte block consists of a complex of Proterozoic (began 2.5 billion years ago and ended 542.0 million years ago) medium- to high-grade metamorphic and plutonic rocks, unconformably overlain by steeply east dipping Paleozoic sedimentary rocks on its east side. (The Paleozoic Era started 542 million years ago with the emergence of complex life forms and ended 251 million years ago with the largest mass extinction the world has ever experienced.)

This complex is one of the largest continuous exposures of crystalline rocks in the southwestern United States that lie structurally beneath a steeply tilted section of Phanerozoic strata (The Phanerozoic Eon is a geologic time division that extends from roughly 542 million years ago until the present), and it may represent part of an intact Proterozoic-Miocene crustal section reaching paleodepths of approximately 15 km. The section was exposed during tectonic denudation in Miocene time (at about 15 Mya-million years ago) and lies directly adjacent to the Colorado Plateau to the east. Proterozoic and Tertiary geological features support the hypothesis that the block represents a relatively intact crustal section.

A large exposure of Proterozoic rapakivi granite, the Gold Butte Granite crops out over most of the crystalline complex and displays strong zoning in phenocryst abundance, (a phenocryst is a relatively large and usually conspicuous crystal distinctly larger than the grains of the rock groundmass of an igneous rock) which increases toward the top of a 10- to 12-km-thick magma chamber."- (Tectonics , Publisher: American Geophysical Union)

Below is a stop in Pleasant Valley. The old trailer was apparently a sleeping quarters and was heavily wired with electrical cable and outlets.

The machinery to the right is the remains of an old electricity generator. The history and function of the trailer is not immediately obvious.

Pictured below is a location near the Treasure Hawk Mine, where small amounts of gold and silver were extracted in the 1980's. It is/was owned by a Mr. Eddie Bounsall. "Treasure Hawk Mine and Mill" is an occurrence deposit site. It is a deposit, not considered to be of "world-class significance".

"Gold deposits are documented at "Treasure Hawk Mine and Mill." Gold is present at a grade sufficient to have a strong effect on the economics of an excavation project. It may even be viable as the only commodity mined. At the time this deposit was surveyed, ore mineralization was documenting in an outcrop, shallow pits, or isolated drill hole. Aside from routine maintenance, there has been no production and little or no activity since discovery. This also means that details including grade, tonnage, and extent of mineralization are unknown. " (Source: The Diggings)

Radio Crystal Mine

For information about crystal radios, refer again to the in-the-desert website. Many readers will recall using those radios in their youth and being fascinated by the simplicity and effectiveness of these little gadgets. In the photos below, you can see the vertical vein of quartz. The mine entrance has been partially blocked to discourage access.

About 30 miles north Gold Butte is the geologic feature of Devils Throat. On our return trip we took the short spur road to Devil’s Throat. This is a sinkhole some 100 feet wide and nearly as deep. It was formed a few decades ago by underground water movement. The underlying geology is most likely limestone which dissolves when acidic water passes through the fissures and cracks. Eventually caverns form below ground, the roof collapses and sinkholes such as this are formed. A fence surrounds the hole for safety, yet must be relocated occasionally as the hole continues to erode and grow.

This concludes another great day on the trail in the desert southwest.

Submitted by Bud Sanders

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