Whitney Pocket. This area is sparsely vegetated with creosote bush and few other scattered shrubs (view E).
The "Arizona Road" runs from Whitney Pockets east into Arizona, climbing some 2,000 feet in 4.5 miles to Whitney Pass. Along the way, the road passes through a number of vegetation zones where different species of desert and montane birds can be found. The road is suitable for sedans under benign weather conditions, but it is steep and narrow, and it gets a bit washboarded.
The Whitney Pockets area an informal BLM camping area nestled among scenic red and white sandstone cliffs at about 3,000 feet elevation. The area is quite dry, and the vegetation is almost entirely widely spaced creosote bush (Mojave Desert Scrub Zone). From this dry desert area, the road ascends through several vegetation communities (zones of increasing precipitation and changing vegetation) to Whitney Pass at about 5,000 feet in the Pinon-Juniper Woodland Zone. The Whitney Pass area is vegetated with a thick and diverse assemblage of shrubs, buckhorn cholla, and pinyon pine, but the area burned in about 2005, opening up the views.
Up the road a bit. Vegetation becomes more diverse, with Joshua trees, buckhorn cholla, catclaw acacia, and other shrubs (view N).
Make no mistake; going out here is going to wild and remote country. This is not a walk in the park; this is an adventure. Be prepared. Take food and water (lots of it during warm weather), make sure your spare tire is in good shape, and take everything that you might need to survive a night stranded with your vehicle. Cell phones get out from some places, but don't count on it.
The Arizona Road is located about 2 hours east of Las Vegas, in the wild, remote, and scenic Gold Butte National Monument south of the town of Mesquite.
Las Vegas, drive east on Highway I-15 to Highway 170 (Exit 112 towards Bunkerville) (Table 1, Site 684). This exit is a few miles before the town of Mesquite. Exit the Interstate and drive south on Highway 170 for about 3 miles to the Virgin River bridge (Site 685). Stop here to look for birds in the trees along the river, but watch for cars and be careful if you walk out onto the bridge, which is not pedestrian friendly.
As the elevation increases, rainfall increases and shrubs become quite diverse; banana yuccas also become common. Watch for Scott's Oriole, Sage Sparrows, and Mourning Doves (view N).
Cross the bridge and immediately take a hard right turn (Site 686) on the paved Gold Butte Road towards Meadowland Farm. The slope of the road makes the turn look like a pullout rather than an intersection. Follow the paved road southwest along the river. There are a number of places to stop and look for birds in the trees and farms along the river, but find safe places to pull off the road. After about 6 miles, the road abruptly turns southeast and leaves the river (Site 687). Stay on the rough paved road for another 14 miles, following it all the way to the end of the pavement at Whitney Pocket (Site 462).
At Whitney Pocket, the pavement ends, but the road continues straight ahead as a broad, graded dirt road. A few yards past the end of the pavement, a narrower road forks off to the east (left) and runs up along the sandstone cliffs. A road sign says that Arizona is 6 miles up that road. Turn (left) onto the road to Arizona (i.e., the "Arizona Road") and drive up the mountain towards Whitney Pass (Site 688).
Higher up, blackbrush becomes common and mixes with Joshua trees and a variety of other shrubs (view N).
Just below the pinyon-juniper zone. The shrubs become lush and desert almond is common in the washes. Watch for Western Scrub-jays, Spotted Towhee, Gambel's Quail, and mule deer (view NE).
Species to Watch For:
This is wild, middle-elevation desert county. Expect to see desert species such as Crissal Thrasher, Rock Wren, House Finch, Sage Sparrow, Pinyon Jay, Western Scrub-Jay, Juniper Titmouse, Mourning dove, and Spotted Towhee. At the higher elevations, also expect to see montane species such as Mountain Chickadee and Western Bluebird.
Just below the summit. The trees are so thick that it almost feels like a pinyon pine forest (view NW).
Species I've seen along Arizona Road:
A cattle tank in the pinyon-juniper zone. The vegetation is diverse, and the water used to attract wildlife. Watch for Pinyon Jays and Juniper Titmouse (view NW).
Whitney Pass and a view of the Grand Wash Cliffs in Arizona. On the ridgeline, the trees are replaced by a lush shrub community heavily mixed with buckhorn cholla. This area supports a dense population of Crissal Thrashers. Watch for these plus Cactus Wren, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Verdin, and White-throated Swift (view E).
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Le Conte's Thrasher
View south from Whitney Pass towards the Gold Butte region of Lake Mead. The scenery alone is worth the trip up here (view south).
Black-tailed Jackrabbit, desert cottontail, cliff chipmunk, rock squirrel, valley pocket gopher, white-tailed antelope squirrel, mule deer, and feral horse. I've seen bighorn scat.
Lyre Snake, Patchnose Snake, and Side-blotched Lizard.
Table 1. GPS Coordinates for Highway Locations (NAD27; UTM Zone 11S). Download Highway GPS Waypoints (*.gpx) file.
||I-15 at Highway 170
||Virgin River bridge
||Highway 170 at Gold Butte Road
||Gold Butte Road, turn away from river