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Birding the Arizona Road
Gold Butte National Monument
Birding the Gold Butte Area, Arizona Road
Arizona Road
Whitney Pocket. This area is sparsely vegetated with creosote bush and few other scattered shrubs (view E).

Description

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.

Gold Butte Area, Arizona Road
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.

Location

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.

Gold Butte Area, Arizona Road
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).

Gold Butte Area, Arizona Road
Higher up, blackbrush becomes common and mixes with Joshua trees and a variety of other shrubs (view N).

Hours

Always open.

Fees

None.

Gold Butte Area, Arizona Road
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.

Gold Butte Area, Arizona Road
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:

Birds:

Mourning Dove
Golden Eagle
House Finch
Black-tailed Gnatcatcher
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Red-tailed Hawk
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Cooper Hawk
Pinyon Jay
Western Scrub-Jay

Gold Butte Area, 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).
American Kestrel
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Northern Mockingbird
Scott's Oriole
Phainopepla
Black Phoebe
Say's Phoebe
Common Poorwill
Gambel's Quail
Common Raven
Loggerhead Shrike
Black-throated Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Sage Sparrow
Gold Butte Area, Arizona Road
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).
Cliff Swallow
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
White-throated Swift
Bendire's Thrasher
Crissal Thrasher
Le Conte's Thrasher
Juniper Titmouse
Spotted Towhee
Verdin
Turkey Vulture
Ladder-backed Woodpecker
Bewick's Wren
Cactus Wren
Canyon Wren
Rock Wren
Gold Butte Area, Arizona Road
View south from Whitney Pass towards the Gold Butte region of Lake Mead. The scenery alone is worth the trip up here (view south).

Mammals:

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.

Reptiles:

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.

Site # Location Latitude (°N) Longitude (°W) UTM Easting UTM Northing Elevation (feet) Verified
462 Whitney Pocket 36.5231 114.139 756178 4045577 3,013 Yes
684 I-15 at Highway 170 36.7706 114.2337 746902 4072795 1,804 Yes
685 Virgin River bridge 36.7347 114.2193 748310 4068849 1,444 Yes
686 Highway 170 at Gold Butte Road 36.7318 114.2172 748500 4068528 1,444 Yes
687 Gold Butte Road, turn away from river 36.6719 114.2891 742272 4061700 1,384 Yes
688 Whitney Pass 36.5314 114.069 762417 4046683 4,875 Yes

Happy birding! All distances, elevations, and other facts are approximate.
copyright; Last updated 170103

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