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Uranium Mine Route
Hiking Around Las Vegas, Gold Butte National Monument
Uranium MineGold Butte Road approaching Uranium Mine Road (view S)

Overview

The Uranium Mine is a 1950s-era prospect (aka: Long Shot Prospect, Blue Chip Prospect) where prospectors came in, found some uranium ore, invested time and money in bulldozing roads and digging one tunnel, then abandoned the area leaving a damaged and polluted landscape in their wake. Even so, this makes for an interesting hike into the mining history of Gold Butte where, they say, you can find any mineral you seek, but not in commercial quantities.

This 1.8-mile, round-trip route uses the old prospecting road, which climbs steeply up the hillside, then traverses across the side of the ridge to the mine. In this steep, rocky country, this is an in-and-out hike.

This hike provides access to the prospects on the open, airy ridge with grand views out across Horse Valley to the towering Tramp Ridge in the distance and Paradise Ridge in the foreground.

Link to map.

Uranium Mine
Uranium Mine Road (view E from Gold Butte Road)

Watch Out

Other than the standard warnings about hiking in the desert, ... this is a fairly safe route, but there are opportunities to stumble and fall off the trail, so always be extra careful when high enough to get hurt. The deepest prospect is a 33-ft tunnel, and while it probably won't cave in today, holes in the ground are never safe to enter.

This route goes to an abandoned uranium mine where radioactivity is as high as 16 times background (2,500 counts per second (cps) with a background of 150 cps) and extensive radioactivity at 3 or more times background. The highest radioactivity levels are generally associated with yellow carnotite on fractures (Ludington, et. al. 2006).

This is a wild and remote area without services of any kind (no restrooms, no water, no gas, no food). Bring what you need to survive. Be prepared and be self-reliant. Someone will find you eventually if you stay on a main road, but be prepared to survive alone for a day or two. Cell phones don't work in this area.

Uranium Mine
Hiker on Uranium Mine Road departing the trailhead (view E)

While hiking, please respect the land and the other people out there, and try to Leave No Trace of your passage. Also, this is a remote hike, so be sure to bring the 10 Essentials.

Getting to the Trailhead

The Uranium Mine is located out in Gold Butte National Monument at the northeast end of Lake Mead, about 3 hours northeast of Las Vegas in a wild, remote, and scenic area adjacent to the Arizona Border.

From town, drive out to Gold Butte National Monument. From Whitney Pocket, continue south on the unpaved Gold Butte Road. At about 16.3 miles out, Uranium Mine Road branches to the left into what looks like only a campsite. Turn in and park at the campsite, which is rarely used. If the campsite is occupied, park along Gold Butte Road and walk the few extra yards.

Drivers who miss Uranium Mine Road will, in another 0.26 miles, reach the intersection with Devils Cove Road. Turn around and drive back watching the right side of the road for the turnoff.

Uranium Mine
Small campsite along Uranium Mine Road (view N)

The Hike

From the trailhead (Table 1, Waypoint 01) at the campsite, this route runs east towards Uranium Ridge, passing to the left (north) side of the campsite. Uranium Mine Road is somewhat obscure leaving the campsite, but becomes obvious as it drops into a wash.

In the wash, the road turns right to head upstream, then shortly bends left and climbs out the other side. Just ahead, a little-used campsite can be seen on the left. A few yards farther, the road forks (Wpt. 02). Uranium Mine Road continues straight (left) while a short spur road to the Uranium Mine Cabin site goes right.

Staying left, Uranium Mine Road climbs straight up the hillside becoming steeper and steeper. Eventually, the road begins to wind up and across the hillside, then finally bends left into the first switchback.

Uranium Mine
Approaching the fork in the road (view E)

The road switchbacks right to wind up across the hillside, then passes two more switchbacks. The highest switchback (Wpt. 03; 0.7 miles out) brings the road to the elevation of the main prospects.

Heading south, the road traverses the steep, rocky hillside generally following the exposed layer strata where the uranium is found. The layered strata is interesting, and in one area the soils contain high amounts of gypsum evidenced by the presence of Palmer's Phacelia, one of the gypsophilic desert plants. Unfortunately, the more famous gypsophilic desert plant Las Vegas Bearpoppy, is absent.

In about 0.2 miles, the road arrives at a wide spot where it seems the mine tunnel would be, but it is just a few yards farther (Wpt. 04), just before the end of the road.

Uranium Mine
Fork in the road (view E)

Into the hillside, the 33-ft-long tunnel runs straight back dipping slightly, and the back is visible from the entrance. The opening is relatively wide, and it narrows towards the back. Inside the tunnel, sedimentary layers can be seen in the walls, including what probably are gypsum crystals and layers of yellow uranium ore (carnotite). The tunnel ends with two shallow drill holes bored into the end of the tunnel; perhaps the remains of the last blast before the site was abandoned.

Outside the tunnel, a steep use-trail climbs the hillside just south of the tunnel to two shallow prospects above the tunnel. It appears that the prospectors worked up here, but abandoned the effort. They did leave one drill bit stuck in the rock.

Other than the tunnel and pits, there is little evidence of the work done here. There is some ore spilled on the ground and a few pieces of wood, but there is no machinery or other equipment.

Uranium MineThe road is starting to get steep (view E)

Uranium is a metal. Uranium can take many chemical forms, but in nature it is generally found as an oxide (in combination with oxygen). Triuranium octoxide (U3O8), a yellow, powdery substance, is the most stable form of uranium oxide and is the form most commonly found in nature (u3o8corp, 2018).

At the mine, rock containing as much as 240 ppm uranium oxide (U3O8) and carnotite (K2(UO2)2[VO4]2•3H2O) occurs on fractures in a 1-m-thick body as much as 5,000 m long. Uranium contents of samples taken here have a high value of 181 ppm (Ludington, et. al. 2006).

Examination of the Long Shot Mine area showed local radioactive areas as high as 16 times background (2,500 counts per second (cps) with a background of 150 cps) and extensive radioactivity at 3 or more times background. The highest radioactivity is generally associated with yellow carnotite on fractures (Ludington, et. al. 2006).

Uranium Mine

When ready, head back down the road. The landscape is too steep and rocky to make a loop. Be sure to stop and visit the old cabin site on the way down. Little remains, but it is always interesting to contemplate the lives of people who tried to make a living out here.

 

Reference

Ludington, et. al., 2006. Mineral Resource Assessment of Selected Areas in Clark and Nye Counties, Nevada. U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2006-5197, Chapter 3, page C27.

u3o8corp, 2018. http://www.u3o8corp.com/our-commodities/uranium/what-is-uranium/

Uranium Mine
Steep road heading up the hillside (view SE)
Uranium Mine
Base of the middle switchback (view NE)
Uranium Mine
Approaching the final switchback (view N)
Uranium Mine
Atop final switchback (view S)
Uranium Mine
Traversing the side of the ridge (view S)
Uranium Mine
Gypsiferous soils and plants (view SE)
Uranium Mine
Hiker arriving at the tunnel (view S)
Uranium Mine
Oops, not yet ...
Uranium Mine
Hiker at the mine area (view S)
Uranium Mine
Hiker at tunnel opening (view S)
Uranium Mine
Mine opening; the back is visible in the darkness (view E)
Uranium Mine
Inside mine opening; exploratory alcove on the left (view E)
Uranium Mine
Inside mine tunnel (view E)
Uranium Mine
End of the mine tunnel (view E)
Uranium Mine
End of the mine tunnel with yellow ore and drill holes (view E)
Uranium Mine
Crystalline minerals in the wall of the tunnel (view N)
Uranium Mine
Layered strata inside the tunnel (view N)
Uranium Mine
Yellow carnotite ore outside the tunnel (view E)
Uranium Mine
Yellow carnotite ore outside the tunnel (view E)
Uranium Mine
Yellow carnotite ore mixed with gypsum crystals (view E)
Uranium Mine
Yellow carnotite ore outside the tunnel (view E)

Yellow carnotite ore on the ground outside the tunnel (view down)

Yellow carnotite ore
Uranium Mine
Yellow carnotite ore
Uranium Mine
Just beyond tunnel, pits on hillside (view NE)
Uranium Mine
South pit (view E)
Uranium Mine
North pit (view N)
Uranium Mine
Hiker halfway down the steep part of the road (view W)

Uranium Mine Cabin Site

Uranium Mine
Start of Uranium Cabin Spur Road (view SE)
Uranium Mine
Uranium Cabin Spur Road gets little traffic (view SE)
Uranium Mine
End of Uranium Cabin Spur Road at cabin site (view E)
Uranium Mine
Cabin driveway (view NE)
Uranium Mine
Uranium Cabin site (view NE)
Uranium Mine
Porch flagstones (view SE)
Uranium Mine
Cabin floor? (view SE)
Uranium Mine
Can dump (view N)

Table 1. Hiking Coordinates Based on GPS Data (NAD27, UTM Zone 11S). Download Hiking GPS Waypoints (*.gpx) file.

Wpt. Location UTM Easting UTM Northing Elevation (ft) Point-to-Point Distance (mi) Cumulative Distance (mi)
01 Trailhead 755785 4022547 3,436 0.00 0.00
02 Fork to Cabin Site 755961 4022452 3,447 0.16 0.16
03 Uppermost Switchback 756460 4022441 3,829 0.50 0.66
04 Uranium Mine 756357 4022116 3,877 0.21 0.87
01 Trailhead 755785 4022547 3,436 0.87 1.74

Happy Hiking! All distances, elevations, and other facts are approximate.
copyright; Last updated 180411

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