There are no words that can tell the hidden spirit of the wilderness that can reveal its mystery, its melancholy and its charm.
-President Theodore Roosevelt
A three-hour drive from the lights and sounds of Las Vegas is an area of wilderness so breathtaking that many Nevadans are unaware of its existence.
For thousands of years, Gold Butte, located between Lake Mead and the Grand Canyon, has provided a home to numerous species of vital plants, like the cherished Joshua tree, the Mojave Yucca and many different classifications of cacti. It’s also home to many precious animals. Bighorn sheep, mountain lions, the Gila monster (the only venomous lizard in the United States) and the desert tortoise, which has it listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act, can all be found within the 300,000 acres of this mountainous desert landscape.
Several Native American tribes also reside within Gold Butte’s boundary. The Southern Paiutes, for example, have lived here for generations. Because this area was once used for sustenance, medicine gathering and spiritual use, petroglyphs, roasting pits, broken pottery and discarded stone tools are a nod to the tribe’s sacred tradition, rich ancestry and American history.
In short, Gold Butte belongs to all of us and having it designated a National Monument was well overdue. However, the effort to attain such a status was both tumultuous and long-winded.
It all began in 1998 when the Bureau of Land Management designated Gold Butte as an Area of Critical Environmental Concern for its significant historical, cultural, wildlife and scenic values. In 2002, two areas in Gold Butte were designated as an area of wilderness: Jumbo Springs and Lime Canyon. This was a great first step, but it did not address issues such as the destruction of biological and cultural resources that occurred in the area.
Fast-forward nearly two decades when Keen, a premier outdoor shoe and gear brand, rolled out their “Live Monumental” campaign to address and protect five spectacular, threatened areas of wilderness. One of which was Gold Butte.
Throughout the summer of 2015, Keen made 80 pit stops across the country, including Zappos’ Las Vegas headquarters, to collect signatures for their petition. With the help of Friends of Nevada Wilderness (who had been working since 2003 to bring together advocates to fight for Gold Butte’s protection), its efforts and strong presence further amplified their message.
A few months later, Zappos’ sustainability guru Brad Tomm and Keen’s Kristen Blackburn joined hundreds of Nevadans in a public rally in downtown Las Vegas in support of this critical cause.
During his last term in office, U.S. Sen. Harry Reid (Nev.) cited a strong desire to protect Gold Butte and encouraged the Obama administration to get this protection done via the Antiquities Act. The senator gave a powerful speech about Gold Butte during a press conference, which helped encourage the president to do something truly remarkable.
On December 28, 2016 -- during the final days of his presidency -- President Barack Obama accomplished something that activists of wilderness protection, as well as local citizens, have eagerly waited to witness: He designated Gold Butte a national monument; protecting it under federal law. Finally, the hard work of all these amazing wilderness rock stars paid off!
I worked on the Gold Butte protection campaign for the five years, and I consider some of these pioneers for wilderness my family. The passion and love that I’ve seen in the eyes of these activists, and the hard work they’ve designated to this cause, was so inspiring. From the first moment I stepped foot in Gold Butte, I knew that there was hope for this magical place.
Thank you to Keen, Zappos and President Obama for making this dream become a reality. If you ever get the chance to visit Gold Butte and enjoy her majestic scenery, take a moment and think about all the hard work that went into making this place possible. For me, this is a reminder that amazing things can be accomplished and change can be seen when enough people work together to combine their passion and strength.