Hidden amongst the colorful desert landscape of gold butte, Nevada is a canyon that I can easily call my favorite. Keyhole Canyon is a slot canyon carved through a red sandstone island near the confluence of Gold Butte Wash and Mud Wash. Encapsulated within these red desert cliffs are writings from a time gone by. While hiking through these sandstone walls, in search of the Indian writings, it is easy to find ones self slipping back in time.
Uncle Bert had heard about these petroglyphs from one of his Perkins relatives. The only direction he gave to Keyhole Canyon was, “it is in some red rocks below the corral but above Red Bluff Springs.” With this tidbit of information Dad and Bert set out in search of this red slot canyon and the Indian writings within. Over the years we searched many slots, cracks and canyons within the red rock islands near Gold Butte Wash, but to no avail. Finally we stumbled across the slot canyon that became known as Keyhole Canyon. What a discovery! There was nothing but a few rodent tracks, catclaw bushes, and some Indian writings on the desert varnished walls.
Uncle Bert actually named this slot canyon on the first visit while eating lunch outside its entrance. It is not hard to see why he named it Keyhole Canyon after one visit to this spot. To enter Keyhole Canyon you have to first make it around a large catclaw bush. This is actually one of the reasons it took us so long to find the canyon. If you have ever fought a catclaw bush you pretty much know it’s a losing battle attacking from any angle. It is not called the Wait-a-Minute bush for nothing. Once you make it around this formidable desert plant you enter the first section of the slot canyon (for future visitors the catclaw bush has been pushed back by the droves that now visit). The first section of this slot canyon is circular in shape, carved by years of Mother Nature working away at these desert rocks. After about 15 yard through the first section of the keyhole, it then opens up where two tributary canyons angle into the main part of Keyhole Canyon. After this brief opening the canyon then narrows down and the cliffs become steeper. After roughly 30 yards the slot canyon starts to narrow quickly and then the canyon ends at a rockslide. It is at the rock slide, on the desert varnish walls, that Keyhole Canyon petroglyphs begin.
When standing at the entrance to Keyhole Canyon if you look east there is another set of petroglyphs under an overhang of the red sandstone cliffs. These Indian writings are on a large rock that looks like it was broken off of the face of the cliff many years before. There are actually more Indian writings on this rock then there are in Keyhole Canyon. There are other Indian writings hidden within the slots of these canyons that are less known. One of my favorites is a lone petroglyph hidden is a narrow slot within these same sandstone islands. This slot is so narrow that you literally have to turn sideways to get back to the end. Once you reach the very end the slot opens up into a large room. To me it seems like a place where these ancient people would gather.
Like all of the Gold Butte country there is plenty to see and visit within the close vicinity of Keyhole canyon. To get to Keyhole canyon leave Whitney Pockets and head down the road to Devils Throat. Once you get to the Devils Throat turn off turn right, towards Devils Throat. Because you are so close take the two minutes and stop and see devils Throat. Keep driving down the same road, the signs will say Red Bluff Springs. It is about 9 miles from the Devils Throat turn off to the corral. From the corral it is about 1 more mile down to where the Gold Butte Back Country Byway hooks into Mud Wash. At that intersection you will see an island of Red Rocks. You will see a road that leads over to the last island. Take that road and you will find the BLM corral blocking the last half mile of the road.
Much of the Gold Butte area is getting closed to the public. The time to visit and get involved in keeping these places open for public enjoyment is now. Be prepared to run into BLM road blocks and No Motor Vehicle signs. They are litter the desert at every turn. When out visiting our beautiful country use your head and don’t do things that would give the BLM a reason to close even more places off. It is our country to enjoy but also take care of.
Directions from Whitney Pockets to Keyhole Canyon