Plain and Desert, April 2000
page 3 of 5
Desert Tortoise Natural Area
(Click any photo throughout to see a larger version)
Desert Tortoise Natural Area is a large expanse of flat Mojave desert scrub set aside for the protection of the desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizi). This is what it looks like: a bunch of creosote bushes, a few other scrubby desert plants, and a lot of mostly hard-packed dirt. I had visited DTNA on at least four earlier occasions hoping to see a desert tortoise, but to no avail (although I had managed to see many other reptiles there, including leopard lizards, long-nosed snakes, and several other species).
This time good fortune blessed us. In the morning we came across this tortoise apparently napping under a bush (probably just warming up in the morning sun). Here's a closeup:
The seasonal resident naturalist later told us more about this individual. From the size (about 9 inches long), he estimated it was around 40 years old. From the shape of the shell he could tell it was a female. And he was surprised to discover that this one hadn't been marked by any tortoise researchers. The researchers mark the ones they discover in a non-harmful way that will last for years, so they can better monitor movement patterns and other aspects of the life cycle. But our tortoise wasn't marked, so she had either meandered into DTNA from elsewhere or had otherwise evaded the notice of researchers.
Here's our tortoise in "action". We watched her determinedly stroll about, nibbling on tiny desert plants with not infrequent rest stops.
This is proof that the desert tortoise was not the only reptile inhabiting DTNA that morning. This is a rare shot of a California whiptail not moving. There were also plenty of side-blotched lizards around, as usual.

Next: Mojave desert scenic beauty

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