Desert Tortoise

Tortoise Life

Creeping along in the spring while searching for wildflowers to eat, shuffling into burrows to escape the hot sun, desert tortoises adapt to the changes of the desert. Their paddle-shaped front legs scoop the sand, not water as those of turtles do, as they build their burrows. Each tortoise may have several burrows located conveniently near to many favorite patches of wildflowers. Tortoises drink dew and can hold 40% of their weight in water. For more information, see the website of the Desert Tortoise Preserve Committee.

The Quest

My husband and I found and watched a desert tortoise while driving through the Mojave Desert Preserve. We followed the signs off I-15 in Baker, California. Stop off at the Desert Information Center for directions and advice. It is located in Baker next to the Bun Boy restaurant with its extremely tall thermometer. You can't miss it.

It was mid-April around 10:00 in the morning. The best time to find tortoises is from March to May from mid-morning to mid-afternoon. Tortoises hibernate during the winter and typically emerge in March.

Another observation location is outside the Red Rock Canyon Visitor Center near Las Vegas, Nevada. Several tortoises live in a well-designed garden space. Although it is not as exciting as seeing a tortoise in the wild, you will have a better chance of observing one. When we visited in early April, the temperature of the tortoise burrow was 55.5 degrees Fahrenheit, the shade of the Mojave yucca was 59.4 degrees, and the ground was 87.7 degrees.

Symbolism

Tortoises are symbols of long life and dignity. The plates that make up their shells are a symbol of the passage of time.

Desert tortoises are the state reptiles of both California and Nevada.


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