Ridgecrest Field office

Desert Tortoise Natural Area

AREA DESCRIPTION: The BLM, with assistance from the Desert Tortoise Preserve Committee, established the Desert Tortoise Natural Area (DTNA) in 1976. This is a special place-a traditional home for a species now threatened with extinction. The DTNA is managed to protect this unique habitat in its natural state, free from conflict with other land uses. The total area encompasses over 25,000 acres of public land.

Located in the western Mojave Desert in northeastern Kern County, the DTNA was designated an Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) in 1980 through the California Desert Conservation Area Plan. It has one of the highest known densities of desert tortoises per square mile in the species' geographic range (California, Utah, Nevada, Arizona and northwest Mexico). Tortoise populations are from 100 to 200 per square mile in some parts of the DTNA.

GETTING THERE: The DTNA, managed by the BLM, is in northeastern Kern County, 5 1/2 miles north of California City on the Randsburg-Mojave Road. It is about a 2 hour drive north from Los Angeles and 1 1/2 hours east of Bakersfield.

DESERT TORTOISE INFORMATION: The desert tortoise (Gopherus agazzizi) is the official California state reptile. It is long-lived, slow to mature, and has a low reproductive potential. Individuals may live 60 to 100 years and may reach a length of about 15 inches. Tortoises do not mature until 14 to 20 years of age and even then, eggs are not necessarily laid every year. Hatchling tortoises receive no parental care. Since their shells don't completely harden for 4 to 5 years, the young tortoises are especially vulnerable to predators.

Tortoises live in underground burrows that shelter them from the summer sun and provide a place to hibernate in the winter. These burrows are often found under perennial bushes where the root systems stabilize the burrow and the foliage provides additional shade.

Tortoises feed on annual wildflowers and grasses in the spring and sometimes again in the fall. During feeding periods, they accumulate fat and store water. These food reserves must carry the tortoises through the summer and, in some years, to the next spring.

YOUR DTNA VISIT: At the DTNA, an interpretive kiosk and hiking trails lure the visitor through much of the DTNA, where, if you're lucky, you can catch a glimpse of this fascinating creature.

Spring (mid-March to mid-June) is the best time of the year to visit the area, because temperatures then are most agreeable to animal and plant life, as well as people. Tortoises may be seen outside their burrows in the morning and the late afternoon. From mid-June through February, most tortoises are usually deep in their burrows and are seldom seen.

Bring a good supply of drinking water, as there is none at the site. Sunglasses, hat, windbreaker or sweater, and sturdy shoes or boots are recommended. Visitors may also wish to bring binoculars and a camera. Since rattlesnakes live in and around the area, watch your step!

HELPING THE TORTOISE: To help protect the tortoise and the DTNA, please observe a few common sense rules:

  • Please leave the tortoises in their home! Collecting wild tortoises is prohibited by California and Federal laws.
  • Do not handle tortoises or approach them too closely. When frightened, a tortoise may lose water from its bladder -- water that could otherwise have been reabsorbed into its system. Excessive water loss can cause fatal dehydration.
  • Captive tortoises (pets) should not be released in the DTNA. They may carry diseases that are hazardous to wild tortoises, and pets do not fare well in the wild.
  • Dogs and cats should be kept on leashes and in the parking area only.
  • Plants must not be picked or damaged; they are the tortoises' food.
  • Visitors should stay on marked trails.
  • Vehicle use is prohibited in the DTNA.
  • Please don't litter. Pack out what you packed in.
  • Groups of 25 or more should contact the Ridgecrest Field Office before visiting the DTNA.

The Desert Tortoise Do's and Don'ts

More DTNA Information

Additional information can be obtained from the Desert Tortoise Preserve Committee. For information on adopting a desert tortoise, contact the California Turtle & Tortoise Club.