Site 196 in the California Wildlife Viewing Guide.
For three million years, the desert tortoise survived and adapted to changing climates in what is now the California Desert. But in recent years, their numbers have been greatly reduced. Causes include an upper respiratory disease, raven predation on the young, drought, illegal collecting, and vandalism. Habitat has also deteriorated over much of their range. As a result, the desert tortoise has been Federally and State listed as a threatened species.
To help protect them, the Bureau of Land Management, with the help of the Desert Tortoise Preservation Committee, formed the Desert Tortoise Natural Area in 1976. This public land in the northwestern Mojave Desert in northeastern Kern County, is managed to protect a unique habitat in its natural state. The BLM closed the public land in the natural area to vehicle use, and about 35 miles of woven wire fence has been installed.
Visitors will find an interpretive kiosk and self-guided nature trails. The nature trails are a plant loop and an animal loop, each approximately 0.5 mile long, and a shorter main loop. The three trails have numbered interpretive trail posts with corresponding trail guides. There is also a discovery loop which is approximately 1.75 miles long.
Animals you may see here
- The desert tortoise has been officially designated the California State Reptile. To survive in the desert, it retreats to its burrow during the hottest times of summer days and hibernates in its underground burrow during the cold of winter. Tortoises come out in the spring to eat grasses and wildflowers, drink water from the spring rains, and to socialize and look for mates. At other times of the year, they are less active above ground.
Harming, collecting, or otherwise harassing a desert tortoise is punishable by federal civil and/or criminal penalties of up to a $50,000 fine and one year in jail, or both, plus California penalties. See the desert tortoise page for important information on what to do and what not to do around this threatened species.
- Many desert animals are active only at night, but those recorded in the Desert Tortoise Natural Area include other reptiles such as the desert iguana, chuckwalla, zebra-tailed lizard, side-blotched lizard, desert horned lizard, western whiptail, sidewinder, gopher snake, red racer and Mojave rattlesnake. Mammals found here include the black-tailed hare (jackrabbit), Audubon cottontail, antelope ground squirrel, desert kit fox, coyote, badger and bobcat.
- Birds recorded in this area include the greater roadrunner, red-tailed hawk, prairie falcon, turkey vulture, chukar, golden eagle, American kestrel, loggerhead shrike, and LeConte's thrasher.
Viewing tips for this area
- Be sure to see the desert tortoise page mentioned above. You are most likely to see them in the spring, from mid-March to mid-June - and in the morning or late afternoon.
- Summers are very hot. Many animals seek shelter from the heat, so summer wildlife viewing is poor.
- Bring a good supply of drinking water - there is none at the site.
- Visitors will find an information kiosk and marked trails that they should stay on.
- Vehicle use is prohibited in the Desert Tortoise Resource Area.
- Since rattlesnakes live in and around the area, watch your step.
- Keep in mind that a large percentage of desert animals are nocturnal (active at night). You may see evidence of an animals' presence - such as footprints in the sand - rather than the animal itself.
- Various lizards may be seen sunning themselves or foraging for food, from spring through fall.
- Be sure to see tips for "Ultimate Wildlife Watching."
How to get here
Take the California City exit from either Highway 58 or Highway 14. Drive through California City. Turn north on Randburg-Mojave Road, and continue 5.5 miles to entrance.
Size: About 25,000 acres.
Managed by: Bureau of Land Management, Ridgecrest Field Office.
For more information, contact: Bureau of Land Management, Ridgecrest Field Office.
Watchable Wildlife Sites