The Tortoise In Its Lair

Hiking the Desert Tortoise Natural Area in the Mojave Desert

The Mojave Desert’s most extraordinary creatures are rarely seen, but at the Desert Tortoise Research Natural Area, you’ll have your best chance. Tortoises live in higher density in the 39.5-square-mile preserve than in other parts of the Mojave, and now is the best time to visit, as they emerge from their burrows in spring to feed on flowers and foliage. Once summer heat takes hold, they tend to stay underground.

The preserve, just northeast of California City, lies on a vast plain of sage and creosote, with the southern tip of the Sierra Nevada visible to the west. You can choose from four interpretive loop trails, each with numbered stops pointing out unique plants and animals. A naturalist in the interpretive center (on duty until early June) can suggest the best areas for spotting tortoises and can tell you all about these venerable reptiles who have survived in the Mojave for millions of years—and how the burgeoning raven population threatens the tortoises here.

Gallery image 1 of 11
Gallery image 2 of 11
Gallery image 3 of 11
Gallery image 4 of 11
Gallery image 5 of 11
Gallery image 6 of 11
Gallery image 7 of 11
Gallery image 8 of 11
Gallery image 9 of 11
Gallery image 10 of 11
Gallery image 11 of 11

There’s no guarantee that you’ll actually see tortoises, but visit early in the morning for the best chance. Regardless, you’ll learn a lot and enjoy an easy desert stroll. For example, the 0.75-mile Animal Loop offers a great primer on local mammals (including the tiny kit fox) and the tortoise’s various reptilian brethren that call this land home. You’re likely to see an array of colorful lizards, the most peculiar being the well-camouflaged desert horned lizard, aka horny toad.

To reach the Desert Tortoise Research Natural Area, take CA-14 north past the town of Mojave, exit at California City Blvd., and go east for 10 miles. Turn left on Randsburg Mojave Rd. After 1.4 miles, continue straight on 20 Mule Team Pkwy. After 1.7 miles, turn left on 130th St. After 1 mile, turn right on Randsburg Mojave Rd. After 1.7 miles, turn left on 140th St. and follow it into the preserve. The preserve is open daily from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Tortoise photo by Kurt Moses. No dogs.

Trending Stories Northern CA

View all Stories
  1. Image that represents the story

    Tam Slam!

    This 8-mile (round-trip) hike is a pure classic, with redwoods, water-flows, and soaring views of the coastline. Oh yeah, and that ladder!

    View
  2. Image that represents the story

    Easiest Best Hike in the World

    Choose the easiest and most view-rewarding hike in Yosemite. Okay, we’ll go first: the combination of hiking to Sentinel Dome and Taft Point. Both of these lookouts are within a couple miles of each other on Glacier Point Road

    View
  3. Image that represents the story
    Sponsored

    Road Trip Ahead: Oregon Outback

    Remote open spaces, camping under true Dark Skies, hiking and biking trails galore, wildlife refuges, and hot springs! Plan your road trip to the Oregon Outback this summer.

    View
  4. Image that represents the story

    Nice Ring to It

    This tiny but mighty open space preserve on the Tiburon Peninsula can often exhibit a wide range of wildflowers late into the season, not to mention one of the most jaw-dropping views of the bay.

    View

Trending Stories SoCal

View all Stories
  1. Image that represents the story

    Bouquet of Waterfalls

    Like a good love letter, some of the best hiking trails are short and sweet. Cue the hike to Bouquet Falls in Santa Clarita Valley’s Bouquet Canyon.

    View
  2. Image that represents the story

    New Rules of the Trail

    As some parks around California begin to re-open, we came up with tips for being responsible on your outdoor adventures. Let’s do our part so we can all keep enjoying the parks.

    View
  3. Image that represents the story

    Big Time Hike

    This is the largest grove of giant sequoias in Yosemite. We recommend this grand tour hike at 7.5 miles which includes a spectacular overlook.

    View
  4. Image that represents the story
    Sponsored

    All Roads Lead to Rogue

    Idea for your next road trip: Go Rogue! The Rogue Valley in beautiful Southern Oregon has some of the state’s best hiking, swim holes, and wineries, and the charming historic towns of Ashland, Medford, and Jacksonville.

    View