Desert Heights (unincorporated San Bernardino County, NW of 29 Palms) – The endangered Desert Tortoises are dying out exponentially in our area like never before due to drought and climate change conditions. Like the majestic Joshua Trees that are dying out or the ones that lack ability to reproduce, the desert tortoises face challenging times like never before. That’s the charitable views.
The not so charitable view is that they have vanished altogether in Desert Heights; no longer do they exist in the geographic area defined below.
Moreover, scientists working in the San Gorgonio Pass area have recently found that “types of lizards and insects have vanished from areas they once survived.“ And scientists have found in their research target area “more desert tortoises dead than alive.’ Even birds are changing their habitat seeking existence in higher mountain elevations, say these scientists.
Tortoises have lived in unincorporated desert heights for millions of years, even before it was a desert. These incredible life forms spend 95% of their time underground in their burrows.
My research indicates that they have disappeared entirely in the Desert Heights area generally between Lear Rd. and west of Morongo Road, and Pole Line and Old Chisholm Trail – a large part of which with no infrastructure, no water, electricity or homes.
I live at the edge of the largest continuous BLM area in the Morongo Basin that is absent the usual checkered board pattern of private ownership. When I moved here in late 2000, it was a joy to see these magnificent peaceful creatures on a regular basis.
However, my research shows that the last three years there are neither no active burrows or desert tortoises. Desert tortoises have vanished!
Their shells are all that remains, and they are being broken down by the sun and extreme climate conditions and are disappearing too. The babies that use to crawl around from time-to-time have vanished.
I have been a desert tortoise watcher going on fourteen years. Ironically, about five years ago when out-of-area guests were visiting, my friends ask me what a desert tortoises look like. I responded you will never see one in the wild unless you trek the area for a long time looking for them or the burrows. Suddenly, we saw a large mature male crossing the road.
You can tell males because they have “horns to combat other males and for butting and nudging females during courtship.” Males also have shallow depressions in their lower shells while the females lower shell is flat.
We did the right thing: I carefully lifted the animal up a few inches off the ground so it wouldn’t lose its water and slowly escorted it direction it was headed to a safe place off the road. My friends seven year old daughter was overjoyed!
The desert tortoise is one of the most elusive inhabitants in the desert. Even so, once a year a wild desert tortoises use at times hang-out in my front yard alongside a California Palm Tree, but that era is long gone.
Goodbye my majestic friends.
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