Mustang

A lone mustang is the symbol of wild, power and freedom
A lone mustang is the symbol of wild, power and freedom

Left behind by Spanish explorers and settlers, the Mustang of the desert south west is alive and well in Nevada and a symbol of the southwest. Due to the fact that this animal population is descendant from a domesticated population the Mustang is actually a feral horse. The imagery of a wild mustang galloping across the desert as burnt into the memories of kids who watched “Western” movies or appreciate classic cars. The wild mustang brings one to think of power and freedom.

A mustang taking in some shade next to a pool of water.
A mustang taking in some shade next to a pool of water.

There is much debate when it comes to the wild Mustangs of Nevada. Some will debate weather you consider them an invasive species and a natural species. However, you consider them, they are thriving and a part of the landscape at this point. Should you happen upon them, you can not help but feel lucky.

The wild horse populations are separated by long distances, so each isolated herd has developed specific genetic traits. Some consider the horse populations a nuisance which destroy the terrain with their appetite. Their hooves can be quite destructive to the landscape and ranch land. Although considered “culturally significant”, the horse populations are closely monitored by the Bureau of Land Management to ensure healthy herd populations.

Two will fed mustangs near Cold Creek, Nevada
Two will fed mustangs near Cold Creek, Nevada

Population increases of about 20% per year have prompted the BLM to capture some of the horses. The captured horses are not euthanized, and instead are available for adoption for the cost of $125. Horses which are not adopted are held in “long term holding”, which costs the US Tax Payer about $50,000 over the lifetime of each individual horse.

On a trip to see the mustangs near Cold Creek, Nevada, we ran across the local herd lazily walking along the side of the road. We slowed the jeep down, and which point the horses started to walk up to the car looking for some food (which we did not provide). Not exactly the in line with the western movies of my youth.

BLM Mustang Range Map
BLM Mustang Range Map

For more information on Mustang Adoption visit the BLM Website.

Speckled Rattlesnake ( Crotalus mitchellii )

The Speckled Rattlesnake is fairly common pit viper found in southern California, southern Nevada, western Arizona and south-western Utah and down the Pacific coast into Baja California.  A moderate size snake, this animal typically does not exceed 39 inches in length.  As with most animals, the Speckled Rattlesnake is a master of disguise and commonly are colored to compliment the surrounding rock.  This viper can range from pink, cream, tan or pale blues and grays.  This feature I can personally attest to as I witnessed and entire Cub Scout Pack literally step over the specimen photographed below while hiking on a camping trip in the Valley of Fire State Park just outside of Las Vegas, Nevada.

Juvenile Speckled Rattle Snake found in Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada
A Juvenile Speckled Rattlesnake found in Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada
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Desert Tortoise

One of  the more unique and quite frankly cool animals found in the Mojave Desert is the Desert Tortoise.  My family has a connection with this nomad of the dessert in that during the spring of 1942, my grand parents inherited three desert tortoises when they purchased and moved into a house in Ontario, CA.

Hands Off
Hands Off

My grandmother quickly named and adopted her new pets.  She and my grandfather struck up a deal with a local grocery store to donate lettuce and other vegetables to my grandmother to care for the tortoises.  By the time I was born, the three tortoises became a populations of about 20 animals.  Some of my earliest memories was to help her wake up the “turtles” from their hibernation, during which she stored the animals in a  large box along with a bunch of news paper clippings to help insulate them a little bit from the California winters.

Over the years, those three tortoises expanded their family and ours into a breeding population of over 70 animals.   Eventually, we donated the captive born tortoises to several zoo’s, shelters, and rescue to care for the animals.  All in all, my family raised and cared for desert tortoises for about 60 years, the ownership of which was legal because family documentation and the fact that all of the animals were born in captivity.

California Desert Tortoise emerging from a hiding place...
California Desert Tortoise emerging from a hiding place…

Oddly enough, despite my best efforts I did not a desert tortoise in the wild until the late 1990s when I ran into the one emerging from a den during one of the Toyota Four Runner Jamborees which was located out of Stoddard Wells Road.  Surrounded by others, most of whom I did not know, I quietly photograph the tortoise and pointed him out to my brother and two friends.  I chose not to point him out for fear of someone in the group would take it after we left.

Since this initial sighting, I have found four more in the wild.  One sighting occurred while driving the old Mojave Road with my father.  The animal was just walking down the trail.  We stopped and waited about 45 minutes for the animal to clear the road.  The other animal were spotted while driving at speed along various highways in the Mojave.  One animal I found walking down the middle of the road and had I not stopped and moved the animal off the road, it surely would not have survived long.

A juvenile desert tortoise lost its battle for life in the harsh desert environment. Photo by James L Rathbun
A juvenile desert tortoise lost its battle for life in the harsh desert environment. Photo by James L Rathbun

When born, the tortoises shell is thin and fragile which makes it an easy food source for Ravens, Gila monsters, kit foxes, roadrunners, coyotes, and fire ants.  Only about 2% are expected to reach maturity and the population in the Mojave is listed as threatened.  Should you be lucky enough to see one in the wild, take your time. Enjoy the moment. Snap a photograph and then leave the tortoise along.  I can tell you the exact spot of each of the five sightings I have had the good fortune to have experienced.  Each sighting of this timeless desert nomad is unique, and should be protected.

Mojave Goldfish

Over Presidents day weekend, my wife and I were travelling back from Big Bear, CA to our house after a visit with family towards our home in Las Vegas.  Frequently, my wife will point out an old road or mine and comment that we need to take that trail someday.  During out drive home, we were talking about the mining district in Mountain Pass and the Evening Star mine.  On this journey, we chanced upon the ultra rare Mojave Goldfish.

This is one of the great reasons for owning a 4×4 and the Mojave Desert is a prime location to explore.

A live stock watering trough in the Mojave Desert.. Photograph by James L Rathbun
A live stock watering trough in the Mojave Desert.. Photograph by James L Rathbun
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