Desert Tortoise (Gopherus agassizii)

One of  the more unique and quite frankly cool animals found in the Mojave Desert is the Desert Tortoise ( Gopherus agassizii ).  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.

Desert Tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) in its burrow
Desert Tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) in its burrow

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.

Resources

Coyote (Canis latrans)

Coyote (Canis latrans) enduring a snow storm in Joshua Tree National Park
Coyote (Canis latrans)

A symbol of the American Southwest, the howl of the humble Coyote (Canis latrans) is synonymous with wild places. A member of the canine family and cousin to your pet, the coyote is a carnivore, predator, scavenger and survivor and even have a gord named for them, the coyote melon. The mammal is also known as the “little wolf”, “brush wolf”, “prairie wolf” and “American jackal”.

Although not necessarily nocturnal, they may hunt at night in the presence of humans. Regardless, they are more active in the evenings. They prowl and hunt in small groups. Their cries and howls at night are the reason they are known as the most vocal wild animal North American Animals. Personally, I welcome their vocalizations echoing access the desert night.

Coyote hunt reptiles, birds, small mammals, fish and even the larger bison, deer, elk and sheep. They roam up to ten miles per day on a constant hunt for food. In urban areas, this opportunist animal will eat dog and cat food, and known to attack domestic dogs and cats. In Death Valley National Park this resourceful jackal will eat large quantities of beetles and hawkmoth caterpillars for food. They are extremely resourceful and opportunistic survivors.

The coyote is classified in 19 different subspecies throughout the North America. A typical male will weigh between 18 and 44 pounds, while the female tips the scale a at a more modest 15 to 40 pounds. The fair color ranges from a light grey, tan to dark browns or even black depending upon habitat.

Coyote (Canis latrans) enduring a snow storm in Joshua Tree National Park
A extremely optimistic Coyote enduring a snow storm in Joshua Tree National Park waiting for a handout which did not come.

In Native American cultures, folklore depicts the coyote as a trickster. For this Irish American over a certain age, the coyote is call as wiley, known as a super genius and has, upon occasion, ordered an abundance of explosive from the Amce Corporation .

Resources

Classification

Kingdom:Animalia
Phylum:Chordata
Class:Mammalia
Order:Carnivora
Family:Canidae
Genus:Canis
Species:C. latrans

Website Overhaul

In the past few weeks, the Destination4x4.com website was overhauled to better comport itself to a higher standard. At its core, Destination4x4.com is a list of places that I have been, researched and / or places I want to go. These places are places that interest me, for whatever reason. I have found many of them from family, browsing the web or searching google earth.

The website is going over an overhaul at the moment and work is happening in the following ways.

Resources

Nevada Ghost Towns and Mining Camps - By Stanley W. Paher
Nevada Ghost Towns and Mining Camps – By Stanley W. Paher

Recently, I was on a fellow explorers website researching a site and he / she was lamenting that they were tired of people copying from their website. They made the statement something along the lines of quit “copying my content” and “do what I did and google it”.

At first I felt rather guilty. I was on another website and learning about a site with the intention of writing my own article. Then, I became annoyed as I was simply doing what they did and I found their website. This person is complaining about something that he/she never did. Give Credit where Credit is due.

In an effort to be as honest and informative as I can, I then and there decided that I was going to “do it better”. I am currently in process of adding resource links back to the source material for every page I publish were it is referenced. For example, the definitive research tome in Nevada for ghost towns is “Nevada Ghost Towns and Mining Camps” by Stanley W. Paher. Much of his work serves as the backbone to Wikipedia and all of those who ghost town in Nevada owe him a lot.

Overtime I will add more book reviews, resources, useful websites, research,etc… to the website from my library. It will take a while.

Trail and Area Maps

Google Earth View of Destination4x4 during Website Overhaul
Google Earth View of Destination4x4

When I first considered Destination4x4 as a website, it was based around the concept of interactive trail maps. At the time, Google offered their mapping API essentially for free for smaller websites. At first, this allowed me to build maps with Google Earth and then save a KML file which I could then use to produce an online map.

About two years ago, Google decided to charge for this service and started watermarking my maps with “For developer use only”. To date, Destination4x4 is a loss and does not make any money, so it is difficult to justify spending anything on Google.

Over the past two years, I have search for various plugins for WordPress which allowed for free mapping. They all would do somethings well, but not others. I finally stumpled upon WordPress OpenStreetMap Plugin. This is a free open source wordpress plugin which allows me to publish KML file maps. Thank you!

Trail Lists

Additionally, I have done some polishing and clean up my lists on the website. Prior to this update, a list of locations would just contain a title and link to the page. Now, the lists will contain a featured image thumbnail, the title and a description. Essentially this is a little tweak which makes the site look and feel nicer.

Server Upgrades

Destination4x4 runs on a Dell poweredge server installed next to my desk. It runs on Ubuntu 18.04 LTS Linux and features an 8 core processes, 32 GB of RAM and 3.2 Terabytes of Storage on a RAID 5 drive.

WordPress was complaining about running on an older version of PHP 5 and really wanted to run on PHP 7. So about two weeks ago, I made that happen and supposedly the site is supposed to be faster.

Additionally, the server is minifying and caching better, so hopefully the web server and web site are faster for all.

Chicalote (Argemone munita)

Chicalote (Argemone munita)
Chicalote (Argemone munita)

A species of prickly poppy, Chicalote (Argemone munita) is also known as the flatbud prickly poppy. A native of California, the Chicalote is also found in Nevada and Arizona. This hearty wildflower dereives its name from the Latin work “Minuta” which means armed, in reference the the small sharr spines commonly found on its lobed leaves.

The flower consists of sixe crinkly looking white petals and feature many bright yellow stamen. The delicate looking flowers can reach and overall diameters of up to fie inches. Overall, the plant commonly reaches about three feet in height.

The leaves of Argemone munita are mint green in color, dry in appearance and quite lobed. Each leaf is armed and features a small short spike for protection.

Chicalote (Argemone munita) on the roadside into Bodie, CA
Chicalote (Argemone munita) on the roadside into Bodie, CA

The Chicalote poppy commonly grows in dry rocky areas and found at elevations up to 10,000 feet. The flower typically grows in chaparral, or northern slopes of Transverse ranges and desert mountains. The plant typically puts its flower in bloom in June through August.

It is quite common to find this little gem of a flower in San Diego, the areas surrounding Los Angeles up the High Sierra and into Mono County.

Mustang (Equus ferus caballus)

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 ( Equus ferus caballus ) 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

Resources

Classification

Kingdom:Animalia
Phylum:Chordata
Class:Mammalia
Order:Perissodactyla
Family:Equidae
Genus:Equus
Species:E. ferus
Subspecies:E. f. caballus