Mojave Mound Cactus ( Echinocereus mohavensis )

The Mojave Mound Cactus or Claret Cup Cactus boasts a bright red - orange flower blossom.
The Mojave Mound Cactus or Claret Cup Cactus boasts a bright red – orange flower blossom.

The Mojave Mound Cactus ( Echinocereus mohavensis ) is a cactus of many names and it also known as the claret cup cactus, hedgehog and kingcup cactus. It is native to the desert southwest of the united states and parts of Mexico. The cactus can be found in a variety of habitats including rocky slopes, scrub, low desert and mountain woodland.

This is a small barrel shaped cactus, which will range in color between light green and bluish green stems. As the name implies, this is a mounding cactus with may form up to 500 cylindrical stems with create a bulbous mound. This low lying cactus only grows to about 16 inches in height, while is clusters of spines can grow up to 1.5 inches long.

The funnel shaped waxy flowers range in color from orange to red to a dull scarlet color. The plant is commonly found at altitudes of 3500 to 9000 feet in elevation. This beautiful little cactus is known to locate Joshua Tree National Park, the Mojave Desert and parts of Nevada.

This delightful specimen was found in the spring on the Pine Nut trail about 50 miles outside of Las Vegas, nestled among from boulders.

California Juniper ( Juniperus californica )

The California Juniper ( Juniperus californica ) is a common tree found in California, western Arizona and southern Nevada at medium elevations between 2,460 – 5,250 ft.  Commonly growing 10 and 26 feet in height, the grayish shredded bark Juniper may reach a maximum height or about 33 feet, although this height is rare.  Growing up in California and frequently camping in the Mojave and High Sierra, the California Juniper has frequents my memory and photographs.

A Juniper bush decorates the Mid Hills Campground in the Mojave National Preserve.
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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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Joshua Tree (Yucca brevifolia)

The Joshua Tree was named for the biblical character by the Mormon Setters as they crossed the Mojave Desert in the mid 19th century.  It is told that the tree reminded the early Mormon’s of Joshua who, much like the tree, held his hands up in prayer.  From these humble beginnings, this tree and its undulating shadows have become of an icon of the desert southwest.

Joshua Tree located in the Mojave National Preserve.

Joshua Tree located in the Mojave National Preserve.

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Beavertail Prickly Pear (opuntia basilaris)

The Beavertail Prickly Pear cactus (opuntia basilaris) is very common in the desert south west, and would go most of the year most of the year without a second glance.  However this species of cactus exemplifies the best of what the desert has to offer in one symbol.

Beavertail Prickly Pear. Photograph by James L Rathbun
Beavertail Prickly Pear. Photograph by James L Rathbun

The Beavertail Prickly Pear grows in clumps, low to the ground and grows horizontally rather than vertically like the iconic saguaro.  The dull greenish grey leaves grows feature a complete lack of spines and a shaped which gives the plant it’s name.  The pads of this cactus lake the spines traditionally associated with cactus, but rather the pads are covered with minuscule, gray-blue bristles which feature barbed tips which easily puncture human skin.

Each spring the cactus puts on a display of wild flowers which is amazing to behold in the arid desert environments.  Typically starting the March, each cactus pad my put out several shoots which Colosseum in a burst of colors, most commonly a vibrant pink but also known to be yellow, white or rose colored.

Beavertail Cactus found off the Mormon Wells Road, Las Vegas, Nevada
Beavertail Cactus found off the Mormon Well Road, Las Vegas, Nevada

The cactus typically grows in  rocky , sandy plains, valleys, washes & canyons  all over Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah and Northern Mexico.