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 Rattle Snake 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, the Joshua Tree and their undulating shadows have become of an icon of the desert southwest.

Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree

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Bristlecone Pine (Pinus longaeva)

Blown by wind, and ravaged by time, the Bristlecone pine tree is a silent sentinel of the White Mountains in eastern central California.  Only growing high in subapline mountains, Bristlecone pine trees are among the oldest living organisms, reaching ages of 5000 years old, with on specimen being documented at 5,067 years old by Tom Harlan who aged the tree by ring count.  That calculation confirms this one individual tree to be the oldest living non-clonal organism on the planet.

A Bristlecone Pine (not the oldest) located in the White Mountains, CA

A Bristlecone Pine (not the oldest) located in the White Mountains, CA

The Bristlecone pine groves are found between 5,600 and 11,200 ft of elevation on mountain slopes with dolomitic coils.  This harsh alkaline soil gives the Bristlecone a competitive advantage because over plants and tree are unable to grow.  The trees grow very slowly due cold temperatures, arid soil, wind and short growing seasons.

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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.

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

Spreading Phlox ( Phlox diffusa )

Spreading Phlox ( Phlox diffusa ) is a perennial shrub with small needle like leaves.  This is a small white flowering plant which prefers alpine, sub-alpine environments and rocky or sandy soil.  This is a low growing plant which is commonly only two to eight inches tall.

Photographed in the White Moundtains, Phlox diffusa is a small white flowering plant which prefers alpine and sub-alpine environments.

Photographed in the White Moundtains, Phlox diffusa is a small white flowering plant which prefers alpine and sub-alpine environments.

Commonly found high in the mountain and distributed in the western United States and Canada.  The five petaled flowers range from a clean white color to lavender or pink.  The blooms are typically visible from May to August.