Author photo

By Mel White
contributing writer 

Cal City, Desert Tortoise Preserve

Day Trippin' with Mel


April 16, 2022

Mel White

The Desert Tortoise Natural Area in Cal City is dedicated to protecting and preserving the desert tortoise and its natural habitat. Photos by Mel White.

I get hankerings every now and then. If that sounds too old-school and you're wondering what I mean by that, well, a "hank·er·ing," noun, is defined as "a strong desire to have or do something." In my case, the "have" part is often food related.

The other day I had a hankering for a BLT at Mr. Tomato in California City. So off I went one Saturday to satisfy my hankering. And while I was in the area, I decided to visit the Desert Tortoise Research Natural Area, also known as the Desert Tortoise Preserve.

I've been there several times before as it is a peaceful desert park/landscape full of interesting plant and animal life. I do recommend going in the spring, fall or winter to avoid the heat of summer (it is suggested that if you want to see the tortoises being more active in summer, the best time to go is right before or after a thunderstorm). I like going in the spring myself as that is the season the tortoises are supposed to be most active, however I have yet to spot one in the wild.

As soon as I got parked I was greeted by Ian, a park host, an interesting young fellow who gave up a biology teaching job recently to work in the research center and other such places. He helpfully pointed out on a map where he had seen a tortoise the day before, and I set out to see if the tortoise might still be foraging above ground.

Unfortunately, no tortoises were out and about the day I was there (or at least none that I could see), but I still walked the loops and checked out the burrow holes and plant life. The walking loops are flat and maintained and make for easy strolling. There are three loops, none more than a mile around, and all of them have helpful markers and brochures to let you know what you are seeing.

In spite of not seeing a tortoise, I was pleasantly surprised at the wildflower ground cover (tiny goldfields) all over the desert floor. Joshua trees were also in bloom. I imagine by now the rabbit bush has also blossomed.

There are over 200 species of annual and perennial plants that flower in the Preserve, which provide food and shelter for the desert dwelling wildlife. As many times as I have been there, I always seem to learn something new about the desert and its many living organisms.

Admission to the Preserve is free (donations are always welcome), and bathroom facilities and picnic tables are on the premises, plus a covered sitting/viewing area with all sorts of information for understanding the desert landscape and the flora and fauna that live there. Ian is also most helpful in answering questions you might have.

Note also that the Preserve is surrounded by BLM land and lots of OHV trails. If you plan to do any off-roading, you'll need to get permits at Borax Bill's, a full service off-road and RV center for the surrounding area.

Mel White

Several easy walking trails are part of the Tortoise Preserve lands.

Take the 58 East to the 14 North, then take the Cal City exit, which puts you on California City Blvd. If want lunch first or after, Mr. Tomato is located in the shopping center at 8130 California City Blvd., often with bar-b-queing going on outside in front on weekends. Head further east on the boulevard to find the Desert Tortoise Preserve.

On the far east side of town, turn north at the stop light onto Randsburg-Mojave Road. Follow the signs to the Tortoise Preserve – past Borax Bills – which will include a good 4-5 mile stretch of dirt road (still named Randsburg-Mojave). At the entrance to the Preserve, follow the one-way half-mile dirt loop/road into the parking lot.

By the way, now I have another hankering to see a tortoise in the wild so I'll be back to the Preserve soon. Maybe I'll see you there!

© 2022 Marilda Mel White. Mel White, local writer, photographer and avid day-tripper (and would-be tortoise watcher), welcomes your comments, questions and suggestions at


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