This year we are fortunate to offer two field trips, providing opportunities for those driving from distances:
The morning field trip is led by Ann McCluckie and Peter Woodman and departs from the Dixie Center in St. George at 9:30 AM, returning about 3:30 PM.
If any morning field trip participants wish to also attend the afternoon field trip, a vehicle will be available to transport those individuals back to the Dixie Center by 2:00 PM. The morning field trip will continue until 3:30 PM or so.
Those joining this trip will visit one of the many scenic areas within the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area, the old ghost town Babylon by the Virgin River and the surrounding desert. This ecologically diverse area is located at the convergence of the Mojave Desert, Colorado Plateau, and the Great Basin Deserts, containing critical habitat for the threatened Mojave Desert tortoise, endangered Woundfin, Virgin River Chub as well as other protected species. We will examine the colorful history of the area, from an old mining town in 1880, an abandoned retirement home for a diplomat, a commune of ill repute, to a translocation site for displaced tortoises. During our tour, we will visit several desert tortoise release sites and discuss the success of our 23-year translocation program. In addition, we will visit a set of three-toed dinosaur tracks in hardened sedimentary rock. Our tour will finish at the Virgin River where we will leisurely eat lunch, anxiously checking over our shoulder for signs of bipedal, meat-eating theropods.
Cameron Rognan and Mike Schijf offer an afternoon trip on the same day, also departing from the Dixie Center, beginning at 2:00 pm and returning at about 6:00 pm.
They offer a scenic mid-afternoon to early evening hike through a narrow rocky canyon where the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve recently expanded. This area is a recreation hotspot and offers excellent hiking, mountain biking and world-renowned bouldering opportunities. While mountain biking or bouldering could be advertised as an optional activity either before or after the field trip, this field trip is a 3-mile roundtrip loop hike through 2 different canyons. Approximately halfway through the hike, participants will visit a scenic viewpoint to observe a distinctly different habitat type below the ridge. Tortoises are common in both the rocky canyons where the hike occurs and in the badland soils below the ridge (observable from the viewpoint). The badland soils have a thick biological crust and support the endangered dwarf-bear poppy. While tortoises are generally not active in Utah in late February, participants will encounter various tortoise shelters, including the deep crevices they utilize. Gila monsters and chuckwallas also thrive in this rocky habitat, but it’s unlikely any would be seen unless it’s very warm and sunny. Chuckwalla sign should be present on outcrops near crevices. Some of the tortoise shelters are quite impressive with dozens to hundreds of scats at the mouths of their entrances. Other wildlife species living in the canyon–hawks, owls or foxes, may be observed. Trip leaders will discuss attempts to balance tortoise conservation with the many recreational activities in the Reserve. Because the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve is at the urban interface, both unique challenges and opportunities exist. The area has been one of the focus sites for citizen science, where numerous tortoise observations from the public have been recorded.