Red Cliffs Desert Reserve offers tips for enjoying, protecting the reserve

Tank the desert tortoise, Red Cliffs Desert Reserve| Photo courtesy of Red Cliffs Desert Reserve, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — As spring sets into Southern Utah and the animals are starting to wake up, Red Cliffs Desert Reserve and its partners want to offer visitors to the reserve a few tips to responsibly enjoy their time in this amazing landscape.

As part of these endeavors, Red Cliffs Desert Reserve presents Tank, the desert tortoise who serves as the reserve’s official mascot. Since 1996, Tank has been informing folks about native species, what they can do to protect their local environment around the St. George area and how to explore and enjoy the desert.

Tank, desert tortoise| Photo courtesy of Red Cliffs Desert Reserve, St. George News
Tank, a desert tortoise| Photo courtesy of Red Cliffs Desert Reserve, St. George News

Did you know?

Did you know that Tank is a live desert tortoise who resides at the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve visitor center in St. George?

Like other Southern Utah reptiles, Tank enters a small burrow to brumate (the reptilian form of hibernation) every winter and emerges every spring. Tank’s emergence from the sleep marks the unofficial start of spring in Southern Utah. Tank has resided at the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve for 20 years. His original home is thought to be somewhere in southern California, but now he calls St. George his home.

Spring reminders

Just like Tank, many of the animals in the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve also awaken from their winter slumber and will be on the move to find food and mates, so starting in the next few weeks, visitors to the reserve can expect to see a lot more wildlife activity than they have been used to on winter hikes, including the occasional Gila Monster, various other species of lizards and snakes, and of course, the desert tortoise.

It’s a wonderful time of the year to enjoy the beauty and splendor of the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve, but it’s also a time to remind visitors of the responsibility to be a good steward of nature’s wonders.

Staying on designated trails will go a long way to preserving the habitat needed for survival of numerous species who call the reserve home. Resist the temptation to go “cross-country” or use unauthorized spur trails, as it degrades habitat and interrupts the normal function of the ecosystem.

If you encounter wildlife, enjoy them from a distance. This is especially true for the desert tortoise. They’re an exceptionally gentle creature, so kids often like to approach and touch them, something which can have unintended consequences. The contact may cause the tortoise to release its bladder. This may not sound serious, but in reality, it could have a devastating effect. Tortoises store water in their bladder to reuse when water is scarce. An empty bladder could become a death sentence.

Another amazing creature to enjoy from a distance is the Gila monster. There are only two venomous lizards in the world, and the Gila monster is one of them, so don’t antagonize them. But their spectacular color patterns are a sight to see if you are fortunate enough to come across one in the wild, something which is not easy since they spend 95 percent of their lives hidden in the rocks.

Representatives from the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve ask that visitors always keep pets on a leash when using the reserve. As soon as you cross one of the reserve’s distinctive step-overs, it’s tempting to unleash your pet in the vast open space; however, not only is it against the law, it could result in danger to your pet and other species. A bite from a venomous snake could be the end result of an unleashed dog’s curiosity. And again, a tortoise voiding its bladder could be the end result of the same curiosity.

If you are using a motorized vehicle in the reserve, stay on designated roads. This will help insure that the critical habitat needed to sustain the numerous sensitive and threatened species in the reserve remains healthy. Plus, it may also prevent a citation from the local sheriff.

So whether you are a hiker, a mountain biker, an equestrian or someone who simply finds inspiration in the scenic beauty of this wonderful area, the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve has something for everyone. Enjoying it responsibly will insure future generations can do the same.

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Twitter: @STGnews

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  • KarenS March 2, 2016 at 2:49 pm

    It seems like I see more dogs off-leash than ever before in the Reserve. It is important for them to be leashed to protect the wildlife and other hikers. There are many off-leash parks in St. George now. Thank you for writing this article to help all of us be better stewards of the land.

  • Common Sense March 3, 2016 at 6:58 am

    I agree, I feel like I am the only one who leashes my dogs. I always mention it to the other people and they are always like “don’t worry, he’s friendly”…what does that have to do with the reason they are supposed to be leashed? Besides, I have had someone say that and then their dog bit my husbands leg. Seriously people, leash your dogs! It is a common courtesy and it’s the rules.

  • RedCliffs March 4, 2016 at 11:36 am

    KarenS and Common Sense, we appreciate your stewardship here at the Reserve visitor center! We are very aware of the off-leash issues and thank you for leashing your dogs. We are trying to educate everyone on why it is important to have their pets leashed and hope to be seeing more leashed pets out there as the word spreads. Again THANK YOU for being good stewards of the land and helping educate others on the importance of Reserve rules. 🙂 Enjoy the Reserve!

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