Red Cliffs Desert Reserve Discovery Center opens in St. George featuring live animals

ST. GEORGE — Experience desert animals without getting red dirt on your shoes by visiting the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve Discovery Center in the newly built Washington County Building.

The space also houses the Greater Zion Visitor and Convention Center, and Tourism Office on the first floor at 111 Tabernacle Street in St. George, Utah.

“What we have here in the visitor center are either recovered animals that were being kept captive illegally or are wild animals that were collected with injuries,” Ammon Teare, outreach coordinator, Red Cliffs Desert Reserve, said.

The visitor center has live animals and interactive exhibits. Hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, with staff members available to give presentations to small groups by appointment. An official grand opening will be held in June.

The center highlights the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve, located west of Bloomington and south of Santa Clara, which is part of the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area north of St. George and Washington. This wildlife reserve spans almost 69,000 acres.

The Red Cliffs Desert Reserve Discovery Center is open in the Washington County Building, St. George, Utah, May 9, 2023 | Photo by Stephanie DeGraw, St. George News

The area merges three significant ecosystems: the Mojave Desert, the Great Basin, and the Colorado Plateau and is set aside to protect the Mojave Desert tortoise and a unique array of animals and plants.

Home to the most northern populations of the desert tortoise, Gila monster, sidewinder rattlesnake, and chuckwalla, the conditions in the region are such that several species survive here and nowhere else in the world.

These areas have sections that are federally protected Mojave Desert tortoise habitats in exchange for land within the reserve that will be disturbed by the creation of the Northern Corridor. That roadway would cut through four miles of the desert reserve and the overlapping Red Cliffs National Conservation Area.

According to the reserve’s website, surveys done by county and state wildlife officials in the area found a “sizable” desert tortoise population, despite ongoing recreational use.

Teare said some of the animals in the center are common in Utah. They obtained a Certificate of Registration from the Division of Wildlife Resources to display the animals for public education and knowledge. A couple of the young tortoises, Bonnie and Clyde, are about five years old.

Ammon Teare outreach coordinator explains displays at the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve Discovery Center is open in the Washington County Building, St. George, Utah, May 9, 2023 | Photo by Stephanie DeGraw, St. George News

“We gave them that name because they were found together in captivity, and they’re being kept legally as pets,” Teare said.

The animals housed at the museum are fed from the materials found in their natural habitat.

“During this time of year, it’s mostly wildflowers like the Desert Globe, Mallow and Desert Marigold,” Teare said. “We will get Fillory or Clover if it happens to be growing in really wet places this time of year. And that’s what they love to eat.”

The Red Cliffs Reserve is a mix of state school trust lands and public lands. According to the website, it is administered by Washington County in coordination with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), Utah Department of Natural Resources (DNR), and State of Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA).

The National Conservation Area is in southwest Utah, north of St. George at the northeast edge of the Mojave Desert.

“This collaborative partnership has the primary goal of recovering the threatened desert tortoise while carefully managing recreational activities and utility projects to benefit future generations in an extraordinarily unique environment,” the website states.

The Red Cliffs Desert Reserve Discovery Center is open in the Washington County Building, St. George, Utah, May 9, 2023 | Photo by Stephanie DeGraw, St. George News

In the new county building, it is the first time Washington County has a specific visitor center, Greater Zion Convention and Tourism, Director Brittany McMicheal said. Initially, the Utah Visitor’s Center was at the state line with Arizona. It was also previously housed in the Dixie Center.

“It’s been over three years of planning to get executed here to this point and be ready to open up,” McMicheal said. “And you have to have people that know exactly how to handle the animals, take care of them, feed them and all those kinds of things.”

She also said to be aware the staff has to remind the public not to touch or feed the animals. The center features displays, photos, videos and live animals is to provide educational opportunities.

“Our whole point of building the visitor center is that people would come in, learn about Washington County and then go out and recreate responsibly,” Brittany said.

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Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2023, all rights reserved.

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