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Tortoises, Rattlesnakes And Chuckawalla … Oh, My! Red Cliffs Desert Reserve


The Red Cliffs Desert Reserve is 62,000 acres – approximately 20 miles wide and 6 miles deep – of spectacular scenery set aside by the Federal government primarily for the protection of the threatened Mojave desert tortoise.

The Red Cliffs Desert Reserve, implemented in 1996 through the Endangered Species Act, is considered a very successful Habitat Conservation Plan.  Administered by Washington County in a collaborative partnership with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), Utah Department of Natural Resources (DNR), and State of Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA), the Reserve protects the desert tortoise but also manages recreational activities and utility projects in an extraordinarily unique environment.

The Reserve is north of Ivins, Santa Clara, St. George and Washington City and can best be seen from your vehicle along the west side of the northbound I-15 freeway.  But the Reserve can also be accessed on foot, bicycle or horseback. According to their website, “When you enter the Reserve at any one of the distinctive ‘step-over’ gates, you are entering a special place – not just another mountain bike trail or horseback ride.

“At the merging of three great ecosystems, the Mojave Desert, the Great Basin, and the Colorado Plateau, the Reserve is biologically rich with a unique array of animals and plants. The Reserve contains the most northern populations of the desert tortoise, Gila monster, sidewinder rattlesnake, and chuckwalla – reptiles typically associated with hotter and more southerly deserts, like the Mojave. The conditions in the region are such that several endemic species, which occur nowhere else in the world, can be found here.”

A free visitor center is located in downtown St. George at 10 N. 100 East.  Not only can you find all the information necessary to explore this Washington County treasure, you can also learn about local wildlife, plants, ecosystems and the purpose of the HCP as well as enjoy a preview of the Reserve through impressive exhibits and presentations to small groups by the Reserve’s expert staff.  Regular visitor center hours are 8 am to 5 pm, Monday through Friday.

And, a not-so-gentle reminder … for your own safety, make certain you are adequately prepare to explore the Reserve with proper footwear, a wide brimmed hat and plenty of water.  It can’t be stressed enough … it’s really, really hot in Washington County from mid-April until early November.

Whether its history, 360-degee vistas, or hiking, biking or horseback riding in the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve, Southern Utah has it all.  Fill out the form on this page to reserve your vacation rental!

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