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I recently traveled to Las Vegas to attend a conference and had to decide how to spend my free time. I was pumped—but not because I was excited to hop from one casino to another along The Strip. Rather, I couldn’t wait to take a desert day hike. This was, in fact, my first trip to a desert. With limited free time, my fellow Falconite Max Phelps and I decided to visit Red Rock Canyon, a geologically fascinating recreation area 20 miles west of Las Vegas center. And I simply couldn’t wait to take photos of some desert plants.
Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, with its “calico hills” featuring striations of colorful rock layers, is a spectacular site, especially with its close proximity to the metropolis. This park, with 1.2 million visitors per year, is also the home of an abundance of wildlife. During our trip, we were lucky enough to view an Anna’s Hummingbird (Calypte anna) and a very small lizard (possibly a Side-blotched Lizard, Uta stansburiana elegans). Many other animals commonly seen at Red Rock Canyon include the desert tortoise, Mojave green rattlesnake, roadrunner, jackrabbit, Gila monster, bighorn sheep, mountain lion, mule deer, wild horse, and wild burro, to name a few.
Despite the beautiful weather, sunny with highs in the 70s, we encountered few animals on the trail (unless you count humans and their canine companions). However, I was easily fascinated by the wildlife that didn’t move—the abundant and beautiful desert plants. Even though their flowers were not blooming, the desert plants were exciting to a New Englander who had only seen them pictured in field guides before. I honed my plant-identification skills and attempted identifications for plants that were not in bloom. How do you think I did?
Below are the species I captured on camera:
Mojave Yucca (Yucca shidigera)
Beavertail Cactus (Opuntia basilaris)
California Juniper (Juniperus californica)
Singleleaf Pinyon Pine (Pinus monophylla)
Buckhorn Cholla Cactus (Cylindropuntia acanthocarpa var. coloradensis)
Seen but not photographed:
Joshua Tree (Yucca brevifolia)
If instead you’d like some expert knowledge on desert plants found in Red Rock Canyon and throughout the Mojave Desert, pick up Pam MacKay’s “Mojave Desert Wildflowers.”
Photos (c) Jess Haberman. More photos can be found in my Red Rock Canyon Part 1 image gallery. Hopefully I'll get around to uploading additional images soon!