2015 AH Classic Wall CalendarShop the AH Store >>

Our 2015 calendars are now available!

Classic Wall Calendar

CL15 $10.99

Our classic 13-month spiral-bound calendar features 30 full-color photographs and a handy map of Arizona on the back.

Order Now >>
Purchase Camping GuideShop the AH Store >>

Featured Book

Arizona Highways
Camping Guide

AGCS3 $22.95

Our newest book, which includes Arizona Highways iconic photography and maps, is sorted by region and is written for car-campers and families. Detailed information about accessibilty, amenities and fees is included for each campground.

Order Now >>
2011 AH Wildlife CalendarSee Selection of Images >>

Featured Prints

Poster Prints
Special Edition Prints

Many of the extraordinary images found in our award-winning magazine, scenic coffee-table books and exquisite calendars can be purchased as fine posters and prints.

Order Now >>
Shop the AH Store >>

Featured Gift Item

Centennial Issue Reprint

SPCENN2 $4.99

If you missed our February 100-page Centennial Issue on newsstands earlier this year, here's your second chance to get a copy of this special collector's edition of Arizona Highways magazine..

Order Now >>

  • print page
  • Tell a Friend
  • Post to Facebook
  • YouTube
  • past to del.icio.us
BULLETnature archive
Nature Archive Photo
© Bruce D. Taubert

>> Click on image to view
it larger in a separate window.
Slow and Steady
Desert tortoises don’t move around much, but their lifestyle keeps them going for decades. In some cases, they live as long as George Burns.

By Amanda Fruzynski

If misters are proof of anything, it's that it takes a little moisture in the air to get Arizonans to even consider moving around in the summer. Desert tortoises are equally stubborn. These slow-moving desert dwellers tend to stay in their cool burrows until a rainstorm passes through.

Sometimes, they avoid the summer altogether, extending their typical November to March hibernation. But even the average hibernation schedule means a desert tortoise sleeps half of its life, which could be the secret to its long lifespan, says Cristina Jones, the Turtles Project Coordinator at the Arizona Game and Fish Department. Many desert tortoises live up to 60 years, and Jones has heard of pet tortoises being passed down through a family for more than 100 years.

"Anything that sleeps that much is going to have a long life," Jones says.

That said, even when they're active, desert tortoises don't move around a lot. According to Jones, they typically stay within 3 miles of where they hatch, plodding slowly under high-domed shells covered in circular ridges.

No matter how far they go (or don't go), there's one place desert tortoises won't be found: lakes. Unlike most turtles in the United States, Jones says, desert tortoises aren't aquatic. They might drink from or submerge in a shallow, post-rain puddle, but that's about it. "They're more soakers than swimmers," she says. Desert tortoises will drink and store their water, while eating desert plants, grasses and fruit.

Catching a glimpse in the wild is pretty common. "If you see saguaros mixed with paloverde and mesquite trees, especially if there are big boulders, you're in quality desert tortoise territory," Jones says, adding that most mountain ranges surrounding Phoenix also house the tortoises. In the Mojave Desert they're found in flatter basins, while in the Sonoran Desert they're found along rocky slopes and bajadas.

Despite their prevalence, hikers are cautioned against scooping them up and taking them home. The only legal way to become a desert tortoise owner is through adoption, which is open to those living in select Arizona cities. (For more information, contact the Arizona Game and Fish Department.) Jones adds that desert tortoises are solitary animals that don't need companion pets. And if you adopt one, of course, be prepared to get the cold shoulder — unless there's a good storm brewing.

>> Back to Nature Archive

Story ArchivesFind previously published stories online... [more]

Global SnapshotsSend us a photo of you or someone you know posing with Arizona Highways. We'll post it on our website. It's that simple... [more]

Photo of the DaySend us a photo of you or someone you know posing with Arizona Highways. We'll post it on our website. It's that simple... [more]


Social MediaJoin our Facebook, Twitter and Flickr communities for behind-the-scenes glimpses at Arizona Highways... [more]

Events & PromotionsEscape, experience and explore Arizona, one event at a time... [more]

Travel GuidesThere's so much to see and do in Arizona. Let our online travel guide be your one-stop resource for planning your next Arizona adventure... [more]

site map  |  terms of use  |  privacy policy  |  corporate sales  |  about us  |  contact us

Arizona Highways Television AZ Dept. of Transportation AZ Dept. of Public Safety Arizona Highways Photo Workshops

© Copyright 2014 Arizona Department of Transportation, State of Arizona. All rights reserved. Reproduction in part or whole without written permission from the publisher is prohibited. The images on this Web site are copyrighted, digitally watermarked and registered with the Digimarc tracking system. All rights reserved. Copying and downloading images from this site are strictly prohibited.