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Mountain Edge Overlook
Las Vegas, Nevada
April 17, 2019

We couldn't resist taking on Mountain Edge Overlook, a hill near our place in Las Vegas, conveniently just 12 minutes away. Also convenient was a dirt road running all the way to the top. On the other hand, such a humdrum hill, we thought, couldn't hold any surprises. We were wrong. Strangely enough, we found six desert tortoises: three dead, two fake and one live.

The dirt road starts at the end of S Buffalo Drive in the Mountain Edge Community. Parking is restricted here, so Dinah and I parked one block east on S Pioneer Way, and walked on the sidewalk to the road.

Since Mountain Edge Overlook is in plain view from the start, it's simply a matter of following the road to the summit. There are two junctions and we turned left at both. We reached the end of the south ridge without incident, kind of boring actually.

We continued up the road as it followed the ridge. Here the scenery became more attractive, and we passed Joshua trees, yuccas and rock bands. After climbing partway, we were surprised to see a red jeep far below, a recent wreck by the looks of it. We looked for dead bodies but didn't see any.

The summit of Mountain Edge is uninspiring, being rather flat with no obvious high point and no cairn. Instead of taking the road back down, we followed the southeast ridge. It presented an interesting descent down through minor cliff bands. More fascinating was the wash at the bottom of the ridge. Here bright wildflowers and the remains of desert tortoises – just their shells – caught our attention. After poking around down the wash, we exited and crossed the desert to hit the road we came up on.

Encouraged with finding the remains of tortoises, we sauntered back, stopping to look for live tortoises in the vast expanse on either side of the road. That's how we found two fake desert tortoises. The molded Styrofoam pieces were painted to look like real shells. Also they also were numbered 16 and 57. That was a head-scratcher. Some kind of scientific study we thought. We continued down the road.

It was while we were searching left and right, when we almost stumbled on a live desert tortoise in the middle of the road! These creatures are a rare sighting, so we were excited to see one. After taking photos, we left it there; it never moved. Fortunately, motorized vehicles are prohibited on this road, so it was likely safe. The slow reptile probably stood a greater risk at being shot at: it appeared to have sustained a gunshot wound in its shell. It's shocking to think anyone would shoot a tortoise, a threatened species minding its own business and just trying to survive in harsh desert conditions. It looked like an old wound and the tortoise appeared fine otherwise.

Back home, I was curious about the fake tortoises and troubled by the hole in the shell, so I contacted wildlife biologist Jim Boone of birdandhike.com. He replied:

"Sadly, that does look likea bullet hole, not all that uncommon. Regarding the styro-torts, they are used for training people to survey for desert tortoise. So someone could have done a training event and lost some, or perhaps someone got some from training and just set them out for fun."

KML and GPX Tracks

Hiking up the road toward Mountain Edge Overlook


On our right is an unnamed peak we climbed a few years back


There are two junctions and we kept left at both


We passed a Joshua tree bearing seed pods


The road snakes up the ridge


Mount Charleston is still under snow (mouse over for a close-up)


Continuing up the winding road


The road levels off as we neared the summit


Hard to tell where the highest point is


Instead of taking the road back, we came down the southeast ridge


Looking back at the ridge that the road climbed, we saw a wrecked jeep. Arrows show a white roof and the jeep.
I don't believe this was an accident as the road doesn't come close to any edge.


A close-up of the jeep reveals the crash was recent


We encountered minor cliff bands while coming down the ridge


Looking back up the ridge


We dropped into a wash on our left


Coming down the wash


Globemellow wildflowers


Continuing down the wash


One of three tortoise shells we found


Beetle orgy: dozens of blister beetles gathered in one spot to mate


We headed back to the road


Styro-tort number 16


And a real desert tortoise


It appeared to have survived a gunshot wound


1:24,000 Birdspring and Sloan Topos (7.4 mi, 3583 ft, 922 ft)

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