Desert Tortoises and Upper Respiratory Tract Disease

Desert Tortoises are well-equipped to live in the harsh environment of the Mojave. Despite their hardiness, both wild and captive tortoises are susceptible to diseases that can be fatal if not treated. We’re going to take a brief look at a disease of particular concern among tortoise caretakers and conservationists.

Arguably the most common disease among Desert Tortoises is Upper Respiratory Tract Disease, or URTD. It is a chronic disease caused by a bacteria called Mycoplasma agassizii (Agassizii is the Latin species name for Mojave Desert Tortoises: Gopherus agassizii). These bacteria attack the soft, moist skin inside tortoises’ nasal passages and throats, and gives them a constant runny nose. While this may not sound so dangerous, it can completely block tortoises’ nares, or nostrils.

What symptoms should you look for in a pet tortoise? First of all, watch for a runny nose or clogged nares. Also keep an eye out for white crust around the nares, which can be caused by nasal discharge that has dried. Make sure to listen to your tortoise breathe. There shouldn’t be any gurgles, clicking, or whistling sounds. Take a look at your tortoise’s eyes: are they sunken, or are the eyelids puffy and swollen? Is there discharge from the eyes? These are all signs of URTD. Finally, if your tortoise is lethargic during a time when she should be active, this could be a sign of illness.

There is no cure for URTD, though certain antibiotics can be used to treat the symptoms. If a tortoise catches URTD, he will have it for life, and it can be passed from tortoise to tortoise. This is one of the many reasons why it is so important to NEVER release captive tortoises into the wild. Wild tortoises are under more stress than captive tortoises, so while URTD might not kill a pet tortoise, it can easily be fatal to a wild one.

Hopefully this information will help you care for your pet tortoise. Hopefully, one day, a cure will be found for URTD. More research is needed into this disease, and into Mojave Desert Tortoises in general. There is so much about these fascinating animals that we don’t know!



Hugo’s Great Vet Caper

Every spring and fall, Friends of Red Rock Canyon Tortoise Habitat Volunteers weigh and measure the shells of the tortoises in the enclosures behind the Visitor Center. Hugo was his normal, feisty self all summer but at the end of September volunteers discovered that he had lost some weight since they took his measurements in the spring. I decided that a check-up was in order, just to make sure Hugo was healthy before going into brumation for the winter.

On October 5 Hugo took a trip to his wonderful veterinarian at Lone Mountain Animal Hospital. She took x-rays to look for bladder stones, performed a complete blood panel, and a bile acids test to check Hugo’s liver function. He never enjoys being put into his large bin, but despite that he munched on the bribery kale that I offered.

Snacking on some bribery kale.

The x-rays showed no bladder stones, which are frequently a problem in tortoises, so that was excellent news! All of his blood work and the bile acids test looked good as well, but his CPK (creatine phosphokinase) levels were elevated. This can happen in reptiles simply from the stress of going to the vet and being handled. Hugo’s veterinarian recommended an ultrasound, however, just to be safe.

Hugo is so large that his whole body couldn’t fit in one x-ray!

That meant another trip to the vet, and this time Hugo was on to me. The first time I stopped by to bring him back to the vet, he was outside his burrow. However, by the time I’d gotten his bin, he had scurried several feet back into his burrow. No luck that day! I checked again the next day, but due to the chill in the air he was still inside. I finally had luck the third day, October 12, when he was basking near the wall of his enclosure. Back to the vet we went!

The ultrasound was taken through his plastron, which is the underside of the shell.

Hugo didn’t enjoy his ultrasound, but the doctor and techs were very gentle and careful with him. Thankfully, all his insides looked normal and healthy. I’m very happy that Hugo can go into brumation with a clean bill of health, and I’m sure Hugo is pleased that he won’t be going back to the vet for a while!

Aah, back to his normal routine! He even has a kale mustache.

Red Spring Boardwalk Partially Closed

Currently the Red Spring board walk is partially closed. This is due to the deteriorating condition of the wooden planks. Please avoid the closed area for your safety.

However, there is a small section open on the western side of the walkway which is accessible via the dirt trail paralleling the southern edge of the meadow area. This area is mostly constructed of “Trex” recycled plastic. You can still view the actual spring and walk along the event platform.

The Bureau of Land Management has announced a contract to reconstruct the entire boardwalk and is now going through a review process of contracts. They hope for this process to take less than one year. Once constructed, the handicapped accessible boardwalk will be constructed of “Trex” and include some benches and new interpretive signs.

The Red Spring board walk was funded in round two of Southern Nevada Public Land Management Act, obtained from sales of public land in Las Vegas Valley in 2001.

Click here for a map showing the closed & open areas

Learn more about the boardwalk. 

Meet Susan Murphy – Making a Difference Every Day

Last year alone, 28,000 volunteers contributed nearly 1 million hours of service valued at $23 million across all the Bureau of Land Management’s public lands.

As one way to acknowledge this invaluable help, BLM annually bestows the “Making a Difference” National Volunteer Awards to a highly select few; and this year, one of only seven recipients is our own Susan Murphy, who leads the Light Trail Maintenance team.

They all were honored during a recent ceremony that connected the winners across the country via video teleconferences at BLM offices in several states and in Washington, D.C.  

“Through the years, volunteers on our public lands have ensured that Teddy Roosevelt’s ideal – the American conservation ethic – would endure,” said U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke. “The BLM volunteers being celebrated today are champions of this conservation ethic, and it is an honor to recognize them for their extraordinary efforts.”

The hard-working volunteers have helped the BLM monitor trails, manage wild horses, keep campers safe, and provide environmental education, interpretation, and other visitor services, noted Zinke.

The 2018 awardees, selected by a national panel of BLM specialists and partner organizations, were nominated by their local offices. In addition to Susan, who was acknowledged for ‘outstanding achievement,” are:

  • Pat & Phyllis MalatoOutstanding Achievement,Upper Snake Field Office (Idaho)
  • Miranda & Madison DickinsonOutstanding Youth, National Historic Trails Interpretive Center (Wyoming)
  • Great Escape Mustang SanctuaryGroup Excellence, Little Snake Field Office (Colorado)
  • David & Jane StyerLifetime Achievement, Fort Ord National Monument (California)
  • Sandra & Geoff FreetheyLifetime Achievement, Moab Field Office (Utah)
  • Laura OlaisEmployee Winner, Gila District Office (Arizona)

The Rock interviewed Susan to learn more about what motivates her as such an outstanding volunteer.


Please share a bit of your previous professional life as a pharmacist prior to retiring, as well as where you lived before moving to Las Vegas.

Susan: I actually was born in Las Vegas, then lived in Ohio, Arkansas, Florida, Arizona, California, Hawaii and Australia. Intermittently, I kept coming back to Las Vegas where I’ve rooted for the past 32 years.

Before retiring six years ago, I was a pharmacist and worked at Sunrise & Mountain View Hospitals, Talbert Medical Center and Payless retail pharmacy. I also was a consultant for outpatient surgery centers and physicians, and finally landed a dream job with Medco Mail Order, where I stayed for
almost 15 years. In 1990, I received Nevada’s “Distinguished Young Pharmacist” award in recognition of individual excellence and outstanding service to the profession of pharmacy.

When did you first encounter Red Rock Canyon, and how did it influence your life?

Susan: I found Red Rock Canyon as a hiker about 25 years ago. Because of the which meant I could actually use my first degree, a BA in Art from UNLV. I also coordinated hikes with Sierra Club and the Las Vegas Mountaineers Club.

Has volunteerism been a big part of your life?

Susan: My volunteer life with Red Rock has been about 10 years, but I became more active in my six years of retirement. I volunteer because I’m proud of our conservation area, and I want to keep it beautiful. I get a lot of use out of Red Rock; so it’s a win-win for me to give back.

Funny, I always thought volunteering was something to be done after retirement when I had more time. I volunteered here and there while I was a wage slave, but now I have more time. At first, I thought I volunteered because I didn’t have a life. Now, I know that volunteering IS my life, and I LOVE IT!

How did you first get involved with Friends?

Susan: Just by volunteering, first with Natural Resources, then with the Graffiti Removal Team, Red Rock Ambassador Program, Native Plant Team, and finally with Light Trail Maintenance, which I now lead.

What is the mission and goals of the Light Trail Maintenance committee?

Susan: To groom Red Rock’s trailheads and trails to preserve a well-maintained look. Goals? That’s an easy one! I only have three goals for any Light Trail Maintenance event: (1) Make it look BETTER, (2) Be SAFE and (3) Have FUN!

One of the questions a Friends’ board member asked when I submitted the proposal
was: “How many volunteers do you expect?” My answer was: “I’d be happy with 10-12 volunteers.”
Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d end up with sometimes as many as 36 all cream-of-the-crop volunteers!

As for managing the large volunteer numbers, they sign up on Volgistics (or call/text/email me
if Volgistics is too intimidating). That way I know how many tools, snacks, water, etc. to

A week before the event, I send out an email to volunteers who have signed up,vand I give them details on when and where to meet for carpooling and where the work location will be. I give them a heads up on what kind of work to expect by giving annotated photos of potential work – raking trails, lining trails with rocks where needed, garbage pickup, light pruning overgrowth that
obstructs trails, naturalizing social paths and sweeping parking lots near our trailheads.

I let them decide the kind of work they want to do, depending on how they feel that day; and they’re free to switch out tools if they want to try something different.

I suggest they wear a long sleeve shirt, long pants, hat, sunglasses, sturdy full coverage shoes and to bring a small backpack or fanny pack to carry personal items (since we may end up working a mile from the trailhead). I let them know that Friends will supply all the tools, snacks, water, sunscreen
and the ever-popular safety briefing.

How do you recruit volunteers?

Susan: In addition to Friends and BLM, I hike with various groups and do low-key recruitment
while hiking. Sometimes I’m just out monitoring trails (my favorite volunteer gig) and people ask how they can help.

What drives the volunteers you work with?

Susan: Our volunteers always go above and beyond my expectations, and when I compare my “Before” and “After” photos, a tearful, proud smile comes across my face. They never fail to amaze me! I’m not sure what drives all our volunteers to do such a great job, but I’d wager a guess that they like seeing their results too.

How have you gone about organizing and managing the committee?

Susan: I submitted a proposal to Friends after several years of noticing that the second
Saturday of every month was just not enough to maintain our trails. I kept thinking
that “THEY” need to do something… “SOMEBODY” needs to do something… and decided that hey, I guess I could do something!

The proposal was accepted and the Light Trail Maintenance committee received an operating budget. Since we work with BLM, they lend us a truck (after an online defensive driving course is passed) to haul supplies and load collected trash.

With a list of volunteer names from Friends and BLM, I spoke with some on the phone, texted some and emailed dynamic promos to others.

What are some of your favorite endeavors along the trails?

Susan: Learning how to maintain our tools. BLM Firefighter Jason Douglas, with help from
three other colleagues, gave us a Power Point presentation and a hands-on workshop on sharpening

Learning the art of naturalizing social paths in Lost Creek with long-time volunteer (teacher)
Larry Dunn.

Teaching how to keep water off a trail. Water is the main source of damage (via erosion) to our
trails. I was delighted when a steep hill of the trail off Moenkopi Road held up following a torrential
downpour because of our work.

Having Peter Sbraccia teach us some graffiti removal techniques as part of our trail maintenance
in Willow Springs.

Teaching some trail-building techniques on what was just a path connecting the Scenic Loop exit to
the Red Rock Overlook.

Can you share a few anecdotes about individual volunteers and their work along the trails?

Susan: Lisa Metzer-Gott stopped work for a moment, spread her arms out wide and expressed
how wonderful it was to be volunteering in such an overwhelmingly beautiful place.
Cory Gozar, a volunteer in her 70’s, is like a cheerleader. She works hard and inspires others
to join her. She even recorded the sound of a Gila monster so we’d know what not to go near if we
heard it (quite scary, actually!).

Sofia Castille, who often gets dropped off and picked up by her husband, always has a beautiful
smile and pleasant demeanor. She works hard, and only asks for a good Facebook photo!
We have several teams that show married couples really can have fun working together – Edie &
Kevin Cardiff, Rebecca & Howard Dukes, Beth & Brian Schuck, Shari & Jeff Young, Karen & Mike
Evans, and Joan Urarro & Glenn Ritt.

Chelsea Conlin (aka “Hercules”) is usually (ok, always) our youngest volunteer, ever eager to pitch
in whenever someone calls out “We need some muscle over here!” She also makes a great batch of
vegan chocolate chip cookies!

What do you envision moving forward for Light Trail Maintenance?

Susan: That we won’t be needed! Well, I can dream! Mother Nature will make sure trail work
will continue. In the future, I plan to do more educcation. The volunteers will have a firmer grip on
seeing proper techniques for themselves and can teach others.

What advice do you give newcomers about volunteering?

Susan: Newcomers are always encouraged to join us. We always have several newbies. I think
it’s a good idea to introduce them by name and make them feel welcome and immediately part of
the team.

We have a couple of companies (Timberland Boot Company and that pay their
employees to work with us, and they always send new volunteers. It’s fun to see a wide range of
people whose lives are so varied on the outside, all working together toward our common goals.

What do you see volunteers getting out of their experience?

Susan: They not only get the “Before” and “After” photos, but also pictures of themselves
having fun at trail maintenance. They like the camaraderie of helping each other. I make sure
to remember their names and they appreciate the recognition. They like the organization, as well as
the freedom to choose what they’d like to do.

When all is said and done, beyond the fact that they (1) Made it look BETTER, (2) Stayed SAFE
and (3) Had FUN, I make sure they are dearly thanked!

Order Your Custom Red Rock Canyon License Plates

The Red Rock Canyon license plate has been approved by the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). This striking plate is now available at any DMV office for all those who wish to support Red Rock Canyon. To get your plate, please follow the steps below:

  • The Red Rock License Plate can be easily transferred to your vehicle in a few simple steps.
  • Immediately take your existing plate to the closest DMV.
  • Exchange it for the new Red Rock Canyon license plate at a cost of $61.00 (plus a transfer fee of $5.00).
  • There is NO emissions inspection or registration renewal required.
  • Bring your ID and vehicle registration. ONE trip does it all!
  • Annual renewals are $30 and can be handled through the mail or online.
  • Friends of Red Rock Canyon receive $25.00 (first year) and $20.00 for renewals. These tax deductible donations support programs and services critically needed at Red Rock Canyon.

Click here to download Red Rock Canyon license plate form.

First Aid Check List

Compliments of REI.

If you’re headed outdoors, you should always carry either a prepackaged first-aid kit or a DIY kit that you can create using our list as a guide. Knowing how to use the items in a first-aid kit is as important as having them, so consider taking a training course.

This list is intentionally extensive so you don’t forget anything. It also includes emergency essentials that you might carry separately from a kit.

We thank our partner, REI, for this story. 

First-Aid Basic Care

  • Antiseptic wipes (BZK-based wipes preferred; alcohol-based OK)
  • Antibacterial ointment (e.g., bacitracin)
  • Compound tincture of benzoin (bandage adhesive)
  • Assorted adhesive bandages (fabric preferred)
  • Butterfly bandages / adhesive wound-closure strips
  • Gauze pads (various sizes)
  • Nonstick sterile pads
  • Medical adhesive tape (10 yd. roll, min. 1″ width)
  • Blister treatment
  • Ibuprofen / other pain-relief medication
  • Insect sting relief treatment
  • Antihistamine to treat allergic reactions
  • Splinter (fine-point) tweezers
  • Safety pins
  • First-aid manual or information cards

Wraps, Splints and Wound Coverings

  • Elastic wrap
  • Triangular cravat bandage
  • Finger splint(s)
  • SAM splint(s)
  • Rolled gauze
  • Rolled, stretch-to-conform bandages
  • Hydrogel-based pads
  • First-aid cleansing pads with topical anesthetic
  • Hemostatic (blood-stopping) gauze
  • Liquid bandage
  • Oval eye pads


  • Hand sanitizer (BKZ- or alcohol-based)
  • Aloe vera gel (sun exposure relief)
  • Aspirin (primarily for response to a heart attack)
  • Antacid tablets
  • Throat lozenges
  • Lubricating eye drops
  • Loperamide tablets (for diarrhea symptoms)
  • Poison ivy / poison oak treatment
  • Insect sting relief treatment
  • Glucose or other sugar to treat hypoglycemia
  • Oral rehydration salts
  • Antifungal foot powder
  • Prescription medications (e.g., antibiotics)
  • Injectable epinephrine to treat allergic reactions

Tools and Supplies

  • Knife (or multi-tool with knife)
  • Paramedic shears (blunt-tip scissors)
  • Safety razor blade (or scalpel w/ #15 or #12 blade)
  • Cotton-tipped swabs
  • Standard oral thermometer
  • Low-reading (hypothermia) thermometer
  • Irrigation syringe with 18-gauge catheter
  • Magnifying glass
  • Small mirror
  • Medical / surgical gloves (nitrile preferred; avoid latex)
  • CPR mask
  • Steel sewing needle with heavy-duty thread
  • Needle-nose pliers with wire cutter
  • Duct tape (small roll)
  • Small notepad with waterproof pencil or pen
  • Medical waste bag (plus box for sharp items)
  • Waterproof container to hold supplies and meds
  • Emergency heat-reflecting blanket
  • Headlamp (preferred) or flashlight
  • Whistle (pealess preferred)
  • Personal locator beacon
  • Satellite messenger

Personal Care, Other Items

Hiking is Easier and Safer Now with BLM’s Georeference Maps

Heading out for a remote adventure?  No cell coverage?  No problem. The BLM has developed georeferenced maps compatible with any georeferenced map mobile application.

Click on these Georeference Maps of Red Rock Canyon

How to Use the Maps

These PDF maps are designed for use on your GPS-enabled mobile device and can be displayed on any PDF reader. When viewed in an installed mobile map application, each map is designed so that your location can be displayed on screen in real time.

Georeferenced map applications allow you to navigate using your mobile device’s GPS even without cellular reception. There are a variety of georeferenced PDF apps available for Apple and Android devices. Consult the mobile apps instructions for complete information on how to use. The BLM has currently uploaded several georeferenced maps to the AVENZA application store.

These maps can also be printed or viewed without using a mobile application.


  • Download the map onto your device prior to being in an area that may not have data coverage. (Message and data rates may apply.)
  • Ensure Location Services is enabled for the mobile map application being used on your mobile device.


  • In areas with no cellular reception, phone battery life significantly decreases. Utilizing airplane mode or putting your device in airplane mode will greatly improve battery life and will not interfere with GPS tracking.
  • Like all GPS technology, the accuracy of your device will be compromised by cloudy weather and close proximity to tall cliff walls and slot canyons.
  • File sizes for maps obtained from the AVENZA app store are typically much larger than the PDFs listed below. AVENZA recommends users connect to a WiFi network when downloading.

Photo: BLM

Helping Students Visit Red Rock Canyon

Thank you for your interest in applying for a transportation grant from Friends of Red Rock Canyon, Las Vegas. The Friends organization works closely with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to underwrite Clark County School District (CCSD) transportation costs for educational field trips.

Grant applications for the 2017-2018 school year will be accepted only from August 14, 2017 through April 6, 2018. You can download a PDF file of the Application & Instructions here:

Transportation Grant Guidelines and Application

Or you can download our new Transportation Grant Guidelines and Fillable Application.

Required Workshop Training

Completion of a BLM Sponsored Workshop is required as part of the Bus Grant program and to take students/groups on trails at Red Rock Canyon. You must complete one of these workshops and have your field trip scheduled and approved by the BLM before you are eligible to apply for a Bus Grant. Click on the links, below for more information about the workshops.

Environmental Education Program Application Guidelines.

Explore the Great Outdoors Workshop. Tentative 2017 dates are: September 2, October 14, and November 4.

Biology at Red Rock Canyon. Tentative 2017 dates are: September 16, and October 28.

Archaeology at Red Rock Canyon. Tentative date is December 2, 2017.

Contact Kate Sorom at 702-515-5353 with questions. CCSD teachers may register via Pathlore, keyword 2275. Non CCSD teachers may register by calling the CCSD PDE office at 702-799-1921

Before Your Visit

Please read:

Environmental Education Program Procedures and Safety.

Join Friends and Donate to Red Rock Canyon’s Future

Here’s key information about joining Friends of Red Rock Canyon:

We are working today… to protect tomorrow.

In 1984, a group of enthusiastic people formed Friends of Red Rock Canyon. The original mission was to provide volunteers for Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.

Friends of Red Rock Canyon, Las Vegas, Nevada, has since expanded our mission to provide not only critically needed volunteer assistance, but substantial financial support for education and environmental programs. During the past fiscal year Friends members donated over 21,000 volunteer hours and over $100,000 in direct support.

Benefits of being a member of Friends of Red Rock Canyon:

  1. Monthly e-newsletters and complimentary quarterly magazine, the Rock , to update members on news, programs, merchandise sales, and announcements.
  2. A 25% discount on regularly priced merchandise purchased at Elements, the Southern Nevada Conservancy Gift Store.
  3. A 25% discount on all purchases made from the Friends Red Web store. Receive free shipping/handling on purchases totaling $25.00 or more and being sent to one U. S. continental address. For orders less than $25.00, there is a $5.00 shipping/handling fee. See Friends’ merchandise by clicking on “Store” in this website.
  4. Invitations to special members-only events.
  5. Members volunteering more than 40 hours each fiscal year are eligible for complimentary invitations to the Annual Volunteer Appreciation event. They will also receive recognition rewards from Friends of Red Rock Canyon as well as Annual or America the Beautiful passes from the Bureau of Land Management.
  6. Discounted entry fee of 20% for members who submit photographs for the Annual Red Rock Canyon Photo Contest.
  7. Opportunities for training classes such as First Aid and CPR at no cost.
  8. The satisfaction of knowing you are a participant in addressing the challenges facing Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.

Mail-in Membership Form

Join and Pay Online

Make A Donation

Your tax-deductible donations enable Friends of Red Rock Canyon to fund projects and services benefitting Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. Thank you for your support!

You may process your donation using Paypal by clicking the Donate button below. Or you may mail your donation of cash or check payable to Friends of Red Rock Canyon to:

Friends of Red Rock Canyon
1000 Scenic Drive
Las Vegas, NV  89161