Searching for Tortoises

CA Mojave NP 0510-18As Chuck noted, we were in the Mojave Desert last week. We visited the very little visited and huge park, the Mojave National Preserve. This is a stunning location that really shows off the desert. Distances are big as you drive through the area with rocky mountains all around you. You can see the “bones” of the earth, the geological structure of our planet. And for me, it is truly an awe – some place that inspires awe about God’s creation. I could go on and on about the amazing desert here and how I discovered much to love about a so-called “barren” desert. The Mojave is only barren in our human-centered eyes — God might smile at such a description since the place is filled with life. And we were there during a peak blooming time. You can see some of this on my photo blog at

But what turned out to be quite interesting was our search for the desert tortoise. Chuck was determined to photograph one of these creatures. It is an endangered species and also the “mascot” of sorts for the Preserve as you see signs about it everywhere, including warnings to watch out for tortoises on the road.

We kept our eyes ever vigilant for a “turtle”, but after three days, no tortoises had been found. On the last day we were in the Preserve, we decided to go through the park one more time on a road we had been on earlier but had not had much time to explore for photography. We stopped at an area filled with signs of old volcanic action and lots of blooming creosote bushes … but no tortoises.

CA Mojave NP 0510-17Finally, going down a very long incline, Chuck spotted a tortoise on the side of the road. Chuck was so excited and immediately got out and started photographing the animal. I was a little concerned for his life since he was so close to the road, but on the other hand, this was not exactly a busy road (we saw three vehicles go by in the time we were by the tortoise and two of them were park vehicles).

So why care so much about a tortoise? Since this was an important animal for the area and the Preserve, Chuck wanted to see and photograph it. But consider that the tortoise is not beautiful, it looks like a textured rock. It offers no economic value to people, no food, nothing.

Now there is value in the tortoise as a representative of the Mojave Desert that people can see and relate to. The tortoise definitely gave us a connection to this environment that is different than seeing and photographing cactus.

I believe that the point is that if God created the world and saw that it was good (Genesis 1:12), then there needs to be no other justification of the value of a desert tortoise. If God saw that it was good, who are we to question its value and place on earth? Yet that is exactly what a lot of people do. “We can’t hold up development because of some stupid turtle.” “People’s jobs are more important than wildlife.” But are they? Isn’t that putting a judgement on God’s work? Yes, our jobs and our livelihoods are important, but they are temporary compared to God’s creation.

Searching for a tortoise is also searching for God’s creation and finding value in what the Lord has made.

— Rob