Unique to the Stepladder Mountains Wilderness is the extensive critical desert tortoise habitat that it protects. The western portion of the area consists of the relatively low, elongated volcanic Stepladder Mountains. This small range extends for about ten miles in a north-south direction. The area gently slopes eastward to the northern end of Chemehuevi Wash and westward to Homer Wash. Approximately 85 percent of the wilderness consists of flat bajadas and associated washes which provide excellent desert tortoise habitat. The entire wilderness is considered critical habitat for this threatened species. The dominant vegetation consists of creosote bush scrub on the bajadas, and microphylla woodlands within the washes; palo verde, smoketree, and catclaw are typically the trees found in the woodlands. A small stand of crucifixion thorn and a dense stand of teddy bear cholla are also found in the area. Wildlife is typical for the Mojave Desert; including coyote, black-tailed jackrabbits, ground squirrels, kangaroo rats, quail, roadrunners, rattlesnakes, and several species of lizards.

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