The Chihuahuan Desert surrounds the City of Tombstone Arizona. This desert has its particular types of plant-life. But within this zone is much variability. It's dependent on the elevation.
The elevation of Tombstone is 4,541 feet above sea level. In Chihuahuan Desert areas, for an elevation increase of 1000 feet the temperature drops by 3.5 degrees Fahrenheit. Bisbee, 20 minutes Southeast, is about 1000 feet higher. It's normally that much cooler than Tombstone.
This difference in temperatures in the Chihuahuan Desert also has an effect on plants in an area. To some degree, it affects animal life also. Another aspect is sunlight and mountains. On northern sloping areas, out of most direct sunlight, the temperature can be much cooler.
Several types of desert biomes exist throughout the world. Each of them also have their own microclimates. Sometimes the microclimates of adjacent deserts coincide, and sometimes they diverge. Tombstone, and much of the Chihuahuan Desert in the U.S., can be considered a warm/intermediate desert.1
There are some typical, common animals you may experience when you travel the Tombstone area. Some are less common. You might see these while hiking. That would be an exciting experience! Sometimes welcome - other times, maybe not!
Javelina - People sometimes refer to them as a "pig." They sort of seem like a wild variety, but they're collared peccary. Only vaguely related to pigs, kind of like second cousins, in that they're in the same Order: Artiodactyla, which also includes sheep, goats, even giraffes! Javelina are in a different family: the Tayassuidae. So they have different specific characteristics from pigs:
Family groups often herd together. They have poor eye-sight, but a good sense of smell.
Coyote - Usually heard more than seen, making a crying yip-like sound. When seen, they're often alone. In winter, they'll gather in groups. They hunt small animals, or eat carrion. Just like you've probably seen and heard in the cartoon, they are very wily!
Mountain Lion - Also called a cougar, or sometimes a puma. They're very adaptable, though they prefer mountainous areas. More often, when you might see them, would be while hiking. But it would be an unusual encounter. They have been seen on occasion, around the Tombstone area. So they are known to be into the Chihuahuan Desert, and into the surrounding Tombstone Hills.
Ringtail - These guys are real "night owls"! Their excellent eye-sight serves them well in the dark. They like rocky canyons, and even mine shafts. So the Tombstone Hills serve them well! They have a fluffy tail with black & white ringed stripes. They're related to raccoons, and are real tricksters!
Gila Monster - A stocky lizard. Its coloring is black with pinkish orange markings. It is venomous. If it bites, it chews to release the venom. Human attacks are exceedingly rare (they happen when someone is really provoking the lizard!). Arizona law protects them! (Illegal to collect, kill or harm them.) So please, don't bother one if you encounter it - it won't bother you. Just be glad you were able to meet one from a safe distance. You'll have a rare treat!
Western Desert Tarantula - Sometimes called the Arizona blond tarantula or the Mexican blond tarantula. They live in burrows in the ground. The opening is about quarter-sized. It has a silky lining or covering. The male is black with tan markings. The female is tan with blondish hairs. Abdominal hairs have irritating barbs. Their bite is venomous, but not deadly. Feeling kind of like a strong bee sting - unless you have an allergic reaction! So use caution if you have that tendency. You'd have to really annoy them to have them bite you. So be nice!
Roadrunner - This amusing bird has been the subject of a cartoon. And they are quite entertaining to watch when you encounter one. They normally have a route they follow, and our yard has been lucky to have been along one! They're a kind of cuckoo. They run along the ground and you might see one run across the road in front of your car. That's where they got their name, after all. They don't fly much. They can feed on rattlesnakes!
Specific plants are native to the Chichuahuan Desert. They can also cross over into other Desert Biomes as well. Here are a few of the very noticeable plants you may wonder about as you travel through the area.
Tumbleweed - You'll see it fly by, maybe even get stuck under your car - on a windy day! What is it?
You probably noticed it in those Western movies. There's even one film named for it! About 10 plant families produce tumbleweeds. As the annual plant dies, it breaks off. The wind blows it elsewhere. Its method to distribute its seeds for reproduction. The one usually seen here is known as Russian Thistle.
Ocotillo - Easily identified, with its tall green to brown spiked stems out of its base. With rain, it will sprout leaves. During dry spells, the leaves fall to conserve water. Orangey flowers bloom at the top from about March until June.
Prickly Pear Cactus - This Opuntia family group grows in many areas throughout the Chihuahuan desert region. It's a hardy cactus that can survive in quite a variety of desert and sandy areas throughout the world. Easily recognized as well. But be careful - most types have thorns and tiny painful spines.
Yucca - You'll see them in the open desert and also on slopes. They tend to grow in groups, one after another. There are several varieties. The Soap Tree Yucca has a tree-like form. Yucca baccatta, or Banana Yucca, has a base of pointed leave. A flowering tower shoot grows from the middle of each variety, from 10 to 12 feet tall.
Mesquite Tree - The mesquite has small green leaves, often some thorny branches, and flowers in the spring. A pretty tree that spreads wide and grows about 30 feet tall. It produces some good and well appreciated shade. Its bean pods have been used for food by Native Americans. A very widespread type of tree in desert areas.
There are not any mountains right in Tombstone itself. Tombstone is surrounded by the Hills of Tombstone. That's where the Miners of the 1880s sunk their silver mine shafts.
The area is surrounded by a number of mountain ranges that offer hiking and recreational activities:
A very special place. The great Apache warrior Cochise is buried here. But we can't tell you where! One area that's a must-do/see is Cochise Stronghold. But there are other areas, many historic, to check out in the Dragoon Mountains.
Phillips, J. (2015). Growing the Southwest garden. Portland OR: Timber Press.
Brown, D. E., editor. 1994. Biotic communities: Southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico. University of Utah Press, Salt Lake City.
Tweit, S. J. 1995. Barren, wild and worthless: Living in the Chihuahuan Desert. University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque.
Southwest Wildlife Conservation Center (2021) Javelina. Retrieved from southwestwildlife.org/resident-animals/javelina/javelina.html
Godfrey, E. (December 20, 2014). Center for Biological Diversity wants Texas horned lizard declared an endangered species in Oklahoma. The Daily Oklahoman.