Stems short-creeping, usually 4--8 mm diam.; scales uniformly brown, linear-subulate, strongly contorted, loosely appressed, persistent. Leaves clustered, 6--30 cm; vernation circinate. Petiole dark brown, flattened or slightly grooved distally on adaxial surface. Blade narrowly oblong to linear, 3-pinnate-pinnatifid at base, 1--4 cm wide; rachis flattened or slightly grooved adaxially, lacking scales, with monomorphic pubescence. Pinnae not articulate, dark color of stalk continuing into pinna base, basal pair slightly smaller than adjacent pair, ± equilateral, appearing glandular pubescent adaxially. Costae green adaxially for most of length; abaxial scales absent. Ultimate segments oblong to lanceolate, not beadlike, the largest 3--4 mm, abaxially and adaxially glandular-pubescent with short, sticky, capitate glands. False indusia marginal, weakly differentiated, 0.05--0.25 mm wide. Sori usually discontinuous, concentrated on apical and lateral lobes. Sporangia containing 64 spores.
Sporulating late spring--fall. Cliffs and rocky slopes, usually on igneous substrates; 200--1300 m; Calif.; Mexico in Baja California.
Cheilanthes viscida is confined to a relatively small region in the deserts of California. Variations in spore size among populations suggest that the species may include more than one cytotype.