Plants are out. Even if you increased the efficiency of photosynthesis to the point that a plant could think and run around, there would be no reason for it to. Sunlight is the same everywhere within reasonable walking distance, so there is little incentive to move, especially when you have to be huge to expose enough area to the sun.
Chemotrophs could work though. With the right conditions they could behave much like regular animals - they just happen to eat rocks instead of plants or other animals.
Single celled life
Start with the necessary chemicals bubbling up from underground. When this happens, small organisms reproduce rapidly, feeding until there is no usable energy left and the rock has been reduced to a fine dust.
Wind picks up the surface layer of dust, and a few survive long enough to be blown to a new deposit, where the cycle repeats.
Mobility would be an advantage in this environment - first to simply move to denser energy sources faster than the competition, but also to make it to the next food source. Some would grow wings to more easily catch the wind and be carried further. Others would grow legs and store enough energy to be able to walk a useful distance into the desert. Most would still die, but the slightest advantage is enough to get evolution going.
You could also have trees, extending roots down to get at chemicals deep underground. The bacteria can't do that if the reaction also requires something from the air.
Walking around works best with an internal digestive system, so these creatures would probably lose the ability to simply sit on a rock and absorb it. There are a couple of ways it could work.
All the cells could retain the ability to use the original energy source. Digestion just means separating it from the ingested rock and getting it into the bloodstream.
Cells are more specialized to the point of being similar to regular animal cells. Stomach bacteria convert the rock and air into organic material that can be digested in the normal way.
The creatures would grow larger, because that makes it easier to walk long distances between food sources, or to fight off any competition once you get there. This isn't necessarily a peaceful planet - nothing worth eating is quite different from nothing worth killing.
With larger creatures it is possible to have a large brain without using too high a percentage of the available energy.
Evolving intelligence would be a definite advantage. Recognizing the geology that is likely to mean a fresh energy source nearby. Tool use to dig through the dust and uncover deeper deposits without waiting for them to be exposed naturally.
Mining takes the place of agriculture on Earth, allowing the people to settle in one place and develop a civilization. Depending on the chemical reaction used as the original energy source, it may be reversible once the civilization can use fire or another external energy source, which would make it even easier to grow a city.
Avoiding the development of predators (or even mushrooms) is harder. Life has a way of filling every niche there is.
I don't think toxicity will work. For just about any toxic substance you can name, there is something out there that will happily eat it.
Energy density is better, but not perfect. The initial bacteria can be efficient enough that almost all of the material they take in is converted into an unusable low energy form that isn't worth eating, but once the original food supply is exhausted, being able to feed on what's left would be a huge advantage.
It might be possible to limit heterotrophs to lower life forms if there is generally not enough extractable energy in animal cells - fungi growing on a carcass is unavoidable, but chasing down prey to eat is never worthwhile. The concept of heterotrophy would be familiar, but a civilization of humanoid mushrooms would seem very alien.
Earth type life evolving independently is also a possibility. You could slow that down with active geology that is helpful to the chemotrophs until they start trying to build cities and a shortage of liquid water.
Stable civilization requires the planet to quieten down a bit, so life as we know it will still evolve, but the chemotrophs have a billion year head start - They are building a civilization while everything else is still limited to single celled organisms.