The Major Deserts Of The United States

The landscape of the Mojave Desert in the US.

The United States covers nearly 3.8 million square miles. Within this large area, the country is divided into several environments, from snow-capped mountains to hot, sandy deserts. This article takes a look at the latter; specifically the four major deserts of the southwestern US.

4. Mojave Desert

The landscape of the Mojave Desert.

The Mojave Desert stretches across Nevada, Arizona, and California, covering 47,877 square miles. It receives under 2 inches of precipitation every year, which makes this desert the driest in North America. The hottest temperature recorded here is 134° fahrenheit.

Across its wide expanse, the Mojave Desert experiences a significant change in elevation. The highest point located here is the Telescope Peak at 11,049 feet above sea level. In contrast, the lowest point is Death Valley, at 282 feet below sea level. One of the most famous features of this desert is the Joshua Tree, which is native to the Mojave and is found along its borders. This tree is considered to be an indicator species that is believed to provide life to between approximately 1,750 and 2,000 other plant species.

3. Sonoran Desert

The beautiful Sonoran Desert.

The Sonoran Desert spreads from Mexico through Arizona and into southern California. It covers an area of around 100,000 square miles, bordering the Mojave Desert, the Peninsular Ranges, and the Colorado Plateau.

The lowest point in the Sonoran Desert is the Salton Sea, which is 226 feet below sea level and has a higher salinity level than the Pacific Ocean. Other sources of water for this desert include the Colorado and Gila Rivers. One of the most famous features of this desert is the Saguaro Cactus, which only grows here. It can reach over 60 feet in height and grows branches from its main trunk, resembling human arms. Its flowers are pollinated by bats, bees, and white-winged doves.

2. Chihuahuan Desert

The Chihuahuan desert.

The Chihuahuan Desert runs between the US and Mexico and is comprised of an area of 139,769 square miles. The majority of this desert is located in Mexico. On the US side, it can be found in Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico.

The Chihuahuan Desert has a unique and ever-changing landscape. Its highest point is measured at 12,139 feet above sea level, while its lowest point is at 1,969 feet above sea level. Although an arid desert, it is home to several plant and animal species, including: prickly pear cactus, agave, creosote bush, and yucca. Approximately 800,000 acres of this desert are protected by the Big Bend National Park. The Rio Grande River crosses the Chihuahuan Desert, providing a much-needed source of water before emptying into the Gulf of Mexico.

1. Great Basin Desert

The Great Basin desert.

The Great Basin Desert covers an area of around 190,000 square miles, making it the largest of the major US deserts. It is considered a temperate desert that experiences hot and dry summers with cold and snowy winters. This effect is in part due to its higher than average elevations: encompassing Arizona, California, Utah, Oregon, and Idaho. During most of the year, the Great Basin Desert is dry because the Sierra Nevada mountains block moisture from the Pacific Ocean. This desert is home to the oldest known living organism in the world, the Bristlecone Pine tree. Some of these trees are estimated to be over 5,000 years old.


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