Chihuahuan Desert

When we imagine a desert, the picture of a dry, sandy, and lifeless wasteland comes to mind. With scorching temperatures and a dull environment, there isn't much to discover or explore in these withered regions. However, that is not the case for this exciting Desert. This wasteland covers a great area of 200,000 square miles. The Chihuahuan desert is located at the Southern international border between the US and Mexico. It is known to be one of the largest and most biologically diverse subtropical deserts in North America. It is home to hundreds of animal species, some of which can not be found anywhere else in the world. In addition, the Desert also encompasses a fantastic array of plant species and organisms. Also named the "Desierto de Chihuahua" in Spanish, this Desert carries plenty of secrets on both sides of the borders just waiting to be uncovered. 

Climate And Environment Of The Chihuahuan Desert

The soil in the Chihuahuan Desert is mainly composed of limestone bedrock, with distinctive white gypsum and igneous rocks in some areas. The Desert is home to the most extensive collection of minerals on earth. 

The climate in this Desert is unique because it is not typically blazing hot like other desert-like regions. The Chihuahuan Desert boasts a semi-arid climate generally cooler and moister than other dry ecoregions, with hot summers and freezing winters. The paradoxical extremities of its weather are due to the Desert's unusually high altitude, which ranges between 3,00 and 5,000 feet. This same temperature anomaly is to thank the Desert's unique and diverse ecosystem.

Snowfall in the Chihuahuan Desert.

During the summer, the weather is usually hot and dry during the day, with frequent rainfall occurring in the form of afternoon thunderstorms. Annual rainfall precipitation ranges between 6 to 20 inches yearly, which is astounding for a typically parched plot of land. June is often considered the hottest and driest month of the year, with a slight increase in humidity often noticed during July and August. 

During winter, the days are usually cool and tolerable. Temperatures drop below freezing point at night (about 18/19℉), with drastic drops sometimes lasting a few nights. Once in a while, the area will observe a seldom cold snap, where desert temperatures can drop to as low as -0.5℉! During these occasions, you may even witness the occasional snowfall.

History Of Formation Of The Chihuahuan Desert

The Chihuahuan desert is considered a relatively young wasteland because it has been a dry area for approximately 8,000 years. However, some rocks and ecological spots date back millions of years. With extensive history to uncover, this Desert is like an open book, where each stone tells its own historic story.

Some regions of the Chihuahuan desert date back to 930 million years ago. This is a massive discovery since it is a time before the supercontinent Pangea formed 230 million years ago. Some rocks in the Desert still harbor the fossilized remnants of the organisms that lived and died in the region. Most of these creatures are aquatic life forms due to the area being completely submerged underwater at the time.

Eventually, the uplift of the North American continent and the volcanic activity of the area helped shape the rocks and ecology of the deserted region today. The extension and how the land pulled apart during the continental rift helped form what is now known today as the famous Rio Grande Rift and several other aspects of the Desert. In the Big Bend area of the Desert, there was an old river flow of combined waters from the Rio Grande and Rio Conches. This water flow eventually cut into the soft rocks and formed a massive unified river, of which only remnants of it are still present today. However, the Rio Grande River is still considered a significant water source for the animals and organisms that inhabit the area today.

Human History Of The Chihuahuan Desert

Evidence found in the Desert suggests that old prehistoric peoples lived in the area for a while as nomads. Although they never stayed in the area long, the neolithic native people studied the region's animals and resources. They found that they could grow essential crops near the water. They even managed to integrate different forms of agriculture with time-tested practices so that their crops may endure the withered land and scorching temperatures. 

Today, no civilizations are currently living in the heart of the Desert. However, many cities in Mexico were built on its outskirts, like El Paso and El Cruces. These are not considered to be small cities. While finding a vibrant town in the middle of the Desert may seem like a beautiful sight, it can be disastrous for the region. The further establishment of the area may lead to devastating consequences for the Desert's natural resources. 

Plants In The Chihuahuan Desert

The Chihuahuan desert is much more than just sun and sand. In this beautifully ecologically diverse Desert, you will find a wide range of plants and ecosystems waiting to be uncovered. This incredible Desert is home to 3,500 plant species and 400 different cactus species alone, some of which are exclusive to the area. Here are some of the varieties of plants that can be seen in this wonder wasteland.

Prickly pear cactus plants.

The Prickly Pear Cactus: This fun cactus looks like a hand with short, chubby fingers that waves hi to every passerby. The prickly pear is also a typical food used in Mexican cuisine, with many dishes utilizing the plant as the main ingredient.

Desert Spoon: It is exciting to see a massively tall and thin plant. However, the Desert Spoon is pretty unassuming most of the year and only grows massively big during a specific time. They save up energy all year round to extend to these monstrous sizes.

Creosote Bush: The most basic plant in the Desert. You will find loads of them around, and they are known to take their energy from the vegetation around them. You can find an 11,000-year-old creosote bush still living and prosperous in the Desert today.

Fishhook Barrel Cactus: A beautiful small round cactus that grows gorgeous red flowers during the rainy season. 

fishhook barrel cactus
Young fishhook barrel cactus plant.

Ocotillo: It is a very funny-looking plant that looks like something from a comic book. It is known for its whacky aesthetic and vibrant green color during the summer. 

Strawberry Cactus: It is a beautifully tiny, cylindric cactus that boasts a lovely soft pink color. This cactus is less common than the prickly pear and fishhook barrel cactuses and is usually more challenging to spot due to its tiny stature.

Other plants and ecosystems that you can find in this Desert are yucca woodlands, playas, gypsum dunes, agaves, and many more. Approximately 1,000 of the plant species that grow in the region are unique to the Desert, making this destination one of a kind.

Animals In The Chihuahuan Desert

Being one of the deserts that holds the most prominent amount of wildlife in the world, it is interesting to see how this wasteland is home to such a diverse array of animals. In the Chihuahuan desert, you can find over 120 species of mammals and 300 species of birds. The following are some of the most extraordinary creatures in the region.

Cottontails Rabbits: These little furry animals are one of the most typical animals found in the Desert in the Las Cruces, Mexico area. Although it is easy to mistake a cottontail rabbit for a jackrabbit, they differ in size and tail color. The cottontail rabbit is usually a lot smaller and has a white tail instead of a black one.

Jackrabbits: A more intimidating version of a cottontail, the jackrabbit is a hare species. They are also much rarer and more aware, so they will most likely flee the scene before you even spot them.

Gambel's Quail: A wonderfully majestic bird, this bird is easy on the eyes. Its beautifully colored grey and bronze feathers make it easy to get caught up in its charm. While the quail can fly, it usually prefers to roam on the ground.

Roadrunner: Just like the famous cartoon, this bird can run, reaching speeds of up to 20 miles per hour. It is a spectacular sight to behold this bird in action.

Other animals found in the region are: mule deer, horned lizards, giant whip scorpions, burrowing owls, tarantulas, golden eagles, black-tailed prairie dogs, mountain lions, wolves, bobcats, coyotes, ring-tailed cats, and many more.

Borders

This unique Desert is a sublime region shared by two countries, the United States and Mexico. The Chihuahuan desert is located in Mexico, 90% of it to be exact, covering about 175,000 square miles of the northern part of the country. On the US side, the Desert is located in some parts of southeastern Texas, southern New Mexico, and portions of western Arizona. 

The major tourist attraction of the Desert, the Big Bend National Park, is located on the side of the US border. On the other side of the Mexican border, the desert covers part of the states of Chihuahua, Coahuila, Durango, Zacatecas, Nuevo Leon, and San Luis Potosi.

Visiting The Chihuahuan Desert

Chihuahuan Desert Nature Trail, Big Bend National Park, Texas
Chihuahuan Desert Nature Trail, Big Bend National Park, Texas.

One of the ways that one may visit the Chihuahuan desert is by taking a trip to the Big Bend National Park. This park is located in the heart of the Desert. It allows visitors to get a glimpse at the fantastic ecological wonders that this Desert has to offer. 

There are many things that one can do at the park. You can go stargazing, for it is widely known to be the darkest spot in the lower 48 states due to attempting to minimize light pollution. You can also check out the fossil museum to look at the Desert's extensive history or even go down to the Big Bend hot spring trails for a quick swim. The best part is that you can camp out in one of the most epic deserts in the world by reserving a safe camp spot to enjoy the beauties that this Desert offers overnight.

The Chihuahuan desert is undoubtedly one of the most ecologically prominent deserts in the world. While there, you will uncover different animals and plant species, a unique climate, plenty of historical value, and an array of eco-diversity.  

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