It’s no secret that I love the desert. Can’t get enough of it. The Arabian Desert, the Sahara, the Kalahari… all breathtaking! But the American Southwest is FULL of deserts as well- amazing deserts, beautiful deserts, rocky and rugged deserts. And you should visit every single one of them.
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The American Southwest is Full of Deserts. You Should Visit Every One of Them.
The American Southwest is AMAZING. The desert landscapes, the rugged terrain, and the every-man-for-himself kind of feel.
Sure, deserts are harsh. But that’s part of why I love them. The flora and fauna that thrive in the desert are astounding, beating all odds and living in a place that receives less than 10 inches of rain per year. Absolutely amazing.
So what deserts live in the Southwestern United States, and what makes them so special? Below I will dive into each and every desert in the American Southwest… and exactly why you should visit every single one of them.
What Deserts Are Found in the United States?
The short answer is, it depends who you ask.
In general, most people separate the US deserts into four separate regions; the Mojave Desert, the Sonoran Desert, the Great Basin Desert, and the Chihuahuan Desert.
Categorized inside of these four large regions are smaller desert regions, like the Colorado Desert and the Painted Desert. For the purposes of this article, we will focus on the main four.
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1. The Mojave Desert
The Mojave Desert covers over 43,000 square miles of land. Most of it lies within Southern California and Nevada, but small pockets sit inside of Utah and Arizona.
Though this is considered the smallest and driest desert, it is definitely one of my personal favorites. The Mojave Desert is home to such unique plant life and geology that it seems almost like another planet.
Both Joshua Tree National Park and Death Valley National Park have large portions of land inside of the Mojave Desert boundaries. Both feature mountainous backdrops and rugged, rocky terrain. Sand is fairly common inside of this desert.
The Mojave Desert is home to hundreds of endemic plant species that are not found in any of the surrounding deserts. The most notable of these is the wild and spindly Joshua Tree. This plant, as well as many others, requires the specific elevation found in the Mojave – typically between 3,000 – 6,000 feet.
Read More About the Mojave:
- Things To Do in the Mojave Desert
- The Best Hikes in Joshua Tree National Park
- A Complete Guide to Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada
- Visiting the Mojave National Preserve
- Joshua Tree Sunrise Hikes and Locations
- Hiking the Five Wave in Valley of Fire State Park
2. The Sonoran Desert
One fun fact about me – I have lived in both the Mojave Desert region in California and the Sonoran Desert region in Arizona. I’d be hard-pressed to say which one I prefer.
Much like the Mojave, the Sonoran Desert is home to very distinct flora – mainly, the Saguaro cactus, which is found to the east of the Sonoran Desert. The Saguaro is dwarfed by it’s cousin the Cardon, the tallest of all cactus species in the world.
This desert covers 100,000 square miles of land, and it is known as the hottest of these four deserts. Triple digits can last all through the summer months. Warm winters are a big draw for tourists in this region, in comparison to other parts of the United States. However, monsoon rains and even frost is not unheard of.
These desert vistas look like no other. Those tall and proud Saguaros make the landscape unforgettable.
Read More About the Sonoran Desert:
- Visiting Valle de Los Gigantes in San Felipe Mexico
- The Ultimate Guide to Saguaro National Park
- Hiking Trails in Saguaro National Park
- Things To Do in Tucson
- 24 Hours in Palm Springs
- A Phoenix to Sedona Road Trip
- Where to See Saguaros in Phoenix
- A One Day in Phoenix Itinerary
3. The Great Basin Desert
The Great Basin Desert is the largest desert in the USA. It covers a whopping 190,000 square miles of land – almost double the sprawl of the Sonoran Desert. Portions of Great Basin sit in California, Nevada, Utah, Oregon, and even a tiny bit bleeds into Idaho.
It is the coldest desert in the United States, as it sits both higher north and higher in elevation than the others. It sits adjacent to the Sierra Nevada Mountains, home of the beautiful Alabama Hills.
The Great Basin Desert is the only one that receives snow fairly regularly. To see Arches covered in snowfall is a stunning sight!
Read More About the Great Basin Desert:
4. The Chihuahuan Desert
Last but not least, the Chihuahuan Desert lives mostly in Mexico but spills over into the US, too. It primarily can be found in New Mexico, but also sits partially in Texas and Arizona.
This desert is less distinct in appearance. It is not characterized b tall Saguaros or the wild Joshua Trees. Instead, low lying brush and desert shrubs scatter across the floor. Prickly pears and ocotillos are plentiful, but then again, these can be seen in other deserts too.
One surprising feature; the little rainfall that this desert receives typically falls during the summer months. Winter temperatures are cool, though, and in true desert form, the summers are extremely hot.
Read More About the Chihuahuan Desert:
Each of these deserts is completely unique. From sand to rocks to snow and everything in between, there is so much to see here.
The American Southwest is full of deserts just waiting to be explored. Which one will you visit first?
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