3 Deserts of California

Deserts of California

Coachella Valley Preserve, in the Colorado Desert

The Deserts of California have unique ecosystems and habitats, a sociocultural and historical "Old West" collection of legends, districts, and communities; and a popular tourism region of dramatic natural features and recreational development. All of the deserts are located in eastern Southern California, in the United States.



Largest desert cities
City Population
Lancaster 156,633
Palmdale 152,750
Victorville 115,903
Hesperia 90,173
Indio 76,036
Apple Valley 69,135
Cathedral City 51,200

There are three main deserts in California: the Mojave Desert, the Colorado Desert, and the Great Basin desert. The Mojave Desert is bounded by the Tehachapi Mountains on the northwest, the San Gabriel and San Bernardino Mountains on the south, and extends eastward to California's borders with Arizona and Nevada. The Colorado Desert lies in the southeastern corner of the state, between the Colorado River and the Transverse Ranges, and continues into Mexico and Arizona to the south and east. The Great Basin desert lies immediately to the east of the Sierra Nevada and extends eastward into the state of Nevada.

The deserts encompass all of Imperial County, the southern and eastern portion of Inyo County, the eastern portions of Mono County, Los Angeles County, Kern County, San Diego County, and Riverside County; and most of northern and eastern portion of San Bernardino County. The major urban populations of western San Diego County, Orange County, the Inland Empire, and Greater Los Angeles are over the high mountains towards the Pacific Ocean.

Mojave Desert

The topographical boundaries include the Tehachapi Mountains to the northwest, together with the San Gabriel and San Bernardino mountain ranges to the south. The mountain boundaries are quite distinct since they are outlined by the two largest faults in California: the San Andreas Fault and the Garlock Fault. The Mojave Desert in California includes the colloquially-defined High Desert region. The Great Basin shrub steppe lies to the north of the Mojave Desert; the warmer Sonoran Desert and its subregion the Colorado Desert lie to the south and east.

Colorado Desert

The Colorado Desert is a part of the larger Sonoran Desert, which extends across southwest North America. The Colorado Desert region encompasses approximately 7 million acres (2,800,000 ha), reaching from the Mexican border in the south to the higher-elevation Mojave Desert in the north and from the Colorado River in the east to the Laguna Mountains of the Peninsular Ranges in the west. The area includes the heavily irrigated Coachella and Imperial Valleys. The Sonoran/Colorado desert in California includes the colloquially-defined Low Desert region.

Great Basin Desert


All of the deserts of California are characterized by low rainfall, caused by the rain shadow of mountains to the west of each desert. The Mojave desert receives between 3 to 10 inches (76 to 250 mm) of rain per year, while the Colorado desert received between 2 to 6 inches (51 to 150 mm).[1]

The Mojave Desert is considered a high desert, because elevations can range up to 11,000 feet (3,400 m).[1]. The Mojave Desert is characterized by presence of Yucca brevifolia. Common plants of the Mojave include creosote bush, blackbush, greasewood and saltbush. Higher elevations host Western juniper and Pinyon pine.[1]

The Colorado Desert is a low desert, with elevations running from -230 to 1,000 feet (−70.1 to 300 m) above sea level.[1]. The Colorado Desert hosts saguaro cactus, Sonoran creosote bush, and Salton Sea saltbush.[1]

The Great Basin desert in California can also reach up to 11,000 feet (3,400 m) of elevation.[2] Plants of the Great Basin desert include Big sagebrush, Pinyon pine, Utah juniper, Low sagebrush, Shadscale, and Bristlecone pine.[2]

Common animals of the California deserts include the desert bighorn sheep, desert kit fox, coyote, spotted skunk, spotted bat, black-tailed jackrabbit, ground squirrels, kangaroo rat, white-footed mouse, and desert tortoise.[1]



Joshua trees are characteristic of the Mojave Desert.

In 1994, the California Desert Protection Act protected millions of acres within the Death Valley and Joshua Tree National Parks and the Mojave National Preserve.[3] Within these parks and preserves, visitors can view unique landscapes, plants, and animals. Badwater Basin, the lowest point in the United States lies within Death Valley National Park.

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f "American Semi-Desert and Desert". Ecological Subregions of the United States. US Forest Service. http://www.fs.fed.us/land/pubs/ecoregions/ch40.html. 
  2. ^ a b "Southeastern Great Basin". Ecological Subregions of California. US Forest Service. http://www.fs.fed.us/r5/projects/ecoregions/341f.htm. 
  3. ^ "California Desert Conservation". CaliforniaDesert.gov. http://www.californiadesert.gov/conservation.php. 

External links

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