Desert Ecosystems
"It is easier to accept the message of the stars than the message of the salt desert. The stars speak of man's insignificance in the long eternity of time; the desert speaks of man's insignificance right now."
Edwin Way Teale, 1956
What Makes a Desert?

Many people believe that heat alone is enough to create a desert. Actually, it's lack of rainfall, often coupled with undeveloped soils that are unable to retain moisture, and high rates of evaporation due to low humidity. Technically, an area is arid, or a desert, if it receives less than 10 inches of precipitation per year. This precipitation is often erratic and unpredictable.

Plant and animal life in desert areas are often poised on the edge of disaster due to these extreme conditions. Thus, while deserts have a reputation for being rugged and tough, they are actually very fragile and susceptible.

U.S. Deserts

There are four main U.S. desert regions, each loosely defined by its dominant plant communities. They are:

*the Chihuahuan - a hot desert in S.E. New Mexico and W. Texas, but mostly south of the border in Mexico
*the Mojave - a hot desert in S. Nevada, S.E. California, and S.E. Utah
*the Sonoran - a hot desert in S. California and Arizona (including the Colorado Desert)
*the Great Basin - a cold desert in N. Nevada, Utah, Idaho, and W. Colorado and Wyoming

Each of these deserts is sub-divided into a number of smaller deserts, some of which have more than one name. This, together with some scientific disagreement on the borders of each desert, creates some confusion. You'll find the most popular names for these sub-deserts and descriptions of environment and resources, as well as photos, on the pages above.

The Mojave Desert
Desert Tortoise
Creosote Bush
The Great Basin
Water in the Desert
The Colorado Desert
Learn More About Coyotes
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