The Great Basin
The Great Basin stretches from southern Idaho on the north to Nevada on the south, through parts of Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico. It is the only U.S. "cold" desert. It is also the largest of the U.S deserts, 190,000 square miles (the Chihuahuan Desert is larger, but only a small part of it lies in the U.S.).

The Great Basin is often divided into sub-deserts, including:

the Black Rock Desert, in NW Nevada; the Escalante Desert, in SW Utah near Cedar Breaks; the Great Sandy Desert, in SE Oregon; the Painted Desert, in N Arizona and S Utah; the Red Desert, in SW Wyoming; the Sevier Desert, in S Utah; the Smoke Creek Desert, in NW Nevada; and many other local desert names and nick-names.

Climate and Geology:

The Great Basin is considered a "cold" desert because precipitation often occurs as snow, and the northern latitudes keep the temperature down. Elevations range from 3000 - 6500 feet and precipitation averages 7 - 12 inches/year.

The area in which the Great Basin desert lies is a basin-and-range topography, consisting of alternating, undrained basins and ranges which typically have one steep side and one more gently-sloped side. The ranges are formed of sedimentary strata which has been tilted by geological forces. The area is generally being stretched apart at this point in geologic time.

The Great Basin is well known for its red-rock geological formations, including arches, spires, and monuments. Most of these formations were created by flowing water and sedimentary rock.

Dinosaur footprints, like the one pictured above, still exist in exposed ancient streambeds, now sedimentary rock, throughout the Great Basin.

Plants and Animals:

Plant life in the Great Basin often shows very little variety over long distances. This is the desert often referred to as "High Desert" and often dominated by sagebrush. There may be greasewood, rabbit brush, and other low-growing shrubs, and cottonwoods along river drainages. In the area of the Colorado Plateau (sometimes not considered part of the Great Basin), higher elevations support pinyon-pine and juniper.

Animal life consists of jackrabbits, coyotes, ground-dwelling squirrels and other rodents, and raptors, for the most part. Bobcats, mountain lions and deer inhabit select regions.

Cultural History:

The Great Basin includes the Four Corners area and was the home of the people now called the Ancestral Peubloans (formerly Anasazi), as well as the Sinagua people. Shards of white, gray, and yellow-tan pottery often litter the stream beds and in many areas rock shelters and ancient pueblos still exist. Rock art can be seen in many canyons, on the walls of rock shelters and beneath overhangs.


Remember when visiting these areas to take only pictures!

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