Great Basin Desert
The Great Basin Desert, the largest U. S. desert, covers an arid expanse of about 190,000 square miles and is bordered by the Sierra Nevada Range on the west and the Rocky Mountains on the east, the Columbia Plateau to the north and the Mojave and Sonoran deserts to the south.
This is a cool or "cold desert" due to its more northern latitude, as well as higher elevations (at least 3,000 feet, but more commonly from 4,000 to 6,500 feet). Precipitation, generally 7-12 inches annually, is more evenly distributed throughout the year than in the other three North American deserts. Winter precipitation often falls as snow.
Playas are a conspicuous part of this desert, due to its recent geological activity. In notable contrast to the other three deserts, Great Basin vegetation is low and homogeneous, often with a single dominant species of bush for miles. Typical shrubs are Big Sagebrush, Blackbrush, Shadscale, Mormon-tea and greasewood. There are only occasional yuccas and very few cactus.
The Colorado Plateau, centered in northeastern Arizona, and including the adjacent Four Corners region of Utah, Colorado and New Mexico, is sometimes included in the Great Basin Desert, sometimes considered a separate desert -- the Navajoan -- and sometimes not considered a true desert. The Plateau includes large barren areas, spectacular geological formations, more juniper and pinyon trees and generally higher elevations.
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The Saguaro Video
The Saguaro often begins life in the shelter of a "nurse" tree or shrub which can provide a shaded, moister habitat for the germination of life. The Saguaro grows very slowly -- perhaps an inch a year -- but to a great height, 15 to 50 feet.
Desert Food Chain Video
A food chain constitutes a complex network of organisms, from plants to animals, through which energy, derived from the sun, flows in the form of organic matter and dissipates in the form of waste heat.
Prickly pear cactus Video
Prickly pear cactus are found in all of the deserts of the American Southwest. Most prickly pears have large spines on their stems and vary in height from less than a foot to 6 or 7 feet.
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DesertUSA is a comprehensive resource about the North American deserts and Southwest destinations. Learn about desert biomes while you discover how desert plants and animals learn to adapt to the harsh desert environment. Find travel information about national parks, state parks, BLM land, and Southwest cities and towns located in or near the desert regions of the United States. Access maps and information about the Sonoran Desert, Mojave Desert, Great Basin Desert, and Chihuahuan Desert.