3 Remarkable California Deserts You Must Visit

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California deserts
Image by Jörg Peter from Pixabay copyright 2016



The California deserts comprise a popular tourist destination with stunning natural features and recreational development. They also offer unique ecosystems and habitats, a social group and historic “Old West” array of legends, districts, and settlements. Eastern Southern California, in the Western United States, is home to all of the desserts listed below. Each of these offers unique qualities, stunning landmarks, and unfathomable locations to explore.

Due to the mountain ranges to the west casting a rain shadow, the desert region of California experiences minimal rainfall. Joshua trees in Joshua tree national park, sand dunes, canyons, mountains, and miles of cracked, dry dirt create a setting that gives outdoor photographers plenty. The California desert region offers fantastic locations for hiking, rock climbing and bouldering, sightseeing, and other leisure activities, depending on the time of year and season.

California deserts
Image by Greg Montani from Pixabay copyright 2017

3 California Deserts:

The three primary California deserts are:

1. The Mojave Desert

2. The Colorado Desert

3. The Great Basin Desert

1) The Mojave Desert:

The Mojave Desert, one of California’s deserts, is a region of about 50,000 square miles (124,000 km2) of arid land that occupies much of the state’s southeast and stretches into Nevada, Utah, and Arizona. It is the best protection of the large deserts and has crucial biological importance. The Great Basin, the Sierra Nevada, the California Montane Chaparral and Woodlands, the Colorado Plateau, the Arizona Mountain Forests, and the Sonoran Desert form its northern, western, eastern, and southern borders, respectively.

This desert, one of three California deserts, is named for the Mojave Native American tribe and offers visitors a variety of flora and wildlife as well as hiking routes and national parks.

The Sonoran Desert and the Great Basin have subtropical climates, whereas the Mojave Desert, like the Chihuahuan Desert, has a warm-temperate climate with summertime highs of over (48°C) 120°F and chilly wintertime lows. The Mojave, however, is not very “temperate.” There is just approximately five inches (13 cm) of rain here annually, which is comparatively minimal.

The Mojave Desert has a wider variety of elevation than any other desert in North America, ranging from 86 metres below mean sea level in Death Valley to over 1,600 metres above sea level on certain summits, with a topography that alternates between mountain ranges and basins.

The Mojave Desert is home to various creatures, including mammals, birds, and reptiles, even though deserts are notorious for their harsh weather conditions, which make survival challenging. Desert tortoises, mountain lions, kangaroo rats, hawks, vultures, and quails are also frequently seen in this area, along with roadrunners and eagles.

Le Conte’s thrasher, desert tortoise (federally listed as Threatened), banded gecko, desert iguana, chuckwalla, regal horned lizard, rosy desert boa, Mojave patch nosed snake, Mojave rattlesnake, mountain lion, and kangaroo rat are among the distinctive vertebrates of this particular desert among all California deserts. Along with roadrunners and eagles, it’s possible to see quails, hawks, and vultures here.

The majority of plant life in this area is endemic, including the famous Joshua tree national park, as well as all-scale, creosote bush, brittlebush, desert holly, and white burro bush. The Mojave Desert is home to at least 23 cacti species, many of which are endemic, including the silver cholla, Mojave prickly pear, beavertail cactus, and many-headed barrel cactus.

The Amargosa vole, Mojave ground squirrel, Kelso dunes Jerusalem cricket, Kelso dunes shield back katydid, and Mojave fringe-toed lizard are endemic species (federally listed as Endangered).

California deserts
Image by Pexels from Pixabay copyright 2016

Places to visit in the Mojave Desert are:

1. Mojave National Preserve:

With its wide size, canyons, mountains, ex-military mines and outposts, volcanic formations, and enormous sand dunes, the Mojave National Preserve provides tourists with year-round exploration opportunities. A rich mosaic of biological habitats and a 10,000-year human history of interaction with the desert are both preserved in the Mojave.

2. Death Valley National Park:

Death Valley borders the Great Basin Desert in Eastern California’s the Mojave Desert. The Death Valley is among the hottest regions on Earth in the summer, along with deserts in the Middle East and the Sahara. One of the highlights of California’s Death Valley National Park is Mesquite Dunes.

3. Mitchell Caverns:

At the height of 4300 feet, Mitchell Caverns is a grouping of three limestone caves, only two of which are accessible to the general public. The Caverns have 41% humidity and a temperature of about 73 °F (9 °C).

4. The Trona Pinnacles:

More than 500 spires of various sizes, shapes, and heights make up this amazing environment. Some of the spires reach over 140 feet (43 m).

5. Red Rock Canyon State Park:

Red Rock Canyon State Park is a picturesque location where you may observe desert cliffs, buttes, and stunning rock formations. The colourful rock formations enhance the park’s distinctive beauty, making it a photographer’s paradise.

6. Mojave Trails National Monument:

Old lava flows, gorgeous sand dunes, and mountain ranges can all be found in this monument. The well-known Amboy Crater and some of the best-preserved sites from the Desert Training Center from World War II are also nearby.

7. Castle Mountains National Monument:

This national monument’s 21,000 acres (8500 ha) are home to Joshua trees (especially found in Joshua tree national park), mountains, desert grasslands, wildlife, and other desert elements. The area has a long human history.

Great Basin Desert:

The Great Basin Desert is the largest desert in the United States and is located in the Great Basin between the Sierra Nevada and the Wasatch Range. It is one of the California deserts. Out of all the California Deserts, the Great Basin Desert is the only “cold” desert in the nation where snow makes up most of the precipitation. A location is considered a desert if it receives less precipitation than 10 inches (25 cm) annually. The Great Basin Desert receives an average of 7 to 12 inches of precipitation per year, which is greater than other deserts.

The Sierra Nevada Range, the Rocky Mountains, the Columbia Plateau, the Mojave and Sonoran deserts, and other arid regions form the western and eastern boundaries of the 190,000 square miles Great Basin Desert.

The “rain shadow effect” produced by the eastern Californian Sierra Nevada Mountains is what gives rise to the Great Basin Desert. The air cools and loses most of its moisture as rain when the Pacific Ocean’s dominant winds climb to cross the Sierra. The winds are extremely dry when they cross over the mountains and sweep down the opposite side, so they take moisture from the surroundings. The Great Basin Desert was formed as a result of this drying action. The desert reaches eastern California and covers a sizable area of Nevada and Utah.

The Sierra Nevada in eastern California is where the Great Basin Desert climate starts. This mountain range, which rises 14,300 metres (4,300 feet) above sea level, creates a significant rain shadow over the desert. As it is driven up and over the steep mountains, weather coming in from the Pacific Ocean swiftly loses its moisture as rain and snow. There isn’t much precipitation left to convey to the desert by the time it reaches the east side of the mountains.

With annual precipitation in the Great Basin Desert averaging 9 inches (230 mm) in the west and 12 inches (300 mm) east, the rain shadow effect is more severe closer to the Sierra Nevada. The moisture that does make it into the ecoregion typically precipitates as rain and snow at higher altitudes, mostly over the long, parallel mountains in the area. In the end, neither the Atlantic nor the Pacific Ocean receives any precipitation that falls within the desert (thus the term “basin”). Instead, precipitation evaporates into the soil or is carried away by streams to ephemeral or salty lakes. The desert in North America is the coldest desert.

The area is very mountainous, and the temperature varies according to altitude. Strong winds are frequently experienced on mountain summits and ridges in one of California’s deserts. Many plant and animal species cannot survive in arid environment and rough topography. Yet, genetic adaptations to these challenges have resulted in respectably high species richness within the ecoregion.

Perhaps the best illustration of the usual climate for the area can be seen in the Great Basin National Park, which is situated in the middle of the Great Basin desert.

California deserts
Image by David Mark from Pixabay copyright 2013

Due to its size and range of elevations, the Great Basin Desert also boasts a very diverse population of both plants and animals. More than 800 different plant species are in the desert, just in the Great Basin National Park region.

Sagebrush, which has evolved an extensive root system to survive in the cold desert, is one of the most noticeable plants in the Great Basin Desert. This enables the sagebrush to collect as much rainwater as possible. It has been discovered that certain sagebrush has root systems that wrap 90 feet around the plant. Additionally, sagebrush has hairy leaves that block the wind and delay evaporation.

The Great Basin Desert is also home to various succulent plants, including the prickly pear cactus. Plants known as succulents have the capacity to hold water within their leaves. They can benefit from the rain when it does fall in this way. The Great Basin Desert is also home to a plant known as the Greenleaf Manzanita. It is uncommon since its seeds need to be exposed to fire and then chilly temperatures to germinate. As a result, it may recover following a forest fire.

Check out: 10 Fun Things to Do in San Diego. 

The bristlecone pine tree, which may live up to 4,000 years old and is among the oldest trees known to exist on Earth, is another significant species. The bristlecone pine trees’ unusually solid and durable wood is a result of the harsh Great Basin Desert environment, which is one of the reasons why they live such long lives. As a result, they are extremely resilient to rot, insects, and fungi, which could otherwise kill the trees.

Salt brush and iodine brush are examples of plants that grow in the saltiest areas of the Great Basin Desert. They have evolved to be able to withstand high salt concentrations. The prickly poppy, pinyon pine, large sage, Douglas fir, white fir, rabbit brush, goldenrod, dandelion, and countless other plants and trees can also be found in the Great Basin Desert.

The Great Basin Desert is home to many different animal species due to the various habitats present there. For instance, the area is home to more than 60 known species of mammals, and there may be other ones that have not yet been identified. The Great Basin Desert is home to over 70% of all American animals.

Great Basin collared lizards, desert horned lizards, western skinks, western rattlesnakes, gopher snakes, and racers are among the reptiles in the Great Basin Desert.

Black-billed magpies, killdeer, song sparrows, yellow-rumped warblers, golden and bald eagles, western meadowlarks, northern shovelers, and cinnamon teals are among the birds that can be found in the Great Basin Desert.

Colorado Desert:

The lower Colorado River Valley in southeast California is home to the Colorado Desert, a section of the Greater Sonoran Desert. With a low point of 275 feet below sea level in the Salton Trough and high peaks reaching over 10,000 feet, most of the Colorado Desert is between sea level and 3,000 feet elevation. The extensively irrigated Coachella and Imperial valleys are included in this roughly 7 million-acre desert of all the California deserts.

The Colorado Desert has a subtropical desert climate with few cold temperatures due to its latitude, low height, and closeness to the sea. The Colorado River Valley receives only 2-3 inches of rain because the Peninsular Range blocks precipitation. The Colorado Desert is a vast sandy desert that stretches throughout southeast California and into Mexico and Arizona in certain places.

It is home to a variety of unusual plants and animals. The Colorado Desert has various plant life, including chollas, ocotillo, indigo bush, chuparosa, yuccas, and agaves. Desert bighorn sheep, Mule deer, Rattlesnake, Burrowing owl, Cougar, Coyote, Phainopepla, Ringtail, Red-spotted toad, Even toed ungulates, Sun spiders, Turkey vault, and Couch’s spadefoot toad are among the local fauna.

California deserts
Image by M. Maggs from Pixabay copyright 2017

The following are a few of the stunning locations in the Colorado Desert:

1. Palm Springs Aerial Tramway:

Riders are transported to the pristine wilderness of Mt. San Jacinto State Park by the largest rotating aerial tramway in the world, the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, which runs over 2.5 miles along the spectacular cliffs of Chino Canyon.

2. Fan Palm Oasis:

Out of all the California deserts, there is just one where a fan palm oasis may be found: the Colorado Desert. Palm oases are a lavish gift of shade and comfort in a hot and barren environment. The fan palm is the sole native palm to the western United States and is the largest in North America.

3. Big Morongo Canyon Preserve:

A 31,000-acre natural plant ecosystem and wildlife refuge, the Big Morongo Canyon Preserve The canyon’s distinct physical features enable it to capture runoff from the adjacent San Bernardino Mountains, resulting in a spring-fed wetland area that acts as a crucial wildlife migration route. Out of all California deserts, it is one of the best places for birding, with over 247 bird species recorded and at least 72 species known to nest there.

4. Salton Sea:

The Salton Sea is one of the largest inland seas in the world, measuring 45 miles (72 km) long and 25 miles (40 km) wide. A shallow, inland body of water with a high salinity level is known as the Salton Sea. The Salton Sea environment supports some of the greatest levels of avian biodiversity in the southwest United States. It is one of the most significant wetlands for birds in North America. Out of all the California deserts, this is the only location in the country where the Yellow-footed Gull may be found.

5. Coachella Valley Museum:

A 1909 two-room schoolhouse, Smiley-Tyler House, a 1926 water tower, a desert submarine, early farming equipment, and the Historical Society’s archives are all substantially restored. The Coachella Valley Historical Society cares for the grounds across from the museum, which is home to several exotic gardens.

6. The Living Desert Zoo and Garden:

Many intriguing animals can be found there in their native habitats. Previously known as the Living Desert Museum, the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens is a nonprofit zoo and botanical park in the desert.

7. Palm Springs Air Museum:

This museum is a living history institution dedicated to educating visitors about American history through permanent and changing exhibits, artifacts, artwork, and library resources. It provides aircraft tours and flight simulators in addition to housing one of the world’s most outstanding collections of flyable World War II aircraft. Bob Pond and Pete Madison founded the museum. The public might enter on November 11, 1996. In May 2017, the museum unveiled a brand-new hangar bearing Major General Ken Miles’ name.

8. Anza-Borrego Desert State Park:

A state park in California called Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is situated in the Colorado Desert in southern California. The park’s name combines the Spanish term for sheep, Borrego, and the 18th-century Spanish explorer Juan Bautista de Anza. The magnificent spring blooms, the majesty of the views, and the natural treasures of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park are well known.

Suggested Read: Limestone Canyon Nature Preserve Guide – 7 Amazing Things

 

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