North American Deserts Map

This interactive map shows the locations of North American Deserts, their classifications and names. For more detail zoom in. For more data hover over the map. For more information scroll down.

Ecoregion Chihuahuan Desert Thompson-Okanogan Plateau
Cold Desert Arizona/New Mexico Plateau Baja Californian Desert
Warm Desert Sonoran Desert Central Basin and Range
USA Mojave Basin and Range Columbia Plateau
Colorado Plateaus Wyoming Basin Northern Basin and Range
Snake River Plain

North American Deserts of the USA

North American Deserts extend from British Columbia in the North to Baja California in the South. They are characterized by aridity with annual precipitation between 130 to 380 mm. Shrub, succulents, and cactus are the predominant vegetation.

The aridity is the result of the Sierra Nevada, Cascade Mountains, and Sierra Madre ranges as they intercept the wet winter air masses brought by the westerly winds. The Rocky Mountains also block some moist from the Gulf Coast that cross the Great Plains. CEC.org.

Ecoregion Level IIEcoregion Level IIILocation
Cold DesertsColumbia PlateauState of Washington
Snake River PlainIdaho
Northern Basin and RangeOregon and Idaho
Central Basin and RangeNevada
Wyoming BasinWyoming
Colorado PlateauColorado, Utah
Arizona/New Mexico PlateauArizona, New Mexico
Warm DesertsMojave Basin and RangeCalifornia and Nevada
Sonora Basin and RangeSoutheastern Arizona, Southern California, Mexico
Chihuahuan DesertSouthern New Mexico and Mexico

The exclusively Canadian Desert Thompson-Okanogian Plateau and the exclusively Mexican Baja California desert are not described in this table as they are not part of the US.

Below is a description of each one of these major American Deserts. They also include a selection of parks and preserves for you to visit and enjoy.

Cold Deserts

Cold Deserts and semi deserts are characterized by marked seasonal extremes. Winter is the wet season distinguished by presipitation in the form of snow.

Columbia Plateau

The Columbia Plateau is an arid sagebrush steppe and grassland, surrounded on all sides by moister, predominantly forested and mountainous regions.

Elevations range from near sea level at the west of the ecoregion to over 3000 meters to its highest mountains. Vegetation is more abundant in higher elevations.

Although this is a semiarid land, the ecoregion’s fisheries are an important part of its diversity. The Columbia River system, at one time sustained one of the largest salmon runs in the world. The area still has isolated desert fishes that are threatened throughout the ecoregion.

This area also supports numerous birds of prey that nest here at higher densities than anywhere else on earth! Source: Landscope.org

Sun Lakes Falls State Park

Sun Lakes Falls State Park would be the best place to see the scars of the las Ice Age, in beautiful 120 meter high, 3.5 mile long cliff, now a National Natural Landmark. The water is present in the Sun Lakes, great for fishing, swimming, and boating in this otherwise arid desert landscape.

Snake River Plain

This is a dry and intermontane area considerably lower and more gently sloping than the surrounding ecoregions. Mostly because of the available water for irrigation. A large percent of the alluvial valleys bordering the Snake River are used to grow sugar beets, potatoes, alfalfa, and vegetables. Cattle feed yards and dairy operations are also common in the river plain. Source: Omernik

Except for the scattered barren lava fields, most of the area has sagebrush, grassland vegetation, now used mostly for cattle grazing.

Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve

Craters of the Moon is a National Monument and a National Preserve. The park features the best-preserved flood basalt areas in the continental United States. A great place to hike and explore the weird landscape formed by molten lava fields nearly 15 million years ago. Source: Nationalparks.org.

Craters of the Moon national monument

Northern Basin and Range

Although arid, this ecoregion is at a higher altitude and cooler than the Snake River Plain to the north. It also has more available moisture and a cooler climate than the Central Basin and Range to the south.

The name describes the landscape, numerous flat basins separated by isolated mountain ranges. Elevations range from 2,070 feet near the Snake River to more than 9,700 feet on the Steens Mountain. The ecoregion receives less than 15 inches of precipitation per year.

These area had large lakes during more than 10,000 years ago. These lakes never drained and the accumulated salt is an important magnet for migratory birds due to the source of invertebrate prey Source: oregonconservationstrategy.org

Cottonwood Canyon State Park

Cottonwood Canyon State Park is rocky and vast. It has impressive vertical cliffs carved by the John Day River to deep side canyons and arid, rocky grasslands that extend for miles in all directions.

This park is great for hiking, hunting, fishing, and kayaking. Source: stateparks.oregon.gov

Central Basin and Range

The Central Basin and Range ecoregion has either shrub and grass covered, shrub covered, or barren. The Central Basin and Range is internally-drained by ephemeral streams and once contained ancient Lake Lahontan.

In general, this ecoregion is warmer and drier than the Northern Basin and Range and has more shrubland and less grassland than the Snake River Plain. The land is primarily used for grazing. In addition, some irrigated cropland is found in valleys near mountain water sources. Source: Omernik

Great Basin Natural Park

Located in east central Nevada, near the Utah border. The park is recognized for by ancient bristlecone pines, the oldest known nonclonal organisms, and for the Lehman Caves at the base of 13,063 foot (3,982 m) Wheeler Peak, as well as Wheeler Peak Glacier.

The park's scenic features include Lexington Arch, the Lehman Orchard and Aqueduct, Rhodes Cabin, Stella and Teresa Lakes, and Wheeler Peak Glacier.

The park also has a numerouos birds, amphibians, and even an endemic trout for animal lovers to see. This is basically a park with a bit of everything. You can take your time to come and see the stars at night! NPS.gov

Wyoming Basin

This ecoregion is a broad intermontane basin interrupted by hills and low mountains and dominated by arid grasslands and shrublands.

Part of the region is used for livestock grazing, although many areas lack enough vegetation to support this activity. This ecoregion has major producing natural gas and petroleum fields. The Wyoming Basin also has coal deposits, bentonite, clay, and uranium. Source: Omernik

Fire, wind, grazing, and changes in precipitation and temperature are the major disturbances in the ecoregion.

Some distinct wildlife in this region are the prairie dogs, coyotes, swift foxes, pronghorn, and bison Source: Worldwildlife.org.

Hot Springs State Park

As its name says this park has hot springs with a constant temperature of 128 degrees Farenheit. The park offers bath houses for visitors to enjoy therapeutic baths.

The park also offers 6.2 miles of trails for hiking, plus fishing, and a boat ramp.

Another major attraction of the park is the bison herd, which can be viewed from the visitors own vehicle. Source Wyoparks.ywo.gov

Colorado Plateaus

This ecoregion is an uplifted, eroded, and dissected tableland. Its benches, mesas, buttes, salt valleys, cliffs, and canyons are formed by thick layers of sedimentary rock. Precipitous side-walls mark abrupt changes in local relief, often of 1000 to 2000 feet or more. Wind and water erosion have helped sculped this incredible landscape.

The region contains a greater extent of pinyon-juniper and Gambel oak woodlands than the Wyoming Basin up north. Summer moisture from thunderstorms supports warm season grasses. Many endemic plants occur and species diversity is high.

Several national parks are located in this ecoregion and attract many visitors to view their arches, spires, and canyons. Source: Omernik. For this reason, this area is known as the "Grand Circle" and it is one of the worlds greatest concentration of outstanding natural features. Here are is a list of the best of them, source: NPS.gov.

Arches National Park
  • Arches National Park: The park has over 2,000 natural stone arches and hundreds of soaring pinnacles, massive rock fins, and giant balanced rocks.
  • Bryce Canyon National Park: This park has the highest concentration on Earth, of Hoodoos, irregular columns of rock.
  • Canyonlands National Park: Great place to explore the countless canyons and incredibly formed buttes carved by the Colorado River and its tributaries.
  • Capitol Reef National Park: Is filled with cliffs, canyons, domes, and bridges in the Waterpocket Fold. This fold is a geologic monocline, a wrinkle on the earth, extending almost 100 miles.
  • Grand Canyon National Park: The park is home to the immense Grand Canyon; a mile (1.6 km) deep, and up to 18 miles (29 km) wide, with layered bands of colorful rock revealing millions of years of geologic history.
  • Zion National Park: Located at the junction of the Colorado Plateau, Great Basin, and Mojave Desert in Utah. This park has massive sandstone cliffs of cream, pink, and red, where visitors can experience wilderness in a narrow slot canyon.

Arizona/New Mexico Plateau

The Arizona/New Mexico Plateau represents a transitional area between the drier shrublands and wooded higher relief of the Colorado Plateaus in the north, and the the lower, hotter, less vegetated Mojave Basin to the west.

Local relief in the region varies from a few feet on plains and mesa tops to well over 1000 feet along tableland side slopes.

"Gunnison prairie dogs are a keystone species in many of the sagebrush ecosystems and their burrows provide habitat for other wildlife including burrowing owls, weasels, badgers, and a variety of snakes." Source:Omernik Level III Ecoregions for the US.

  • Mesa Verde National Park: The park protects nearly 5,000 known archeological sites, including 600 cliff dwellings.
  • Petrified National Forest: This park is known for its fossils, especially fallen trees that lived in the Late Triassic Epoch.

Warm Deserts

Warm deserts have higher temperatures and greater evaporation rates. Presipitation comes in the form of rain.

Mojave Basin and Range

In the Mojave Basin, creosotebush, white bursage, Joshua tree, and other yuccas, and blackbrush are typical. On mountains, sagebrush, juniper, and singleleaf pinyon occur. At high elevations, some ponderosa pine, white fir, limber pine, and bristlecone pine can be found

Heavy use of all terrain vehicles and motorcycles in some areas has made the soils susceptible to wind and water erosion. Most of this Ecoregion is federally owned and grazing for livestock is limited by the lack of water and forage.

Joshua Tree National Park

The park takes its name from the Joshua tree, Yucca brevifolia, a member of the Agave family. Native people were the first to take advantage of this tree. Today this yucca tree is sought after for its grotesque appearance, a surprising sight in the landscape. Many birds, mammals, reptiles, and insects depend on the Joshua tree for food and shelter.

The park has canyons, oases, boulders, and bulbous rocks. There is also a variety of wildlife, including jackrabbits, bobcats, coyotes, and the Mojave desert tortoise.

Joshua Tree National Park

Sonoran Basin and Range

Similar in topography to the Mojave Basin and Range. This ecoregion contains scattered low mountains and has large tracts of federally owned lands, a large portion of which are used for military training.

"The Sonoran Basin and Range is slightly hotter than the Mojave and contains large areas of palo verde-cactus shrub and giant saguaro cactus". "Other typical Sonoran plants include white bursage, ocotillo, brittlebush, creosote bush, catclaw acacia, cholla, desert saltbush, pricklypear, ironwood, and mesquite" Source: Omernik.

Sonoran Desert National Monument

The Sonoran Desert National Monument contains magnificent examples of Sonoran Desert landscape. The national monument is the most biologically diverse of the North American deserts. The monument captures a significant portion of that diversity.

The most noticible aspect of the plant community within the monument is the extensive saguaro cactus forest.

Chihuahuan Desert

This desert extends more than 500 miles south into Mexico. The Chihuahuan is the largest desert in North America-stretching.

Because of the area's high altitude, between 3,000 to 5,000 feet, winters and nights are cool, while summer days can reach temperatures over 100 degrees Farenheit.

The mountain ranges are a geologic mix of Tertiary volcanic and intrusive granitic rocks, Paleozoic sedimentary layers, and some Precambrian granitic plutonic rocks.

Outside the major river drainages, such as the Rio Grande and Pecos River in New Mexico and Texas, the landscape is largely internally drained.

Vegetation is predominantly desert grassland and arid shrubland, except for high elevation islands of oak, juniper, and pinyon pine woodland.

Big Bend National Park

Big Bend is too big to see in a single day! The Big Bend is named for the vast curve of the Rio Grande in remote southwest Texas. The area has over one million acres of public land including Big Bend National Park and Big Bend Ranch State Park.

It is a beautiful natural region, with a complex and fascinating history.

The parks amenities include hiking, camping, river running, horse riding, mountain bicycling, birding, jeep touring, and abundant sightseeing opportunities on paved and improved roads.

Desert Map Resources

This map displays North American Ecoregions Level III. At the same time it highlights the Deserts of North America. The data comes from the U.S. Environemntal Protection Agency EPA. The shapefiles were downloaded from ArcGIS.

The shapefiles for the states were downloaded from Naturalea

Most of the descriptive sections come labeled as Source: Omernik, which correspond to Omernik Level III Ecoregions for the US.

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Made by Luz K. Molina with D3.js.

Map of North Americas Deserts and their classifications