List of North American deserts

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Black Rock Desert, northwest Nevada, a dry lake in the Great Basin Desert
Aerial photo of the Painted Desert in Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona
A geological syncline in the Mojave Desert near Barstow, California
Saguaro (detail), icon of the Sonoran Desert. Photo by Ansel Adams, c.1941
Mustangs run across a Sagebrush steppe, Tule Valley, Utah
View of Indian Wells Valley, part of the Mojave (high) desert near Ridgecrest, California

This list of North American deserts identifies areas of the continent that receive less than 10 in (250 mm) annual precipitation. The "North American Desert" is also the term for a large U.S. Level 1 ecoregion (EPA)[1] of the North American Cordillera, in the Deserts and xeric shrublands biome (WWF). The continent's deserts are largely between the Rocky Mountains and Sierra Madre Oriental on the east, and the rain shadow–creating Cascades, Sierra Nevada, Transverse, and Peninsular Ranges on the west. The North American xeric region of over 95,751 sq mi (247,990 km2) includes three major deserts, numerous smaller deserts, and large non-desert arid regions in the Western United States and in northeastern, central, and northwestern Mexico.


The following are three major hot and dry deserts in North America, all located in the Southwestern United States and Northern Mexico.[2]

  • The Chihuahuan Desert is the largest hot desert in North America, located in the Southwestern United States and Northern Mexico. Its total area is 140,000 sq mi (360,000 km2).
  • The Sonoran Desert is a desert located in the Southwestern United States and northwest Mexico. It is the second largest hot desert in North America. Its total area is 120,000 sq mi (310,000 km2).
  • The Mojave Desert is the hottest desert in North America, located primarily in southeastern California and Southern Nevada. Its total area is 22,000 sq mi (57,000 km2).

The largest cold desert is the Great Basin Desert, which encompasses much of the northern Basin and Range Province, north of the Mojave Desert.

Other cold deserts lie within the Columbia Plateau/Columbia Basin, the Snake River Plain, and the Colorado Plateau regions.

Full listing[edit]

Desert ecoregions of North America.
  Cold deserts:
  Hot deserts:

(listed from north to south)

Western arid regions of North America[edit]

The separately defined western arid regions of North America are continental regions of aridity based on available water in addition to rain shadow-diminished rainfall[3] and which have many non-desert shrub-steppe (EPA) and xeric shrublands (WWF) in addition to desert ecosystems and ecoregions. This large arid region of 190,000 sq mi (490,000 km2) includes: deserts, such as the Great Basin Desert and Sonoran Desert; and the non-desert arid region areas (with greater than 10 inches (250 mm) annual precipitation) in the Great Basin arid region, Colorado Plateau, Mexican Plateau, and others. This arid region extends from the top of the North American Desert in Washington and Idaho southward into Mexico in the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt. The 'western arid region' is east of and (except for Mojave sky islands) discontiguous from the Mojave Desert,[4] unlike the southwestern Great Basin deserts adjacent with ecotones to the northern Mojave Desert.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ EPA, OA, OEAEE, OWC, US. "About the National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory (NHEERL) – US EPA". US EPA. Retrieved 11 April 2018.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  2. ^ "Desert Biome". University of California Museum of Paleontology.
  3. ^ (1953 Meigs criteria)
  4. ^ "The World's Largest Desert". Geology and Earth Science. Retrieved 2010-04-25.