Mojave and Sonoran Deserts in Arizona

The Grand Canyon state is home to two prominent deserts, the Sonoran and Mojave. See majestic joshua tree sentinels and brilliant cactus flowers.

For many of us, Arizona conjures up images of a vast desert with canyons that are deep and rock formations that jut out of a stark landscape. And this is no surprise. The Grand Canyon state is home to two prominent deserts, the Sonoran and Mojave.

Following is some information about these wonderful desert ecosystems and how you can explore one or both during your Grand Canyon vacation.

Majestic Saguaro cactus sentinals tower above the colorful Sonoran desert landscape.

Majestic Saguaro cactus sentinels tower above the colorful Sonoran desert landscape.

The Sonoran Desert is a desert that straddles the Arizona/Mexico border, several hours south of Grand Canyon National Park. The Sonoran Desert wraps around the northern end of the Gulf of California, from northeastern Baja California through southeastern California and southwestern Arizona to western Sonora. It is bounded on the west by the Peninsular Ranges, which separate it from the California chaparral and woodlands and Baja California desert ecoregions of the Pacific slope. To the north, the Sonoran Desert transitions to the cold-winter Mojave, Great Basin, and Colorado Plateau deserts. To the east, the deserts transition to the coniferous Arizona Mountains forests and Sierra Madre Occidental forests at higher elevations. The Sonoran-Sinaloan transition subtropical dry forest marks the transition from the Sonoran Desert to the tropical dry forests of Sinaloa.

A cactus flower blooms in the springtime in the Mojave Desert

A cactus flower blooms in the springtime in the Mojave Desert

The Mojave Desert is locally referred to as the High Desert, and occupies a significant portion of southeastern California and smaller parts of central California, southern Nevada, and northwestern Arizona, in the United States. Named after the Mohave tribe of Native Americans, it occupies well over 22,000 square miles. The Mojave Desert's boundaries are generally defined by the presence of Yucca brevifolia (Joshua tree) considered an indicator species for this desert. The topographical boundaries include the Tehachapi together with the San Gabriel and San Bernardino mountain ranges. The mountain boundaries are quite distinct since they are outlined by the two largest faults in California: the San Andreas and the Garlock. The Great Basin shrub steppe lies to the north; the warmer Sonoran Desert (the Low Desert) lies to the south and east. The desert is believed to support between 1,750 and 2,000 species of plants.


A road through Arizona's ponderosa pine forest beckons travelers up toward the aspen covered slopes of the San Francisco Peaks.

Trees in the Arizona Desert

Most people don't think of pine forests when they visit the Grand Canyon. However, the world's largest Ponderosa pine forest is in Arizona.

Upper Antelope Canyon near Page Arizona. Photo by Joshua Benally

Canyons in Arizona Beyond the Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon is the ultimate canyon, but it's only one of many canyons that are worthy of seeing and experiencing during your Arizona vacation.

Arizona's Superstition Mountains east of Phoenix

Mountains of Arizona

More than half of Arizona consists of mountains and plateau regions. The highest point is Humphrey's Peak towering 12,633 feet near Flagsgtaff.

Grand Falls also called Chocolate Falls. Photo by Sierralara

Arizona Waterfalls Near the Grand Canyon

Waterfalls around the Grand Canyon can range from trickling water to a raging cascade, but they're fun either way. Learn about Grand Falls and Encinoso Falls here.

Lake Powell

Arizona Lakes near the Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon is a land of big lakes including Lake Mead, Lake Powell, and Lake Havasu.


Rivers in the Grand Canyon Region

So many river options on a hot day in the Grand Canyon!

WWII Navajo code talkers - Navajo Veterans Memorial Park, Window Rock, Arizona. Courtesy photo

Arizona Historic Sites

Visit old pueblos, see ancient cliff dwellings, tour historic mines, re-live the Old West, explore Native American culture and ride a historic train.

Olives in an Olive Mill

Stop for Desert Farm Treats in Arizona

After a romp through some of Arizona's beautiful & bountiful farms & orchards, you'll have a whole new picture of the state that's home to Grand Canyon.

Geology Display in Grand Canyon

Get a First Hand Look at the Earth's Geology in the Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon is one of the only places in the world where visitors can hold a chunk of rock that's nearly 2 billion years old.