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.
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.
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.