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Adventure and exploration await you in the desert. Here are interesting facts about California's deserts you didn't know before.
6 min read
December 15, 2020
California’s deserts are truly remarkable. Creatures of all sizes sneak through the barren and arid landscape, spindly cacti stretch up towards the sky, the scorching sun makes you long for a drop of water, and the cool night sky blows your mind with its enigmatic stars. The intriguing California desert region is comprised of three distinctive deserts: the Mojave, Colorado, and Great Basin Desert. Each of these places has exceptional characteristics that make them stand out from other deserts.
Stretching across parts of four different states—California, Nevada, Utah, and Arizona—the Mojave Desert encompasses 30 million acres of vast lands. The Colorado Desert spans 7 million acres and is part of the larger Sonoran Desert. As for the Great Basin Desert, it’s the largest one in North America with a size of approximately 135 million acres; the desertland stretches into Nevada, Utah, California, Idaho, and Oregon.
1. The California Desert Conservation Area (CDCA) covers over 25 million acres of geologically diverse landscapes—that’s almost one-fourth of the Golden State.
2. Lancaster is the largest and most populous desert city in the Golden State. The city has an estimated population of 156,633.
3. Desert Hot Springs, CA, has over 20 natural odorless mineral springs. This city in Riverside County is also known as the Desert Empire.
4. White Mountain—the highest in the White Mountains of California and the third highest in the state—is located within the Great Basin Desert.
5. The Great Basin Desert is a wonderful example of a cold desert: It’s one of the coldest deserts in North America—snowfall occurs at any time of the year.
6. The Great Basin bristlecone pine is the longest-lived life form in the world; as the name suggests, it’s commonly found in the Great Basin Desert. These trees can be up to 4,800 years old.
7. The Chemehuevi, a Native American tribe, once occupied the Great Basin Desert. The Quechan used to populate the Colorado Desert, and the Mohave occupied the Mojave Desert.
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1. Red Rock Canyon State Park, once inhabited by the Kawaiisu, is found in the Mojave Desert. Featuring grand desert cliffs, scenic buttes, and mind-blowing rock formations, the state park is one of the most frequented tourist destinations in the California desert region.
2. Anza-Borrego Desert State Park—situated within the Colorado Desert—is considered to be one of the most diverse desert landscapes in Southern California. It spans over 600,000 acres and has 12 wilderness areas. Anza-Borrego is also the perfect place to go stargazing in the Golden State.
3. During the California Gold Rush, the Mojave and the Great Basin Desert became popular mining areas.
4. The California desert region is distinguished by low rainfall—it receives an average annual rainfall of about seven inches.
5. Although Anza-Borrego Desert State Park covers one-fifth of San Diego County, there's no such place called the San Diego Desert.
6. There are countless desert towns in the Golden State, including Lancaster, Palmdale, Victorville, Hesperia, Indio, Apple Valley, Cathedral City, El Centro, Calexico, La Quinta, Adelanto, and Ridgecrest. The most popular ones are Palm Desert, Palm Springs, Coachella, Desert Hot Springs, and Twentynine Palms.
7. The coolest desert fun fact about the California desert region is that it has several lakes. Among them are Harper Lake, Bristol Lake, Palen Lake, and Emerson Lake.
8. Thanks to the North American Monsoon, the Colorado Desert receives significant rainfall compared to the other two California deserts.
1. Before Palm Desert, CA, became the popular desert city we now know today, it was called the Old MacDonald Ranch. The city was given its current name in 1951.
2. Back in the day, the residents of Palm Desert, California, were Cahuilla Indian farmers who belonged to the San Cayetano tribe.
3. During the 80s and 90s, Palm Desert became one of the fastest-growing cities in California. The city went from having 11,800 residents to 35,000 in the mid-90s; according to the 2010 census, it now has a population of 48,445.
4. Both Palm Desert and Palm Springs—the Golf Capital of the World—are located within the Colorado Desert’s Coachella Valley.
5. The Palm Desert Scene—a musical group of related hard rock bands with elements of punk and heavy metal—originated here. Notable bands include Kyuss, Queens of the Stone Age, and Eagles of Death Metal.
6. Palm Desert, CA, is a popular destination for people wanting to escape the colder weather. Visitors from Canada and the Eastern and Northern United States head to this desert city to soak up the sun and play golf all winter long. (A bonus fun fact: Palm Desert also happens to have some of the best desert wedding venues.)
1. The driest desert in North America is the Mojave in California.
2. Death Valley, a desert valley in Mojave, California, is one of the hottest places in the world. The highest ambient air temperature on Earth was recorded right here in Furnace Creek on July 10, 1913. People weren’t lying when they said it felt like they were in hell—the temperature reached 134 degrees.
3. Standing tall at 134 feet, the world’s largest thermometer commemorates the hottest temperature ever recorded. The roadside attraction is located along Interstate 15 in Baker, California.
4. Joshua Tree National Park is where two California deserts meet—the Mojave and the Colorado. It takes less than an hour to get from Palm Springs to Joshua Tree, so if you want to take a desert road trip, it’s perfectly possible to do it this weekend. (Joshua Tree is also home to the best desert camping spots in the Golden State.)
5. Joshua trees are native to the Mojave Desert. You won’t find these trees anywhere else in the world.
6. Francisco Garcés, a Spanish Franciscan friar, was the first documented explorer to conduct extensive expeditions in Mojave, California.
7. The stunning Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve is located within the Mojave Desert.
8. While touring the Mojave Desert, Carrie Jacobs-Bond became inspired to compose the parlor song “A Perfect Day.”
1. Death Valley experiences short and mild winters and very long summers. Characterized by having a subtropical hot desert climate, the desert lies in the rain shadow of four major mountain ranges, making it one of the hottest places on Earth.
2. There are a number of key contributors to the scorching heat of Death Valley: solar heating, warm mountain winds, the trapping of warm air, and migration of warm air from other areas.
3. Due to Death Valley’s desert climate, the area receives little to no rain. The most rainfall the desert has ever seen was almost 6 inches of rain between mid-2004 to mid-2005. As for snowfall, the last time Death Valley saw any flakes falling from the sky was in January 1922—almost a century ago.
1. An interesting fact about the desert biome of California is that it’s home to many types of animals such as birds, reptiles, and even mammals.
2. With a life span of 50 to 80 years, the California desert tortoise is native to the Mojave and Sonoran Deserts. The tortoise population has declined by 90 percent in certain areas, though; the Mojave tortoise population specifically is classified as threatened. The biggest threats to the California desert tortoise are disease, vandalism, urbanization, habitat destruction, and wind and solar farms.
3. The black-tailed jackrabbit, or the American hare, is commonly found in Mojave, California. Regularly feeding on shrubs and grass, these rabbits spend most of their time running away from predators.
4. The Colorado Desert’s wildlife includes the red-diamond rattlesnake, mule deer, prairie falcon, bighorn sheep, cactus mouse, and desert kangaroo rat.
5. The most interesting fact about desert animals is that the pronghorn, also known as the American antelope, is the fastest land mammal in the Western Hemisphere. The Great Basin Desert is one of the pronghorn's major migration routes.
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