The Great Basin Desert
Great Basin National Park is located in the Great Basin Desert, one of the four deserts of the United States. The Mohave, Chihuahan, and Sonoran deserts are typical "hot" deserts. The Great Basin Desert is the only "cold" desert in the country, where most precipitation falls in the form of snow. A desert is defined as a region that receives less than 10 inches (25cm) of precipitation per year.
Creating a Desert
The Great Basin Desert exists because of the "rainshadow effect" created by the Sierra Nevada Mountains of eastern California. When prevailing winds from the Pacific Ocean rise to go over the Sierras, the air cools and loses most of its moisture as rain. By the time the winds cross over the mountains and sweep down the far side, they are very dry and absorb moisture from the surrounding area. This drying effect is responsible for creating the Great Basin Desert.
Most plants and animals that live in desert environments have developed special adaptations to help them cope with the aridity and heat. These adaptations can be structural, behavioral, or physiological.