artwork of a lizard on a rock in a desert backdrop
Desert artwork produced by D. Caldwell for the National Park Service
Deserts are characterized by arid conditions, with evaporation greatly exceeding annual rainfall, typically no more than 10 inches. These unique landscapes are shaped by extreme temperature variations, strong winds and scouring by water. North America has four major deserts including Great Basin, Mohave, Chihuahuan and Sonoran.

Different temperature and precipitation patterns create distinct biotic communities in each of them. Deserts host a wide range of rare and endemic plants and animals, most of which have evolved ways to help them keep cool and use less water.

From the active dune system of New Mexico’s Mescalero Sands to the dense stands of old Joshua Trees at Arizona’s Grapevine Mesa, National Natural Landmarks illustrate our nation’s diversity of desert ecology and geology. Some of these include:

Grapevine Mesa Joshua Tree, AZ
Valley of Fire, NV
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, CA

Last updated: January 28, 2022


  • Site Index