Deserts of the World the Sonoran Desert

About the Sonoran desert, size, history, and geography of the largest desert in North America.



The Sonoran is the largest division of the 500,000-sq.-mi. North American desert region that covers the U.S. Southwest and northwest Mexico. Located just south of the small Mojave Desert, the Sonoran takes in southeast California, southern Arizona, the western half of Mexico's Sonora, and the Baja Peninsula. It also includes the Colorado-Yuma Desert in California. The rugged landscape of the Sonoran is what most Americans associate with the southwestern desert.

The Sonoran lies in the rain shadow of the Pacific Coast Ranges. Most of it gets 5 in. of rain or less each year. Some places don't get rain for years; others receive prodigious summer downpours that create flash floods. Summer temperatures rise to over 100 deg. F nearly every day; in North America only Death Valley is hotter. Winter freezing seldom occurs.

The desert is known for its flowering cactus plants (the largest grow to 50 ft. in height and live 200 years), its numerous species of reptiles, and the huge, colored mesas often seen in the distance in western movies.

The Sonoran's most dependable river is the Colorado, which separates California from Arizona and drains into the Gulf of California. The Colorado-Yuma Desert to the west of the river was itself once the bottom of the gulf, till it was uplifted about 20 million years ago. The soil supported grasslands before the last ice age receded about 10,000 years ago.

The Sonoran is perhaps one of the most irrigated deserts. The entire Phoenix area of Arizona was reclaimed from the desert by modern methods of water control.

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