Deserts in the U.S.

2 minutes

The United States is regionally diverse, with a territory that sits across all different kinds of climates. The northernmost U.S. state, Alaska, even has arctic regions. Much of the southwestern United States is desert, which means it receives little rainfall, and plant and animal life has adapted so that they can survive without much water.

U.S. states like Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Texas and southern California all have areas within their boundaries that are classified as desert.

The Mojave Desert is probably the best-known desert in the United States. It is located mostly in California with some parts in the western area of Arizona and southern Nevada. The Mojave is the hottest desert in North America and home to the ominously named Death Valley, the lowest elevation in North America. Death Valley also holds the record for word's highest recorded temperature, 134 degrees Fahrenheit (56.7 degrees Celsius). It received the name Death Valley during the 1849 Gold Rush, when hundreds of thousands of people traveled to California in search of riches. Only one person is on record as dying in Death Valley during this time, but it is safe to say that traveling through this barren, hot area would have seemed treacherous at the time. Today, Death Valley is a national park and considered a historic U.S. monument.

Perhaps the best-known example of desert plant life is the cactus. Almost all forms of cacti are native to the Americas; you will find them throughout North and South America. Most do not have leaves or flowers; instead they grow sharp spines, which are meant to dissuade animals from eating the cacti. Growing leaves would also encourage the loss of water to the atmosphere, and desert plants need to do as much as possible retain water.

Desert animal life is similarly adapted for the heat. In the United States, the Rattlesnake is one of the most feared and renowned of all desert animals. As a nocturnal animal, it hunts at night to avoid the blazing desert sun. The rattlesnake is uniquely native to the Americas; it ranges from Canada all the way down to Argentina. It is a poisonous snake and uses the rattle at the end of its tail to as a warning to other animals. The Roadrunner and Coyote similarly signify North American Desert animals, both also native to the Americas.

The harsh desert climate mostly prohibited settlement until the mid-1800s. During the period of westward expansion in the early 1800s, settlers tried to travel through the hot sandy deserts as quickly as possible to get to better prospects further west. In the mid to late 1800s however, the beginnings of cities like Phoenix and Las Vegas began to take hold. Most of these then desert towns were built up as trading routes between East and West or stops along the way. Over time, however, these cities grew in population and popularity into the bustling metropolises that we now know.

Ani Kington Ani Kington

Originally from Columbus, Ohio, Ani is a fan of exploring new places through photography and the local cuisine. After earning her BFA in photography from NYU and gaining communications experience at International Planned Parenthood Federation, she joined InterExchange in 2012, and worked as the Marketing Producer until 2016.

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