As a person who has lived a large portion of my life in a desert, there are some basic facts about the US deserts that seem to me like they should be common knowledge. But it is constantly surprising how little the average American knows about the deserts in the United States. So, I will impart some very basic facts that will at least make you sound not dumb when talking to someone who like me is from the desert.
There are quite a few deserts in the United States but I will focus on what I consider to be the three most famous ones. They are the Mojave, the Sonoran, and the Colorado Plateau.
I am starting with the Sonoran because it is the quintessential US desert, the one people imagine when they think of a US desert. The Sonoran desert is in the southern parts of Arizona, the very tip of California, and extends down into Mexico. Not surprisingly, the most notable place in the Sonoran desert is the Saguaro National Park.
The most important thing to know about the Sonoran desert is that it is the home to the saguaro cactus. Despite its popularity and overuse in media, saguaro cacti are native only to the Sonoran desert. I cannot stress enough the importance of this fact. It is a pet peeve of mine to see other US deserts (or even deserts in other countries) depicted with saguaros growing in the wild. It is just plain wrong.
Pronounced moh-hah-vee. The Mojave is my home desert. It mostly exists in southern California, but also the southern tip of Nevada. The most notable places in the Mojave desert are Joshua Tree National Park, and Death Valley. The historic Route 66 also goes through the Mojave desert. Las Vegas is also in the Mojave desert.
The Mojave is home to the Joshua Tree, a Dr. Seuss-ish looking plant that despite its name is not a tree but actually a type of yucca. The Mojave desert is the only place worldwide where Joshua Trees are native. They are extremely difficult to cultivate elsewhere, so this is probably the only place you will ever see one in person.
The Colorado Plateau
Probably the most popular desert in the US for tourism, the Colorado Plateau is home to many big name attractions. To name a few, the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, Lake Powell, Zion National Park, Arches National Park, Mesa Verde, and the Petrified Forest, all exist within the Colorado Plateau. Not to mention Four Corners. The Colorado Plateau takes up the southeast corner of Utah, the northeast corner of Arizona, the northwest corner of New Mexico, and the southwest corner of Colorado.
The Colorado Plateau is known for its incredible rock formations and the red coloring of the rocks and soil. It doesn’t have any easily recognizable plant species that set it apart, but the amazing landscapes are a dead giveaway.