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Great Basin Desert

Nature creation - Earth Desert ::-- 1.Antarctic - Desert|| 2.Sahara - Desert|| 3.Arctic - Desert|| 4.Arabian - Desert|| 5.Gobi - Desert|| 6.Kalahari - Desert|| 7.Patagonian - Desert|| 8.Victoria - Desert|| 9.Syrian - Desert|| 10.Great Basin - Desert|| Desert List||

Great Basin Desert

The Great Basin Desert is an area of nearctic high deserts across parts of Nevada, California, Oregon, Idaho and Utah that extends into the Colorado River watershed (Clark & Lincoln counties on the southwest), but which is mostly a portion of the central Nevada desert basins of the much larger Great Basin. The predominant flora are mostly of the Atriplex genus (lowest elevations) and sagebrush (higher) (shadscale is also common). Parts of the area have a cold desert climate, particularly where the ranges provide rain shadow for the northern basins/valleys. The Great Basin Desert covers a large area of land bounded by the Sierra Nevada - Cascade mountain range to the west and the Rocky Mountain range to the east. Between these large mountain ranges are a series of valley floors (basins) with elevations of about 1200 metres (4000 foot). These basins are interspersed by smaller mountain ranges, running north to south, so the typical scenery in this desert region is of broad, flat plains or shallow slopes bounded by mountain ridges.

The valley floors have deep soils resulting from thousands of years of mountain erosion. But these valleys receive little rainfall; most of precipitation occurs as winter snow. The combination of hot, dry summers and cold winters results in a characteristic vegetation dominated by aromatic, perennial shrubs such as various forms of sagebrush (Artemisia species). This vegetation type is dominated by one species (big sagebrush) and is known as the Great Basin Sagebrush Zone. In the wetter, more northerly parts there is an increasing proportion of grasses, giving rise to a vegetation type termed Sagebrush Steppe. In other, scattered regions of this desert, where the soil particles are very fine, there are permanent lakes (e.g. the Great Salt Lake) or temporary lakes (called playas). These areas and the surrounding lands can have a high salt concentration caused by the evaporation of water. Such areas are dominated by various types of saltbush (Atriplex species) giving a vegetation type known as Salt-Desert Shrub.

Great Basin Province

The Great Basin Province is a region of the Boreal Subkingdom that generally corresponds to the Central Basin and Range ecoregion and the Great Basin physiographic section. The province includes deserts with <10 in (250 mm) annual precipitation and non-desert areas, and the former include numerous small, unnamed salt deserts of the Central Basin and Range. The largest deserts of the Great Basin Province are Utah's Great Salt Lake Desert (4,000 sq mi) and Escalante Desert (3,270 sq mi).

Nevada salt deserts

The Nevada salt deserts are 19 Central Basin and Range ecoregions in Nevada's portion of the Great Basin Province. The salt deserts are within an area from 41°N to 37.5°N and are generally surrounded by Shadscale-Dominated Saline Basins. Found typically in low valleys, the largest occupies most of the Goshute Valley which is ~700 sq mi (1,800 km2), and the smallest is south of the Ruby Lake National Wildlife Refuge and is approximately 1/20th the size of the largest.

great basin desert

Great Basin is a cold desert bioregion represented by a small section in the NE corner of Kern County. Pinyon/Juniper and sagebrush scrub are habitats within this bioregion. Great Basin comprises the southern Great Basin in the Basin and Range geomorphic province. Great Basin Desert is widely separated by short mountain ranges in desert plains. Isolation is the key as the region contains many isolated mountains, plateaus, alluvial fans, playas, basins and dunes.


Typically Great Basin Desert experiences a long, cold winter and a significant proportion of its precipitation falls as snow. This desert is one of the several communities comprising Merriam's Upper Sonoran Life Zone.


Great Basin Desert vegetation is difficult to categorize in Kern County as many microregions throughout the Kern Valley and east Sierra show characteristics of a mix of great basin, Mojave, riparian, grassland, and scrub habitats. The photo below is an example of this mixture. Taken just south of Jawbone Canyon Rd and Kelso Valley Rd, notice a combination of California juniper (bushes not trees) which are Mojave desert species, Shepherd's tea (great basin), blue sagebrush (great basin), and exotic annual grasses (Mediterranean grassland).


Sagebrush (Artemesia tridentata) is the indicator species of this desert. Sagebrush is often in association with the yellow-blossomed rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus nauseosus). Succulents are represented primarily by prickly pears. The predominant vegetation of Great Basin Desert includes sagebrush, western juniper, rabbitbrush, mixed saltbush and single-needle pinyon pine.


A wide variety of animals can be found in great basin desert. Look to the rocky slopes around the desert mountain ranges, you may spot a very rare desert bighorn sheep. Other mammals of the desert include kit fox, coyote, skunk, black-tailed jackrabbit, ground squirrels, kangaroo rat and many species of mice. Bird species are very diverse in desert oases. 


The Great Basin Desert, the largest U. S. desert, covers an arid expanse of about 190,000 square miles and is bordered by the Sierra Nevada Range on the west and the Rocky Mountains on the east, the Columbia Plateau to the north and the Mojave and Sonoran deserts to the south.


This is a cool or "cold desert" due to its more northern latitude, as well as higher elevations (at least 3,000 feet, but more commonly from 4,000 to 6,500 feet). Precipitation, generally 7-12 inches annually, is more evenly distributed throughout the year than in the other three North American deserts. Winter precipitation often falls as snow.