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Mountains in the Sonoran Desert

The Sonoran Desert (sometimes called the Gila Desert after the Gila River or the Low Desert in opposition to the higher Mojave Desert) is a North American desert which straddles part of the United States-Mexico border and covers large parts of the U.S. states of Arizonamarker and Californiamarker and the northwest Mexican states of Sonoramarker, Baja Californiamarker, and Baja California Surmarker. It is one of the largest and hottest deserts in North America, with an area of . The desert contains a variety of unique plants and animals, such as the saguaro cactus.


The Sonoran Desert wraps around the northern end of the Gulf of Californiamarker, from northeastern Baja California Surmarker north through much of Baja California Norte through southeastern Californiamarker and southwestern Arizonamarker to western part of Sonoramarker. It is bounded on the west by the Peninsular Ranges, which separate it from the California chaparral and woodlands and Baja California desert ecoregions of the Pacific slope. To the north, the Sonoran Desert transitions to the colder-winter Mojave, Great Basin, and Colorado Plateau deserts. To the east, the deserts transition to the coniferous Arizona Mountains forests and Sierra Madre Occidental forests at higher elevations. The Sonoran-Sinaloan transition subtropical dry forest marks the transition from the Sonoran Desert to the tropical dry forests of Sinaloamarker to the south.

The desert's sub-regions include the Colorado Desert and Yuma Desert. In the 1957 publication, Vegetation of the Sonoran Desert, Forrest Shreve divided the Sonoran Desert into seven regions according to characteristic vegetation: Lower Colorado Valley, Arizona Upland, Plains of Sonora, Foothills of Sonora, Central Gulf Coast, Vizcaíno Regionmarker, and Magdalena Region. (see An Overview of the Sonoran Desert, external link below). Many ecologists now consider Shreve's Vizcaíno and Magdalena regions, which lie on the western side of the Baja California Peninsula, to be a separate ecoregion, the Baja California desert.

Sonoran Desert 350 miles west of Maricopa AZ


The Sonoran Desert includes 60 mammal species, 350 bird species, 20 amphibian species, 100+ reptile species, 30 native fish species, over 1000 native bee species, and more than 2000 native plant species. The Sonoran Desert area southwest of Tucsonmarker and near the Mexican border is vital habitat for the only population of Jaguars living within the United States.


Many plants not only survive the harsh conditions of the Sonoran Desert, but they actually thrive. Many have evolved to have specialized adaptations to the desert climate. The Sonoran Desert's biseasonal rainfall pattern results in more plant species than in the other North America deserts. The Sonoran Desert includes such plants from the agave family, palm family, cactus family, legume family, and many others.

Sonoran Desert in December AZ

The Sonoran is the only place in the world where the famous saguaro cactus grows in the wild. Cholla, beavertail, hedgehog, fishhook, prickly pear, night blooming cereus, and organ pipe are other species of cactus found here. Cactus provide food and homes to many desert mammals and birds, with showy flowers in reds, pinks, yellows, and whites blooming most commonly from late March through June, depending on the species and seasonal temperatures.

Creosote bush and bur sage dominate valley floors. Indigo bush, Mormon tea, and mesquite are other shrubs that may be found. Wildflowers include desert sand verbena, desert sunflower, and evening primroses. Ascending from the valley up bajadas, various subtrees such as palo verde, ironwood, desert willow, and crucifixion thorn are common, as well as multi-stemmed ocotillo. Shrubs found at higher elevations include whitethorn acacia, fairy duster, and jojoba. In the desert subdivisions found on Baja California, cardon cactus, elephant tree, and boojum tree occur. The California Fan Palm is also found in parts of the Sonoran Desert, including areas of the Anza Borrego Desert State Parkmarker.

Human population

The Sonoran Desert is home to seventeen aboriginal American cultures .

The largest city in the Sonoran Desert is Phoenix, Arizonamarker, with a 2008 metropolitan population of about 4.3 million. Located on the Salt River in central Arizonamarker, it is one of the fastest-growing metropolitan areas in the United States. In the Phoenix area, desert is losing ground to urban sprawl at a rate of approximately per hour.

The next largest cities are Tucsonmarker, in southern Arizona, with a metro area population of around 1 million, and Mexicalimarker, Baja Californiamarker, whose municipality also has a population of around 900,000. The municipality of Hermosillomarker, Sonoramarker, has a population of around 700,000. Ciudad Obregonmarker, Sonoramarker, in the southern part of the desert has a population of 375,800.


On January 17, 2001, of the Sonoran Desert in Arizona was set aside as the Sonoran Desert National Monumentmarker for the purpose of enhancing resource protection.


  1. James A MacMahon, Deserts, 1986, 638 pages
  2. C. Michael Hogan. 2009. California Fan Palm: Washingtonia filifera,, ed. Nicklas Stromberg
  3. Table 1: Annual Estimates of the Population of Metropolitan and Micropolitan Statistical Areas: April 1, 2000 to July 1, 2006 (CBSA-EST2006-01), United States Census Bureau, 2007-04-05. Accessed 2007-09-11
  4. Make No Small Plans, Adelheid Fischer, ASU Research magazine. Accessed on line October 15, 2007
  5. Principales resultados por localidad 2005, Instituto Nacional de Estadística Geografía e Informática (Mexico). Accessed on line October 15, 2007
  6. Population Projections, state government of Baja California, Mexico. Accessed on line October 15, 2007
  7. Sonoran Desert National Monument, Bureau of Land Management, U. S. Department of the Interior. Accessed on line June 17, 2009.

See also

External links

* Sonoran Desert and its subdivisions, with map and photos

Links to parks and recreational areas within the Sonoran Desert

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