In the United States there are four deserts—Great Basin, Chihuahuan, Sonoran, Mojave. The smallest, hottest, and driest of the four is Las Vegas’ own Mojave Desert. Each desert has distinguishing characteristics, which is why there are four different ones and not simply a large North American desert. Moving from the Mojave to the Chihuahuan has brought to my attention the subtle diversity that makes up each desert. For example, out here there are a lot more opportunities to get jabbed by a sharp, spiky plant.
|Ocotillo and desert scrubs|
Aside from a greater variety of shrubs and cactus, the plants here are way bigger than in the Mojave. Precipitation in the Chihuahuan Desert ranges from 8-12 inches, where as the Mojave can expect about 2-4 inches. Not only that, but the Mojave meets its paltry annual quota within the first months of the year during the winter rain season; the Chihuahuan has two rain seasons, the summer one providing more rain than the winter.
|Look closely: javelinas|
The other day we saw some javelinas running up the side of a mountain; those pig-like creatures don’t make it over to the Mojave. The western diamondback rattlesnake is one that both deserts share, but other than that the Mojave holds on to sidewinders, speckled, and Mojave green rattlers while the Chihuahuan has a different set. As for plants, Joshua Trees are to the Mojave as Lechugillas are to the Chihuahuan, both rather odd looking tree-ish things that dominant the landscape in herds.
|L: Joshua Tree|
An aspect of the Mojave that would do the Chihuahuan well would be high desert peaks. Out here there are a lot of very big hills, but not many with the majesty of southern Nevada’s sky-high, never ending mountains.
|Top: Dominating mountains in Nevada|
Bottom: Chihuahuan style mountains
The desert in sunny Las Vegas is a prized jewel for its geology and remarkable number of plants that can survive in such extreme conditions, but in terms of a cool place to live and explore my vote rests solidly with the Sonoran (Arizona)—the diversity there is amazing and the sunsets cannot be beat.