Great Basin Desert: Utah, Arizona, Nevada

T he sprawling Great Basin Desert gives North America a cold, interior rain shadow desert to rival Asia’s Gobi Desert. Haunted by the harsh winters of its 6,000–7,000-foot (2,000–2,333 m) elevation, screened from rain by the towering Sierra Nevadas and California to the west and the Rocky Mountains to the east, the Great Basin’s endless mountain chains, massive salt flats, fossil lakebeds, and rolling expanses of sagebrush present a harsh, dramatic, often monochromatic landscape that challenges the plants, animals, and people who venture into its soul-stirring expanse.

The Great Basin Desert encompasses more than 190,000 square miles (492,000 sq km), filling the space between the Wasatch Mountains on the east, the Columbia Plateau on the north, the Mojave Desert to the southwest, and the massive uplift of the Mogollon Rim to the south in Arizona. Many experts also include as a division of the Great Basin Desert the lower-elevation Painted Desert and Monument Valley in Arizona. This neatly divides the Great Basin Desert into two major habitats—the rolling, mountain-punctuated, sagebrush-dominated expanses to the north and east and the dramatic, colorful, layered expanses of the Painted Desert and Monument Valley and portions of the Grand Canyon at the southern edge.