Chihuahuan Desert
Overview
 
The Chihuahuan Desert is a desert
Desert
A desert is a landscape or region that receives an extremely low amount of precipitation, less than enough to support growth of most plants. Most deserts have an average annual precipitation of less than...

, and an ecoregion
Ecoregion
An ecoregion , sometimes called a bioregion, is an ecologically and geographically defined area that is smaller than an ecozone and larger than an ecosystem. Ecoregions cover relatively large areas of land or water, and contain characteristic, geographically distinct assemblages of natural...

 designation, that straddles the U.S.-Mexico border in the central and northern portions of the Mexican Plateau
Mexican Plateau
The Central Mexican Plateau, also known as the Mexican Altiplano or Altiplanicie Mexicana, is a large arid-to-semiarid plateau that occupies much of northern and central Mexico...

, bordered on the west by the extensive Sierra Madre Occidental
Sierra Madre Occidental
The Sierra Madre Occidental is a mountain range in western Mexico.-Setting:The range runs north to south, from just south of the Sonora–Arizona border southeast through eastern Sonora, western Chihuahua, Sinaloa, Durango, Zacatecas, Nayarit, Jalisco, Aguascalientes to Guanajuato, where it joins...

 range, and overlaying northern portions of the east range, the Sierra Madre Oriental
Sierra Madre Oriental
The Sierra Madre Oriental is a mountain range in northeastern Mexico.-Setting:Spanning the Sierra Madre Oriental runs from Coahuila south through Nuevo León, southwest Tamaulipas, San Luis Potosí, Querétaro, and Hidalgo to northern Puebla, where it joins with the east-west running Eje Volcánico...

. On the U.S.
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 side it occupies the valleys and basins of central and southern New Mexico
New Mexico
New Mexico is a state located in the southwest and western regions of the United States. New Mexico is also usually considered one of the Mountain States. With a population density of 16 per square mile, New Mexico is the sixth-most sparsely inhabited U.S...

, Texas
Texas
Texas is the second largest U.S. state by both area and population, and the largest state by area in the contiguous United States.The name, based on the Caddo word "Tejas" meaning "friends" or "allies", was applied by the Spanish to the Caddo themselves and to the region of their settlement in...

 west of the Pecos River
Pecos River
The headwaters of the Pecos River are located north of Pecos, New Mexico, United States, at an elevation of over 12,000 feet on the western slope of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range in Mora County. The river flows for through the eastern portion of that state and neighboring Texas before it...

 and southeastern Arizona
Arizona
Arizona ; is a state located in the southwestern region of the United States. It is also part of the western United States and the mountain west. The capital and largest city is Phoenix...

; south of the border, it covers the northern half of the Mexican
Mexico
The United Mexican States , commonly known as Mexico , is a federal constitutional republic in North America. It is bordered on the north by the United States; on the south and west by the Pacific Ocean; on the southeast by Guatemala, Belize, and the Caribbean Sea; and on the east by the Gulf of...

 state of Chihuahua, most of Coahuila
Coahuila
Coahuila, formally Coahuila de Zaragoza , officially Estado Libre y Soberano de Coahuila de Zaragoza is one of the 31 states which, with the Federal District, comprise the 32 Federal Entities of Mexico...

, north-east portion of Durango
Durango
Durango officially Estado Libre y Soberano de Durango is one of the 31 states which, with the Federal District, comprise the 32 Federal Entities of Mexico. The state is located in Northwest Mexico. With a population of 1,632,934, it has Mexico's second-lowest population density, after Baja...

, extreme northern portion of Zacatecas
Zacatecas
Zacatecas officially Estado Libre y Soberano de Zacatecas is one of the 31 states which, with the Federal District, comprise the 32 Federal Entities of Mexico. It is divided in 58 municipalities and its capital city is Zacatecas....

 and small western portions of Nuevo León
Nuevo León
Nuevo León It is located in Northeastern Mexico. It is bordered by the states of Tamaulipas to the north and east, San Luis Potosí to the south, and Coahuila to the west. To the north, Nuevo León has a 15 kilometer stretch of the U.S.-Mexico border adjacent to the U.S...

.
Encyclopedia
The Chihuahuan Desert is a desert
Desert
A desert is a landscape or region that receives an extremely low amount of precipitation, less than enough to support growth of most plants. Most deserts have an average annual precipitation of less than...

, and an ecoregion
Ecoregion
An ecoregion , sometimes called a bioregion, is an ecologically and geographically defined area that is smaller than an ecozone and larger than an ecosystem. Ecoregions cover relatively large areas of land or water, and contain characteristic, geographically distinct assemblages of natural...

 designation, that straddles the U.S.-Mexico border in the central and northern portions of the Mexican Plateau
Mexican Plateau
The Central Mexican Plateau, also known as the Mexican Altiplano or Altiplanicie Mexicana, is a large arid-to-semiarid plateau that occupies much of northern and central Mexico...

, bordered on the west by the extensive Sierra Madre Occidental
Sierra Madre Occidental
The Sierra Madre Occidental is a mountain range in western Mexico.-Setting:The range runs north to south, from just south of the Sonora–Arizona border southeast through eastern Sonora, western Chihuahua, Sinaloa, Durango, Zacatecas, Nayarit, Jalisco, Aguascalientes to Guanajuato, where it joins...

 range, and overlaying northern portions of the east range, the Sierra Madre Oriental
Sierra Madre Oriental
The Sierra Madre Oriental is a mountain range in northeastern Mexico.-Setting:Spanning the Sierra Madre Oriental runs from Coahuila south through Nuevo León, southwest Tamaulipas, San Luis Potosí, Querétaro, and Hidalgo to northern Puebla, where it joins with the east-west running Eje Volcánico...

. On the U.S.
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 side it occupies the valleys and basins of central and southern New Mexico
New Mexico
New Mexico is a state located in the southwest and western regions of the United States. New Mexico is also usually considered one of the Mountain States. With a population density of 16 per square mile, New Mexico is the sixth-most sparsely inhabited U.S...

, Texas
Texas
Texas is the second largest U.S. state by both area and population, and the largest state by area in the contiguous United States.The name, based on the Caddo word "Tejas" meaning "friends" or "allies", was applied by the Spanish to the Caddo themselves and to the region of their settlement in...

 west of the Pecos River
Pecos River
The headwaters of the Pecos River are located north of Pecos, New Mexico, United States, at an elevation of over 12,000 feet on the western slope of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range in Mora County. The river flows for through the eastern portion of that state and neighboring Texas before it...

 and southeastern Arizona
Arizona
Arizona ; is a state located in the southwestern region of the United States. It is also part of the western United States and the mountain west. The capital and largest city is Phoenix...

; south of the border, it covers the northern half of the Mexican
Mexico
The United Mexican States , commonly known as Mexico , is a federal constitutional republic in North America. It is bordered on the north by the United States; on the south and west by the Pacific Ocean; on the southeast by Guatemala, Belize, and the Caribbean Sea; and on the east by the Gulf of...

 state of Chihuahua, most of Coahuila
Coahuila
Coahuila, formally Coahuila de Zaragoza , officially Estado Libre y Soberano de Coahuila de Zaragoza is one of the 31 states which, with the Federal District, comprise the 32 Federal Entities of Mexico...

, north-east portion of Durango
Durango
Durango officially Estado Libre y Soberano de Durango is one of the 31 states which, with the Federal District, comprise the 32 Federal Entities of Mexico. The state is located in Northwest Mexico. With a population of 1,632,934, it has Mexico's second-lowest population density, after Baja...

, extreme northern portion of Zacatecas
Zacatecas
Zacatecas officially Estado Libre y Soberano de Zacatecas is one of the 31 states which, with the Federal District, comprise the 32 Federal Entities of Mexico. It is divided in 58 municipalities and its capital city is Zacatecas....

 and small western portions of Nuevo León
Nuevo León
Nuevo León It is located in Northeastern Mexico. It is bordered by the states of Tamaulipas to the north and east, San Luis Potosí to the south, and Coahuila to the west. To the north, Nuevo León has a 15 kilometer stretch of the U.S.-Mexico border adjacent to the U.S...

. With an area of about 362000 km² (139,769 sq mi), it is the third largest desert of the Western Hemisphere and the second largest in North America
North America
North America is a continent wholly within the Northern Hemisphere and almost wholly within the Western Hemisphere. It is also considered a northern subcontinent of the Americas...

, after the Great Basin Desert
Great Basin Desert
The Great Basin Desert is an area of nearctic high deserts across parts of Nevada, California, and Utah that extends into the Colorado River watershed , but which is mostly a portion of the central Nevada desert basins of the Great Basin.It along with the Escalante Desert, Mohave Desert, the...

.

Geography

The terrain mainly consists of basin
Drainage basin
A drainage basin is an extent or an area of land where surface water from rain and melting snow or ice converges to a single point, usually the exit of the basin, where the waters join another waterbody, such as a river, lake, reservoir, estuary, wetland, sea, or ocean...

s broken by numerous small mountain range
Mountain range
A mountain range is a single, large mass consisting of a succession of mountains or narrowly spaced mountain ridges, with or without peaks, closely related in position, direction, formation, and age; a component part of a mountain system or of a mountain chain...

s.

Several larger mountain ranges include the Sierra Madre
Sierra Madre
Sierra Madre may refer to one of several mountain ranges:*In Mexico:**Sierra Madre Occidental, a mountain range in northwestern Mexico and southern Arizona...

, the Sierra del Carmen, the Sacramento Mountains
Sacramento Mountains
The Sacramento Mountains are a mountain range in the south-central part of the U.S. state of New Mexico, lying just east of Alamogordo in Otero County...

, the Sandia-Manzano Mountains
Sandia-Manzano Mountains
The Sandia-Manzano Mountains are a substantial mountain area that defines the eastern edge of the middle Rio Grande valley of central New Mexico...

, the Magdalena-San Mateo Mountains, the Chisos Mountains
Chisos Mountains
The Chisos Mountains are a mountain range located in the Big Bend area of West Texas, USA. The mountain range is contained entirely within the boundaries of Big Bend National Park. This is the only mountain range in the United States to be fully contained within the boundary of a National Park...

, the Guadalupe Mountains
Guadalupe Mountains
The Guadalupe Mountains are a mountain range located in West Texas and southeastern New Mexico. The range includes the highest summit in Texas, Guadalupe Peak, , and the "signature peak" of West Texas, El Capitan, both located within Guadalupe Mountains National Park, as well as Carlsbad Caverns...

, and the Davis Mountains
Davis Mountains
The Davis Mountains are a range of mountains in West Texas, located near Fort Davis, after which they are named. They are a popular site for camping and hiking and the region includes Fort Davis National Historic Site and Davis Mountains State Park...

. These create "sky island
Sky island
Sky islands are mountains that are isolated by surrounding lowlands of a dramatically different environment, a situation which, in combination with the altitudinal zonation of ecosystems, has significant implications for natural habitats. Endemism, vertical migration, and relict populations are...

s" of cooler, wetter, climate
Climate
Climate encompasses the statistics of temperature, humidity, atmospheric pressure, wind, rainfall, atmospheric particle count and other meteorological elemental measurements in a given region over long periods...

s within the desert, and such elevated areas have both coniferous and broadleaf woodlands, and even forests along drainages and favored exposures.

The Chihuahuan Desert is higher in elevation than the Sonoran Desert
Sonoran Desert
The Sonoran 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 Arizona and California and the northwest Mexican states of Sonora, Baja California, and Baja California Sur. It is one of the largest and hottest...

 to the west, mostly varying from 600–1675 m (1,968.5–5,495.4 ) in altitude. As a result, it tends to have a slightly milder climate in the summer (though usually daytime June temperatures are in the range of 35 to 40 °C (95 to 104 F)). Winter weather varies from relatively mild to quite cold depending on altitude and the ferocity of northerly winds. Precipitation
Precipitation (meteorology)
In meteorology, precipitation In meteorology, precipitation In meteorology, precipitation (also known as one of the classes of hydrometeors, which are atmospheric water phenomena is any product of the condensation of atmospheric water vapor that falls under gravity. The main forms of precipitation...

 is somewhat more abundant than most of the southern Great Basin
Great Basin
The Great Basin is the largest area of contiguous endorheic watersheds in North America and is noted for its arid conditions and Basin and Range topography that varies from the North American low point at Badwater Basin to the highest point of the contiguous United States, less than away at the...

, the Sonoran, and Mojave
Mojave Desert
The Mojave Desert occupies a significant portion of southeastern California and smaller parts of central California, southern Nevada, southwestern Utah and northwestern Arizona, in the United States...

 deserts, however it is still usually less than 254 millimetres (10 in) per year, with much of the rain falling during the "monsoon
North American Monsoon
The North American monsoon, variously known as the Southwest United States monsoon, the Mexican monsoon, or the Arizona monsoon, is experienced as a pronounced increase in rainfall from an extremely dry June to a rainy July over large areas of the southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico...

" of late summer. The mean annual precipitation for the Chihuahuan Desert is 235 mm (9.3 in) with a range of approximately 150 –. Nearly two-thirds of the arid zone stations have annual totals between 225 and 275 mm (8.9 and 10.8 in). Snowfall is scant except at the higher elevation edges.

The Chihuahuan Desert is an ecoregion that has received little exploration and study. Therefore, it has not been classified or had subdivisions applied to it, as has the Sonoran Desert to the west.

There are a few urban areas within the desert: the largest is Ciudad Juárez
Ciudad Juárez
Ciudad Juárez , officially known today as Heroica Ciudad Juárez, but abbreviated Juárez and formerly known as El Paso del Norte, is a city and seat of the municipality of Juárez in the Mexican state of Chihuahua. Juárez's estimated population is 1.5 million people. The city lies on the Rio Grande...

 with almost two million inhabitants, neighboring El Paso
El Paso, Texas
El Paso, is a city in and the county seat of El Paso County, Texas, United States, and lies in far West Texas. In the 2010 census, the city had a population of 649,121. It is the sixth largest city in Texas and the 19th largest city in the United States...

; then the city of Chihuahua
Chihuahua, Chihuahua
The city of Chihuahua is the state capital of the Mexican state of Chihuahua. It has a population of about 825,327. The predominant activity is industry, including domestic heavy, light industries, consumer goods production, and to a smaller extent maquiladoras.-History:It has been said that the...

 and Torreón. Albuquerque
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Albuquerque is the largest city in the state of New Mexico, United States. It is the county seat of Bernalillo County and is situated in the central part of the state, straddling the Rio Grande. The city population was 545,852 as of the 2010 Census and ranks as the 32nd-largest city in the U.S. As...

, Las Cruces
Las Cruces, New Mexico
Las Cruces, also known as "The City of the Crosses", is the county seat of Doña Ana County, New Mexico, United States. The population was 97,618 in 2010 according to the 2010 Census, making it the second largest city in the state....

 and Roswell
Roswell, New Mexico
Roswell is a city in and the county seat of Chaves County in the southeastern quarter of the state of New Mexico, United States. The population was 48,366 at the 2010 census. It is a center for irrigation farming, dairying, ranching, manufacturing, distribution, and petroleum production. It is also...

 in New Mexico are among the other significant cities in this ecoregion.
Saltillo and Monterrey are located in the border of the Chihuahuan desert.

According to the World Wide Fund for Nature
World Wide Fund for Nature
The World Wide Fund for Nature is an international non-governmental organization working on issues regarding the conservation, research and restoration of the environment, formerly named the World Wildlife Fund, which remains its official name in Canada and the United States...

, the Chihuahuan Desert may be the most biologically diverse desert in the world, whether measured on species richness or endemism, although the region has been heavily degraded over time. Many native species have been replaced with Creosote Bush. The Mexican Wolf
Mexican Wolf
The Mexican Wolf is a subspecies of the Gray Wolf. It is native to North America, where it is the rarest and most genetically distinct subspecies.- Physical features :...

, once abundant, has been extirpated. The main cause of degradation has been grazing.

Flora

Creosote Bush (Larrea tridentata) is the dominant plant species throughout the Chihuahuan Desert. The other species it is found with depends on factors such as the soil, altitude, and degree of slope. Creosote Bush, Viscid Acacia (Acacia neovernicosa), and Tarbush (Flourensia
Flourensia
Flourensia is a genus of flowering plants in the daisy family....

 cernua
) dominate the northern portion. Yucca
Yucca
Yucca is a genus of perennial shrubs and trees in the family Asparagaceae, subfamily Agavoideae. Its 40-50 species are notable for their rosettes of evergreen, tough, sword-shaped leaves and large terminal panicles of white or whitish flowers. They are native to the hot and dry parts of North...

and Opuntia
Opuntia
Opuntia, also known as nopales or paddle cactus , is a genus in the cactus family, Cactaceae.Currently, only prickly pears are included in this genus of about 200 species distributed throughout most of the Americas. Chollas are now separated into the genus Cylindropuntia, which some still consider...

species are abundant in the central third, while Arizona Rainbow Cactus (Echinocereus polyacanthus) and Mexican Fire-barrel Cactus (Ferocactus pilosus) inhabit the southernmost portion. Herbaceous plant
Herbaceous plant
A herbaceous plant is a plant that has leaves and stems that die down at the end of the growing season to the soil level. They have no persistent woody stem above ground...

s, such as Blue Grama (Bouteloua gracilis), Gypsum Grama (B. breviseta), and Hairy Grama (B. hirsuta
Bouteloua hirsuta
Bouteloua hirsuta, commonly known as Hairy grama, is a perennial short prairie grass that is native throughout much of North America, including the Great Plains and Canadian Prairies region, as well as Mexico and Guatemala.-Description:...

), are dominant near the Sierra Madre Occidental
Sierra Madre Occidental
The Sierra Madre Occidental is a mountain range in western Mexico.-Setting:The range runs north to south, from just south of the Sonora–Arizona border southeast through eastern Sonora, western Chihuahua, Sinaloa, Durango, Zacatecas, Nayarit, Jalisco, Aguascalientes to Guanajuato, where it joins...

. Lechuguilla (Agave lechuguilla), Honey Mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa), Opuntia macrocentra and Echinocereus pectinatus are the dominant species in western Coahuila
Coahuila
Coahuila, formally Coahuila de Zaragoza , officially Estado Libre y Soberano de Coahuila de Zaragoza is one of the 31 states which, with the Federal District, comprise the 32 Federal Entities of Mexico...

. Anacahuita (Cordia boissieri), Ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens), Lechuguilla, and Yucca filifera are the most common species in the southeastern part of the desert. Candelilla (Euphorbia antisyphilitica), Mimosa zygophylla, Acacia glandulifera and Lechuguilla are found in areas with well-draining, shallow soils. The shrubs found near the Sierra Madre Oriental
Sierra Madre Oriental
The Sierra Madre Oriental is a mountain range in northeastern Mexico.-Setting:Spanning the Sierra Madre Oriental runs from Coahuila south through Nuevo León, southwest Tamaulipas, San Luis Potosí, Querétaro, and Hidalgo to northern Puebla, where it joins with the east-west running Eje Volcánico...

 are exclusively Lechuguilla, Guapilla (Hechtia glomerata
Hechtia glomerata
Hechtia glomerata, commonly known as Guapilla, is a species of bromeliad that is native to southern Texas in the United States, Mexico, and Guatemala.-Cultivars:* Hechtia 'Ventura' -References:...

), Queen Victoria's Agave (Agave victoriae-reginae), Sotol (Dasylirion
Dasylirion
Dasylirion is a genus of 17 species of flowering plants, all native to Mexico, with three species also extending into the southwestern United States...

spp.), and Barreta (Helietta
Helietta
Helietta is a genus of flowering plants in the citrus family, Rutaceae. Members of the genus are commonly known as Barettas, Barretas, or Barrettas. The generic name honors French physician Lewis Théodore Hélie ....

 parvifolia
), while the well-developed herbaceous layer includes grasses, legumes
Fabaceae
The Fabaceae or Leguminosae, commonly known as the legume, pea, or bean family, is a large and economically important family of flowering plants. The group is the third largest land plant family, behind only the Orchidaceae and Asteraceae, with 730 genera and over 19,400 species...

 and cacti. Grasslands comprise 20% of this desert and are often mosaics of shrubs and grasses. They include Purple Three-awn (Aristida purpurea
Aristida purpurea
Aristida purpurea is a species of grass native to North America which is known by the common name purple three-awn. This grass is fairly widespread and can be found across the western two thirds of the United States, much of southern Canada and parts of northern Mexico...

), Black Grama (Bouteloua eriopoda), and Sideoats Grama (Bouteloua curtipendula). Early Spanish explorers reported encountering grasses that were "belly high to a horse;" most likely these were Big Alkali Sacaton (Sporobolus wrightii) and Tobosa (Pleuraphis
Pleuraphis
Pleuraphis is a small genus of grasses in the Poaceae family known generally as galleta grasses. They are sometimes combined with the genus Hilaria. These grasses are native to the southwestern United States and northern Mexico, where they are widespread and common in many types of...

 mutica
) bottomlands.




See also

  • Big Bend National Park
    Big Bend National Park
    Big Bend National Park is a national park located in the U.S. state of Texas. Big Bend has national significance as the largest protected area of Chihuahuan Desert topography and ecology in the United States, which includes more than 1,200 species of plants, more than 450 species of birds, 56...

  • Carlsbad Caverns National Park
    Carlsbad Caverns National Park
    Carlsbad Caverns National Park is a United States National Park in the Guadalupe Mountains in southeastern New Mexico. The primary attraction of the park for most visitors is the show cave, Carlsbad Caverns...

  • Guadalupe Mountains National Park
    Guadalupe Mountains National Park
    Guadalupe Mountains National Park is located in the Guadalupe Mountains of West Texas and contains Guadalupe Peak, the highest point in Texas at in elevation. It also contains El Capitan, long used as a landmark by people traveling along the old route later followed by the Butterfield Overland...

  • Lechuguilla Desert
    Lechuguilla Desert
    thumb|250px|right|[[Agave lechuguilla]] the plant the desert is named afterThe Lechuguilla Desert is a small desert located in southwestern Arizona near the U.S.-Mexico border. It is considered to be part of the Lower Colorado Valley region of the Sonoran Desert...

  • List of deserts by area
  • List of ecoregions in the United States (WWF)
  • List of geographical regions in Texas
  • McKittrick Canyon
    McKittrick Canyon
    McKittrick Canyon is a scenic canyon within the Guadalupe Mountains of West Texas. The steep towering walls of McKittrick Canyon protect a rich riparian oasis in the midst of the Chihuahuan Desert....

  • Malpai Borderlands
    Malpai Borderlands
    Malpai Borderlands is a region, or areal feature, along the U.S.-Mexico border at the Arizona and New Mexico state line. The extreme southeast corner of Arizona and the southwest corner of New Mexico describe the general vicinity. It includes areas inside the U.S. states of Arizona and New Mexico...

  • Pecos River
    Pecos River
    The headwaters of the Pecos River are located north of Pecos, New Mexico, United States, at an elevation of over 12,000 feet on the western slope of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range in Mora County. The river flows for through the eastern portion of that state and neighboring Texas before it...

  • Sky islands
    Sky Islands
    Sky Islands is a 1993 Jazz album by Ramsey Lewis released on GRP Records.The album peaked at #4 on the Billboard Top Contemporary Jazz Albums chart.-Track listing:-Personnel: *Tony Carpenter - Percussion, Background Vocals...

  • Sonoran Desert
    Sonoran Desert
    The Sonoran 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 Arizona and California and the northwest Mexican states of Sonora, Baja California, and Baja California Sur. It is one of the largest and hottest...

  • Trans-Pecos
    Trans-Pecos
    The term Trans-Pecos, as originally defined in 1887 by the Texas geologist Robert T. Hill, refers to the portion of Texas that lies west of the Pecos River. The term is considered synonymous with "Far West Texas", a subdivision of West Texas...

  • West Texas
    West Texas
    West Texas is a vernacular term applied to a region in the southwestern quadrant of the United States that primarily encompasses the arid and semi-arid lands in the western portion of the state of Texas....

  • White Sands National Monument
    White Sands National Monument
    The White Sands National Monument is a U.S. National Monument located about southwest of Alamogordo in western Otero County and northeastern Dona Ana County in the state of New Mexico, at an elevation of 4235 feet...


  • External links

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