Chihuahuan Desert

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Chihuahuan Desert
Chihuahuan Desert.jpg
The Chihuahuan Desert in West Texas
Chihuahuan Desert map.svg
Length1,280 km (800 mi)
Width4,400 km (2,700 mi)
Area362,600 km2 (140,000 sq mi)
Country Mexico and the United States
State/Province North America
Coordinates 30°32′26″N103°50′14″W / 30.54056°N 103.83722°W / 30.54056; -103.83722 Coordinates: 30°32′26″N103°50′14″W / 30.54056°N 103.83722°W / 30.54056; -103.83722

The Chihuahuan Desert (Spanish : Desierto de Chihuahua) is a desert and ecoregion designation covering parts of northern Mexico and the southwestern United States. It occupies much of West Texas, parts of the middle and lower Rio Grande Valley and the lower Pecos Valley in New Mexico, and a portion of southeastern Arizona, as well as the central and northern portions of the Mexican Plateau. It is bordered on the west by the extensive Sierra Madre Occidental range, along with northwestern lowlands of the Sierra Madre Oriental range. On the Mexican side, it covers a large portion of the state of Chihuahua, along with portions of Coahuila, north-eastern Durango, the extreme northern part of Zacatecas, and small western portions of Nuevo León. With an area of about 362,000 km2 (139,769 sq mi), it is the third largest desert of the Western Hemisphere and the second largest in North America, after the Great Basin Desert. [1]

Spanish language Romance language

Spanish or Castilian is a Romance language that originated in the Castile region of Spain and today has hundreds of millions of native speakers in the Americas and Spain. It is a global language and the world's second-most spoken native language, after Mandarin Chinese.

Desert Area of land where little precipitation occurs

A desert is a barren area of landscape where little precipitation occurs and, consequently, living conditions are hostile for plant and animal life. The lack of vegetation exposes the unprotected surface of the ground to the processes of denudation. About one-third of the land surface of the world is arid or semi-arid. This includes much of the polar regions where little precipitation occurs and which are sometimes called polar deserts or "cold deserts". Deserts can be classified by the amount of precipitation that falls, by the temperature that prevails, by the causes of desertification or by their geographical location.

Ecoregion Ecologically and geographically defined area that is smaller than a bioregion

An ecoregion is an ecologically and geographically defined area that is smaller than a bioregion, which in turn is smaller than an ecozone. All three of these are either less or greater than an ecosystem. Ecoregions cover relatively large areas of land or water, and contain characteristic, geographically distinct assemblages of natural communities and species. The biodiversity of flora, fauna and ecosystems that characterise an ecoregion tends to be distinct from that of other ecoregions. In theory, biodiversity or conservation ecoregions are relatively large areas of land or water where the probability of encountering different species and communities at any given point remains relatively constant, within an acceptable range of variation.



The terrain mainly consists of basins broken by numerous small mountain ranges. Chihuahuan Desert from South Rim BIBE.jpg
The terrain mainly consists of basins broken by numerous small mountain ranges.

Several larger mountain ranges include the Sierra Madre, the Sierra del Carmen, the Organ Mountains, the Franklin Mountains, the Sacramento Mountains, the Chisos Mountains, the Guadalupe Mountains, and the Davis Mountains. These create "sky islands" of cooler, wetter, climates adjacent to, or within the desert, and such elevated areas have both coniferous and broadleaf woodlands, including forests along drainages and favored exposures. The Sandia–Manzano Mountains, the Magdalena–San Mateo Mountains, and the Gila Region border the Chihuahuan Desert at their lower elevations.

Sierra Madre Oriental mountain range in Mexico

The Sierra Madre Oriental is a mountain range in northeastern Mexico. The Sierra Madre Oriental is part of the American Cordillera, a chain of mountain ranges (cordillera) that consists of an almost continuous sequence of mountain ranges that form the western "backbone" of North America, Central America, South America and Antarctica.

Sierra del Carmen

The Sierra del Carmen, also called the Sierra Maderas del Carmen, is a northern finger of the Sierra Madre Oriental in the state of Coahuila, Mexico. The Sierra begins at the Rio Grande at Big Bend National Park and extends southeast for about 45 miles (72 km), reaching a maximum elevation of 8,920 feet (2,720 m). Part of the Sierra del Carmen is protected in the Maderas del Carmen Biosphere Reserve as part of a bi-national effort to conserve a large portion of the Chihuahua Desert in Mexico and Texas.

Organ Mountains

The Organ Mountains are a rugged mountain range in southern New Mexico in the Southwestern United States. Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument was declared a national monument on May 21, 2014. They lie 10 miles (16 km) east of the city of Las Cruces, in Doña Ana County.

There are a few urban areas within the desert: the largest is Ciudad Juárez with almost two million inhabitants; Chihuahua, Saltillo, and Torreón; and the US cities of Albuquerque and El Paso. Las Cruces and Roswell are among the other significant cities in this ecoregion. Monterrey and Santa Fe are located near the Chihuahuan desert.

Ciudad Juárez City in Chihuahua, Mexico

Ciudad Juárez is the most populous city in the Mexican state of Chihuahua. The city is commonly referred to by locals as simply Juárez, and was known as Paso del Norte until 1888. Juárez is the seat of the municipality of Juárez with an estimated population of 1.5 million people. It lies on the Rio Grande river, south of El Paso, Texas, United States. Together with the surrounding areas, the cities form El Paso–Juárez, the second largest binational metropolitan area on the Mexico–U.S. border, with a combined population of over 2.7 million people.

El Paso, Texas City in Texas, United States

El Paso is a city in and the county seat of El Paso County, Texas, United States, in the far western part of the state. The 2017 population estimate for the city from the U.S. Census was 683,577. Its metropolitan statistical area (MSA) covers all of El Paso and Hudspeth counties in Texas, and has a population of 844,818.

Las Cruces, New Mexico City in New Mexico, United States

Las Cruces is the seat of Doña Ana County, New Mexico, United States. As of the 2010 census the population was 97,618, and in 2017 the estimated population was 101,712, making it the second largest city in the state, after Albuquerque. Las Cruces is the largest city in both Doña Ana County and southern New Mexico. The Las Cruces metropolitan area had an estimated population of 213,849 in 2017. It is the principal city of a metropolitan statistical area which encompasses all of Doña Ana County and is part of the larger El Paso–Las Cruces combined statistical area.

According to the World Wide Fund for Nature the Chihuahuan Desert may be the most biologically diverse desert in the world as measured by species richness or endemism. The region has been badly degraded, mainly due to grazing. [2] Many native grasses and other species have become dominated by woody native plants, including creosote bush and mesquite, due to overgrazing and other urbanization. The Mexican wolf, once abundant, was nearly extinct and remains on the endangered species list. [3]

World Wide Fund for Nature international non-governmental organization

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) is an international non-governmental organization founded in 1961, working in the field of the wilderness preservation, and the reduction of human impact on the environment. It was formerly named the World Wildlife Fund, which remains its official name in Canada and the United States.

Mexican wolf subspecies of mammal

The Mexican wolf, also known as the lobo, is a subspecies of gray wolf once native to southeastern Arizona, southern New Mexico, western Texas and northern Mexico. It is the smallest of North America's gray wolves, and is similar to C. l. nubilus, though it is distinguished by its smaller, narrower skull and its darker pelt, which is yellowish-gray and heavily clouded with black over the back and tail. Its ancestors were likely the first gray wolves to enter North America after the extinction of the Beringian wolf, as indicated by its southern range and basal physical and genetic characteristics.


The desert is mainly a rain shadow desert because the two main mountain ranges covering the desert, the Sierra Madre Occidental to the west and the Sierra Madre Oriental to the east block most moisture from the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico respectively. [4] Climatically, the desert has a dry climate with only one rainy season in the summer and smaller amounts of precipitation in early winter. [4] Most of the summer rains falls between late June and early October, during the North American Monsoon when moist air from the Gulf of Mexico penetrates into the region. [4] [5] Owing to its inland position and higher elevation than the Sonoran Desert to the west, mostly varying from 600 to 1,675 m (1,969 to 5,495 ft) in altitude, [6] the desert has a slightly milder climate in the summer (though usually daytime June temperatures are in the range of 35 to 40 °C or 95 to 104 °F) and cool or cold winters with occasional frosts. [5] The average annual temperature in the desert is 24 °C (75 °F), which varies with altitude. The hottest temperatures in the desert occur in lower elevation areas and in valleys. [6] Northern areas have more severe winters than the southern portion and can receive snowstorms. [5] The mean annual precipitation for the Chihuahuan Desert is 235 mm (9.3 in) with a range of approximately 150–400 mm (6–16 in), although it receives more precipitation than other warm desert ecoregions. [4] Nearly two-thirds of the arid zone stations have annual totals between 225 and 275 mm (8.9 and 10.8 in). [7] Snowfall is scant except at the higher elevation edges. The desert is fairly young, existing for only 8000 years. [4]

Rain shadow

A rain shadow is a dry area on the leeward side of a mountainous area. The mountains block the passage of rain-producing weather systems and cast a "shadow" of dryness behind them. Wind and moist air is drawn by the prevailing winds towards the top of the mountains, where it condenses and precipitates before it crosses the top. The air, without much moisture left, advances across the mountains creating a drier side called the "rain shadow".

Sierra Madre Occidental mountain range

The Sierra Madre Occidental is a major mountain range system of the North American Cordillera, that runs northwest–southeast through northwestern and western Mexico, and along the Gulf of California. The Sierra Madre is part of the American Cordillera, a chain of mountain ranges (cordillera) that consists of an almost continuous sequence of mountain ranges that form the western 'backbone' of North America, Central America, South America and West Antarctica.

North American Monsoon california monsoons

The North American monsoon, variously known as the Southwest monsoon, the Mexican monsoon, the New Mexican monsoon, or the Arizona monsoon, is a pattern of pronounced increase in thunderstorms and rainfall over large areas of the southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico, typically occurring between July and mid September. During the monsoon, thunderstorms are fueled by daytime heating and build up during the late afternoon-early evening. Typically, these storms dissipate by late night, and the next day starts out fair, with the cycle repeating daily. The monsoon typically loses its energy by mid-September when drier and cooler conditions are reestablished over the region. Geographically, the North American monsoon precipitation region is centered over the Sierra Madre Occidental in the Mexican states of Sinaloa, Durango, Sonora and Chihuahua.


Pronghorn and lechuguilla are native species of the Chihuahuan Desert. Antelope, Otero Mesa NM.jpg
Pronghorn and lechuguilla are native species of the Chihuahuan Desert.

Creosote bush ( Larrea tridentata ) is the dominant plant species on gravelly and occasional sandy soils in valley areas within the Chihuahuan Desert. The other species it is found with depends on factors such as the soil, altitude, and degree of slope. Viscid acacia ( Acacia neovernicosa ), and tarbush ( Flourensia cernua ) dominate northern portions, as does broom dalea ( Psorothamnus scoparius ) on sandy soils in western portions. Yucca and Opuntia species are abundant in foothill edges and the central third, while Arizona rainbow cactus ( Echinocereus polyacanthus ) and Mexican fire-barrel cactus ( Ferocactus pilosus ) inhabit portions near the US–Mexico border.

<i>Larrea tridentata</i> species of plant

Larrea tridentata is known as creosote bush and greasewood as a plant, as chaparral as a medicinal herb, and as gobernadora in Mexico, Spanish for "governess", due to its ability to secure more water by inhibiting the growth of nearby plants. In Sonora, it is more commonly called hediondilla.

<i>Flourensia</i> genus of plants

Flourensia is a genus of flowering plants in the daisy family. It contains subshrubs and shrubs, which are commonly known as tarworts. They are found in the southwestern United States, Mexico, Central America, and South America. The genus name honours French physiologist Jean Pierre Flourens (1794–1867).

  1. Flourensia angustifolia(DC.) S.F.Blake- Peru
  2. Flourensia blakeanaM.O.Dillon - Argentina
  3. Flourensia cajabambensisM.O.Dillon - Peru
  4. Flourensia campestrisGriseb. - Argentina
  5. Flourensia cernuaDC. – American Tarwort, Tarbush - Chihuahua, Coahuila, USA
  6. Flourensia collodes(Greenm.) S.F.Blake- Chiapas, Oaxaca
  7. Flourensia dentataS.F.Blake - Zacatecas
  8. Flourensia fiebrigiiS.F.Blake - Argentina, Bolivia
  9. Flourensia glutinosa(B.L.Rob. & Greenm.) S.F.Blake - Oaxaca, Puebla
  10. Flourensia heterolepisS.F.Blake - Bolivia, Peru (Cusco)
  11. Flourensia hirtaS.F.Blake- Argentina
  12. Flourensia hirtissimaS.F.Blake- Argentina
  13. Flourensia ilicifoliaBrandegee- Coahuila
  14. Flourensia laurifoliaDC. - San Luis Potosí, Tamaulipas, Hidalgo
  15. Flourensia leptopodaS.F.Blake - Argentina
  16. Flourensia macroligulataSeeligm.- Argentina
  17. Flourensia macrophylla(A.Gray) S.F.Blake - Peru
  18. Flourensia monticola M.O. Dillon - Coahuila, Nuevo León
  19. Flourensia niederleiniiS.F.Blake- Argentina
  20. Flourensia oolepisS.F.Blake - Argentina
  21. Flourensia peruvianaM.O.Dillon- Peru
  22. Flourensia polycephalaM.O.Dillon - Peru
  23. Flourensia polycladaS.F.Blake - Argentina
  24. Flourensia pringlei(A.Gray) S.F.Blake - Chihuahua, Durango, New Mexico
  25. Flourensia pulcherrimaM.O.Dillon- Durango
  26. Flourensia resinosa(Brandegee) S.F.Blake- Hidalgo, Querétaro
  27. Flourensia retinophyllaS.F.Blake- Coahuila
  28. Flourensia ripariaGriseb. - Argentina
  29. Flourensia solitariaS.F.Blake - Coahuila
  30. Flourensia suffrutescens(R.E.Fr.) S.F.Blake - Argentina
  31. Flourensia thurifera(Molina) DC. - Chile
  32. Flourensia tortuosaGriseb. - Argentina
<i>Flourensia cernua</i> species of plant

Flourensia cernua is a species of flowering plant in the aster family known by the English common names American tarwort and tarbush and the Spanish common names hojasé, hojasén, and hoja ancha. It is native to the Chihuahuan Desert of North America, where it occurs in the US states of Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas, and the Mexican states of Sonora, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Durango, San Luis Potosí, and Zacatecas. Most of the species in the genus are found in Latin America; this and F. pringlei are the only two species whose ranges extend into the United States.

Herbaceous plants, such as bush muhly ( Muhlenbergia porteri ), blue grama ( Bouteloua gracilis ), gypsum grama ( B. breviseta ), and hairy grama ( B. hirsuta ), are dominant in desert grasslands and near the mountain edges including the Sierra Madre Occidental. Lechuguilla ( Agave lechuguilla ), honey mesquite ( Prosopis glandulosa ), Opuntia macrocentra and Echinocereus pectinatus are the dominant species in western Coahuila. 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 are exclusively lechuguilla, guapilla ( Hechtia glomerata ), Queen Victoria's agave ( Agave victoriae-reginae ), sotol ( Dasylirion spp.), and barreta ( Helietta parvifolia ), while the well-developed herbaceous layer includes grasses, legumes and cacti.

Grasslands comprise 20% of this desert and are often mosaics of shrubs and grasses. They include purple three-awn ( Aristida purpurea ), 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 mutica ) bottomlands. [2]

See also

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Great Basin Desert desert in the United States

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Madrean pine-oak woodlands

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Madrean Sky Islands

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Yuma Desert

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Sierra Madre Occidental pine-oak forests subtropical coniferous forest ecoregion of the Sierra Madre Occidental range

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East Potrillo Mountains

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West Potrillo Mountains mountain range in south central Doña Ana County, New Mexico, United States

The West Potrillo Mountains are a mountain range in south central Doña Ana County, New Mexico, United States. They are located approximately 40 miles (65 km) northwest of El Paso, Texas, 25 miles (40 km) southwest of Las Cruces, New Mexico, and 35 miles (55 km) southeast of Deming, New Mexico Most of the mountains are located on land managed by the Bureau of Land Management as part of the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument. Access to the vicinity is through Doña Ana County Road B-4 South from NM 549, which may be accessed from Interstate 10 Exit 116.

Yellow-nosed cotton rat species of mammal

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Tamaulipan mezquital

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The Sierra San Antonio is a mountain range in southernmost Arizona state (U.S.) and northern Sonora state (México).

<i>Yucca</i> × <i>schottii</i> species of plant

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The Reserva Ecológica Municipal Sierra y Cañón de Jimulco is a protected area in Torreon, Coahuila, Mexico. Jimulco has a high mountain range of over 10,000 ft, a riparian area formed by the Aguanaval River, an endorrheic basin and an extensive valley with the characteristic flora and fauna of the Chihuahuan Desert.

Echinocereus chisoensis is a rare North American species of cactus known by the common name Chisos Mountain hedgehog cactus, native to the Chihuahuan Desert of northern Mexico and the south-central United States.

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Beach Mountains mountain range in Texas, United States of America

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  1. Wright, John W., ed. (2006). The New York Times Almanac (2007 ed.). New York, New York: Penguin Books. p. 456. ISBN   0-14-303820-6.
  2. 1 2 "Chihuahuan desert". Terrestrial Ecoregions. World Wildlife Fund. Retrieved 2010-10-22.
  3. "Lobos of the Southwest". Mexican Wolves. Retrieved 20 December 2017.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 "The Chihuahuan Desert". New Mexico State University. Archived from the original on December 27, 2012. Retrieved February 16, 2013.
  5. 1 2 3 "Chihuahuan Desert". National Park Service. Retrieved February 16, 2013.
  6. 1 2 "Chihuahuan Desert". Encyclopedia of Earth. Retrieved February 16, 2013.
  7. Chihuahuan Climate Archived September 6, 2006, at the Wayback Machine , Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute