Great Salt Lake Desert

Last updated
Great Salt Lake Desert
The desert's white salt is depicted in Utah's northwest.
Area4,000 sq mi (10,000 km2)
Country United States
State Utah
Borders on Cedar Mountains, Silver Island,
Hogup, Newfoundland Mountains,
& Lakeside Range

West (NV): Pilot Range.
Coordinates 40°40′N113°40′W / 40.67°N 113.67°W / 40.67; -113.67

The Great Salt Lake Desert (colloquially referred to as the West Desert) is a large dry lake in northern Utah, United States, between the Great Salt Lake and the Nevada border. It is a subregion of the larger Great Basin Desert, and noted for white evaporite Lake Bonneville salt deposits including the Bonneville Salt Flats. [1]



Middle Spring in the Fish Springs National Wildlife Refuge at the northeast corner of the Fish Springs Range MiddleSpring.JPG
Middle Spring in the Fish Springs National Wildlife Refuge at the northeast corner of the Fish Springs Range

Several small mountain ranges occupy the edges of the desert, such as the Cedar Mountains, Lakeside Mountains, Silver Island Mountains, Hogup Mountains, Grassy Mountains, and Newfoundland Mountains. On the western edge of the desert, just across the border in Nevada, stands Pilot Peak in the Pilot Range.

The desert is cool during the winter and includes unusual plants adapted to the dry conditions. Most of the desert receives less than 8 inches (200 mm) of annual precipitation. [2] The salt crust covering the desert reforms yearly when the rain evaporates. The military's Utah Test and Training Range is in the northern portion of the desert. The lowest part of Juab County is located just south of the Dugway Proving Grounds, about 1.5 miles (2.4 km) northwest of the northwest corner of the Fish Springs Range. [3]


View of the desert from an airplane 2015-11-03 07 22 33 View south across the Utah Test Range in the Great Salt Lake Desert, Utah from an airplane flying from Reno, Nevada to Salt Lake City, Utah.jpg
View of the desert from an airplane

During Jedediah Smith's 1826-27 expedition, Robert Evans nearly died while crossing the desert [4] and in the 1840s, westward emigrants used the Hastings Cutoff through 130 miles (210 km) of Great Salt Lake desert to reduce the distance to California. The 1846 Donner Party's difficulties in making the crossing contributed to their becoming snowbound in the Sierra Nevada. Howard Stansbury explored the desert in 1849. [5] In 1956, I-80 replaced the Wendover Cut-off across the desert, including a straight east-west section for ~50 miles (80 km) between the Cedar Mountains to the east and Wendover on the Utah/Nevada border. Following a railway completed across the desert's Bonneville Salt Flats in 1910, the flats were first used as a speedway in 1914. The world records for highest land speeds are regularly broken here.

Recent discoveries

In July 2022, archaeologists discovered about 88 footprints had been left behind by humans at least 12,000 years ago using ground-penetrating radar (GPR). So-called 'Ghost tracks' by archaeologists, footprints absorb moisture and are only visible when it rains and disappear when dry. [6] [7]


The Great Salt Lake Desert experiences a desert climate with hot summers and cold winters. The desert is an excellent example of a cold desert climate. The desert's elevation, 4,250 feet above sea level, makes temperatures cooler than lower elevation deserts, such as the Mojave. Due to the high elevation and aridity, temperatures drop sharply after sunset. Summer nights are comfortably cool. Winter highs are generally above freezing, and winter nights are bitterly cold, with temperatures often dropping below freezing.

Climate data for Knolls, Great Salt Lake Desert, Utah. (Elevation 4,250ft)
Record high °F (°C)63
Average high °F (°C)36.5
Average low °F (°C)16.9
Record low °F (°C)−16
Average precipitation inches (mm)0.61
Average snowfall inches (cm)0.3
Source: The Western Regional Climate Center [2]
Great Salt Lake Desert as seen from Pilot Peak 2014-06-29 16 44 42 Panorama of the Great Salt Lake Desert from Pilot Peak, Nevada.JPG
Great Salt Lake Desert as seen from Pilot Peak

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tooele County, Utah</span> County in Utah, United States

Tooele County is a county in the U.S. state of Utah. As of the 2010 United States Census, the population was 58,218. Its county seat and largest city is Tooele. The county was created in 1850 and organized the following year.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Great Basin</span> Large depression in western North America

The Great Basin is the largest area of contiguous endorheic watersheds, those with no outlets, in North America. It spans nearly all of Nevada, much of Utah, and portions of California, Idaho, Oregon, Wyoming, and Baja California. It is noted for both its arid climate and the basin and range topography that varies from the North American low point at Badwater Basin in Death Valley to the highest point of the contiguous United States, less than 100 miles (160 km) away at the summit of Mount Whitney. The region spans several physiographic divisions, biomes, ecoregions, and deserts.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mojave Desert</span> Desert in the southwestern United States

The Mojave Desert is a desert in the rain shadow of the southern Sierra Nevada mountains and Transverse Ranges in the Southwestern United States. It is named for the indigenous Mojave people. It is located primarily in southeastern California and southwestern Nevada, with small portions extending into Arizona and Utah.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Great Basin Desert</span> Desert in the western United States

The Great Basin Desert is part of the Great Basin between the Sierra Nevada and the Wasatch Range. The desert is a geographical region that largely overlaps the Great Basin shrub steppe defined by the World Wildlife Fund, and the Central Basin and Range ecoregion defined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and United States Geological Survey. It is a temperate desert with hot, dry summers and snowy winters. The desert spans large portions of Nevada and Utah, and extends into eastern California. The desert is one of the four biologically defined deserts in North America, in addition to the Mojave, Sonoran, and Chihuahuan Deserts.

The climate of Salt Lake City, Utah features cold and snowy winters, hot and dry summers, and modest to light seasonal rainfall. Lying in the Salt Lake Valley, the city is surrounded by mountains and the Great Salt Lake. Under the Köppen climate classification, Salt Lake City has either a Mediterranean climate (Csa) or dry-summer continental climate (Dsa) depending on which variant of the system is used, though it borders on a cold semi-arid climate (BSk) due to the city's relatively low precipitation.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Wendover Cut-off</span> Highway in Utah

The Wendover Cut-off, also called the Wendover Road or Wendover Route, is a two-lane highway in the western part of Tooele County in the U.S. state of Utah. Stretching 40.3 miles (64.9 km) from Wendover to Knolls across the Bonneville Salt Flats, a part of the Great Salt Lake Desert, the cut-off was once part of the primary link between the Nevada state line and Salt Lake City. In 2012, between 240 and 250 vehicles used the cut-off near its western terminus in Wendover on an average day.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Climate of the United States</span> Varies due to changes in latitude, and a range of geographic features

The climate of the United States varies due to changes in latitude, and a range of geographic features, including mountains and deserts. Generally, on the mainland, the climate of the U.S. becomes warmer the further south one travels, and drier the further west, until one reaches the West Coast.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Geography of Utah</span> Overview of the Geography of Utah

The landlocked U.S. state of Utah is known for its natural diversity and is home to features ranging from arid deserts with sand dunes to thriving pine forests in mountain valleys. It is a rugged and geographically diverse state at the convergence of three distinct geological regions: the Rocky Mountains, the Great Basin, and the Colorado Plateau.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Silver Island Range</span>

The Silver Island Range, also called the Silver Island Mountains, is a mountain range in Utah, United States, situated the northwest corner of Tooele County and the southwest corner of Box Elder County, about 15 miles (24 km) northeast of Wendover.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mountain states</span> Region of the United States

The Mountain states form one of the nine geographic divisions of the United States that are officially recognized by the United States Census Bureau. It is a subregion of the Western United States.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Dugway Range</span>

The Dugway Range is a 13-mile (21 km) long mountain range located in central-south Tooele County, Utah, on the Juab County north border.

Knolls is an unincorporated community in north-central Tooele County, Utah, United States.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tetzlaff Peak</span>

Tetzlaff Peak is a 6,267-foot elevation (1,910 m) mountain summit located in Tooele County, Utah, United States.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Rishel Peak</span>

Rishel Peak is a 6,212-foot elevation (1,893 m) mountain summit located in Tooele County, Utah, United States.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Jenkins Peak</span>

Jenkins Peak is a 7,268-foot elevation (2,215 m) mountain summit located in Tooele County, Utah, United States.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Volcano Peak (Utah)</span> Mountain summit in Tooele County, Utah, US

Volcano Peak is a 6,011-foot elevation (1,832 m) mountain summit located in Tooele County, Utah, United States.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Graham Peak (Utah)</span>

Graham Peak is a 7,563-foot elevation (2,305 m) mountain summit located in Tooele County, Utah, United States.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Cobb Peak (Utah)</span>

Cobb Peak is a 7,021-foot elevation (2,140 m) mountain summit located in Tooele County, Utah, United States.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Haystack Peak</span>

Haystack Peak is a 12,020-foot elevation (3,664 m) mountain summit located in Juab County, Utah, United States.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tipton Peak</span>

Tipton Peak is a 10,941-foot elevation (3,335 m) summit located in Elko County, Nevada, United States.


  1. U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: Great Salt Lake Desert
  2. 1 2 "Seasonal Temperature and Precipitation Information". Western Regional Climate Center. Retrieved 24 Mar 2013.
  3. Nash, Fred J (2008). Utah's Low Points: A guide to the Lowest Points in Utah's 29 Counties. pp. 114–122. ISBN   978-0-87480-932-9.
  4. Smith, Jedediah Strong. "Diary of Jedediah Strong Smith: The Crossing of the Great Salt Lake Desert". Retrieved 26 Dec 2016.
  5. Tea, Roy D. "The Great Salt Lake Desert". Retrieved 26 Dec 2016.
  6. Harry Baker (2022-08-02). "'Ghost footprints' left by ancient hunter-gatherers discovered in Utah desert". Retrieved 2022-08-15.
  7. "An ancient footprint ghost track that appears only after it rains is discovered". GIGAZINE. Retrieved 2022-08-15.