15 Fun Facts About The Mojave Desert

This is one of the driest places on the planet which translates into an extremely desolate landscape.

In this post, you’ll discover the ultimate list of facts about the Mojave Desert, one of the most amazing deserts in the world!

1. The desert is located in 4 states of the USA

The Mojave Desert is an extremely dry area mostly consisting of a desolate landscape located in the southwestern part of the United States. It covers large areas of California and Nevada.

It also covers smaller areas of the U.S. states of Utah and Arizona, meaning it’s located within the borders of 4 U.S. states in total.

Facts about the Mojave Desert

2. It’s the smallest desert in North America

One of the most interesting facts about the Mojave Desert is that it covers a total area of just 47,877 square miles (124,000 square kilometers)

This makes it the smallest desert in North America!

Mojave Desert landscape

3. It got its name from the Mojave People

The desert is referred to as either the “Mojave,” originating from Spanish, or “Mohave,” in English. The name is derived from a Native American tribe referred to as the “Mojave People” who used to live in the desert.

The Mojave People used to refer to the area as the “Hamakhaave” which translates to “beside the water.” This word was then eventually shortened to “Mojave.”

Mojave Desert in the morning

4. It’s bordered by other deserts and mountain ranges

The Mojave desert is bordered by two other famous North American Deserts, the Great Basin Desert to the north, which is higher in elevation on average, and the Sonoran Desert to the south and east, which is generally lower in elevation.

It’s also bordered by several famous mountain ranges, including:

  • The Tehachapi Mountains to the west.
  • The Sierra Pelona Ridge to the west.
  • The Sierra Nevada to the northwest.
  • The Inyo Mountains to the northwest
  • The San Gabriel Mountains to the south.
  • The San Bernardino Mountains to the south.

The boundary of the mountain ranges is quite distinct because these mountains were created by the two major fault lines in California, which are the San Andreas and Garlock fault lines.

Mojave Desert Red Rock Canyon

5. A particular tree species marks its boundaries as well

Very few pants and trees can survive in the extremely arid conditions of the desert, but there’s one type of plant that seems to thrive here. This tree is referred to as the “Joshua Tree” (Yucca brevifolia) and is endemic to the Mojave Desert.

One of the most remarkable facts about the Mojave Desert is that the presence of Joshua Trees also clearly indicates the boundaries of it as this remarkable plant doesn’t grow anywhere else!

Joshua Tree Mojave Desert

6. It’s home to the most famous valley in the United States

Arguably the most famous valley in the United State is referred to as “Death Valley,” and it didn’t get this name for no reason. It’s by far the hottest place in North America as temperatures often rise over 120 °F (49 °C) between June and August.

The main reason this area is so hot is that it’s also the lowest place in North America with an elevation of 282 feet (85.5 meters) below sea level.

Death Valley is part of the Death Valley National Park, a popular tourist destination within the Mojave Desert which welcomes over 1.6 million people every year.

Mojave Desert death valley road

7. most of the Mojave Desert is referred to as the “High Desert”

Even though Death Valley is the lowest point in North America, most parts of the desert are located at an elevation of between 2,000 and 5,000 feet (610 and 1,520 meters).

This area is referred to as the “High Desert” while the valleys and the Colorado River basin in the east of the desert are referred to as the “Low Desert.”

Joshua trees area in the Mojave Desert

8. The difference in elevation is enormous as well

The Badwater Salt pan is the lowest area in Death Valley with an elevation of 282 feet (85.5 meters) below sea level.

This is in sheer contrast with the highest peak in the Mojave Desert, called Charleston Peak, which is located at 11,918 feet (3,633 meters) above sea level.

Badwater salt pan

9. The range of temperatures in the desert varies immensely

This also means that the range in temperatures differs a lot based on the elevation levels. The record temperature in the Badwater Salt Pan reaches 134 °F (57 °C).

The peaks in the mountains can be covered in snow during the winter months while the temperature in the valleys never goes below 80 °F (27 °C).

Snow on top of Charleston Peak in the Mojave Desert
Snow on Charleston Peak / Dicklyon / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0

10. This is why The Mojave Desert is extremely dry

One of the most fascinating weather phenomena, partially caused by the arid air of the Mojave Desert, are thunderstorms referred to as the “North American Monsoon.” The low humidity of the desert attracts moisture from the Gulf of Mexico resulting in massive thunderstorms.

Most of the rain from these storms doesn’t go past the Sonoran Desert though. The reason why the Mojave Desert receives less than 2 inches (51 millimeters) of rain a year is because it’s a “shadow-rain desert.” The mountain ranges block the rain from passing and cast a shadow of dryness and the other side.

That’s why the Mojave Desert is the driest in North America!

Dry area in Mojave Desert

11. There are some major cities located on the edge of the desert

One of the most fascinating facts about the Mojave Desert is that despite its extremely arid climate and desolate landscape, the population within the borders of the desert is growing exponentially.

Granted, most of the big cities are located on the edge of the desert as the center of the desert is only sparsely inhabited. Some of the biggest urban areas in the desert include:

  • Las Vegas in Nevada
  • St. George in Utah
  • Lancaster in California

Part of the Greater Los Angeles metropolitan area is also located within the borders of the Mojave Desert and about 850,000 people live there as well.

Las Vegas, the famous gambling and entertainment center in Nevada, is the largest metropolitan area within the desert with a population of nearly 2.5 million!

Las Vegas in the Mojave Desert
Las Vegas in the desert / Source

12. The Mojave Desert also features several “Ghost Towns”

While there are a large number of smaller towns that have seen exponential growth as well, including but not limited to Helendale, Lake Havasu City, Kingman, Laughlin, Bullhead City, and Pahrump, some towns have been completely abandoned.

These towns are referred to as “Ghost Towns” and have now become tourist attractions. Some of these include Oatman in Arizona and Calico and Kelso in California.

Calico and Oatman are abandoned mining towns while Kelso featured an old railway depot.

Calico Ghost Town Mojave Desert
Calico Ghost Town / Mistoffeles / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/

13. One of its most amazing features is called the “Devils Playground”

Apart from Death Valley, this desert also features another amazing feat of nature referred to as the “Devils Playground.” This area consists of over 40 miles (64 kilometers) of dunes and salt flats.

This fascinating area is part of the Mojave National Preserve and is located near the town of Baker, California.

Devil's Playground in the Mojave Desert

14. It’s home to the world’s largest thermometer

Also in the town of Baker, California, along Interstate 15, you can admire another interesting tourist attraction referred to as the “World’s Largest Thermometer.”

This massive thermometer stands 134 feet (41 meters) tall and was constructed in 1991 to honor the world-record temperature of 134 °F (57 °C), measured on July 10, 1913, in Death Valley.

The height is a reference to the temperature measured then, as well as the maximum temperature it can display.

The world's largest thermometer in Baker California
The world’s largest thermometer / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en

15. The Mojave Desert is a very popular tourist spot

Apart from indulging in the entertainment industry of Las Vegas, there are plenty of other things to do in the desert. There are various National Parks, including the Death Valley National Park, Joshua Tree National Park, and the Mojave National Preserve.

There’s even an option to enjoy water sports in a couple of man-made lakes, including Lake Mead, Mohave, and Havasu.

One of the most impressive man-made structures located within the Mojave Desert is Hoover Dam, a huge dam on the Colorado River built in the 1930s and considered to be one of the 7 wonders of the Industrial World.

Hoover Dam
Hoover Dam / Wiki Commons