14 Fun Facts About The Sonoran Desert

Did you know that this desert contains some of the world’s most unique plants which thrive in its harsh conditions?

In this post, you’ll discover the ultimate list of facts about the Sonoran Desert, one of the most iconic deserts on the planet!

1. This desert is located in 2 countries and 5 states

The Sonoran Desert is one of the most famous deserts in North America and is located within the boundaries of both Mexico and the United States.

It’s located within the southwestern US states of California and Arizona, and the northwestern Mexican states of Sonora, Baja California, and Baja California Sur.

facts about the Sonora Desert
The desert / ΙΣΧΣΝΙΚΑ-888 / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en

2. The Sonoran Desert covers an immense area

This desert is the hottest in all of Mexico and covers an immense area of about 260,000 square kilometers (100,000 square miles).

This means that it would only just fit in the entire area of California and Arizona combined!

3. It’s bounded by mountain ranges, forests, and other deserts

To the west, it’s bounded by the so-called “Peninsular Ranges,” a group of mountain ranges that stretch over 1,500 kilometers (930 miles) from the south of California all the way to the southern tip of the Baja California Peninsula.

To the north and northeast, the desert is bounded by the Mojave Desert and Colorado Plateau Desert, as well as the Great Basin. To the east and southeast, it’s bounded by the Arizona Mountains forests and the peaks of the Sierra Madre.

Finally, to the south it transitions into the “Sonoran–Sinaloan subtropical dry forest,” a specific ecoregion in the northwest of Mexico.

fun sonoran desert facts
Desert landscape / Rennett Stow / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en

4. The desert has been divided into 5 to 7 distinct regions

One of the most remarkable facts about the Sonoran Desert is that it consists of multiple sub-region deserts, each with its own characteristics, especially related to vegetation.

A book published in 1957 by Forrest Shreve named “Vegetation of the Sonoran Desert” divided 7 distinct sub-regions. These were:

  • Lower Colorado Valley
  • Arizona Upland
  • Plains of Sonora
  • Foothills of Sonora
  • Central Gulf Coast
  • Vizcaíno Region
  • Magdalena Region

Today, the Vizcaíno and Magdalena regions are considered to be a separate desert on the Baja California Peninsula called the “Baja California Desert.”

The distinct sub-regions recognized today are:

  • Colorado Desert
  • Gran Desierto de Altar
  • Lechuguilla Desert
  • Tonopah Desert
  • Yuha Desert
  • Yuma Desert
Sonoran desert landscape
Desert landscape / Wiki Commons

5. It features a unique type of dune in North America

Within the Gran Desierto de Altar, which is located in the southern Sonoran Desert in Mexico, lies a national park named the “Reserva de la Biosfera el Pinacate (“Pinacate National Park”). This park consists of 2,000 square kilometers (770 square miles) of desert and mountainous regions.

The most famous feature of this park is that it contains the only active erg dune region in North America, a flat area of desert with swept-up sand and very little vegetation.

This area looks like the vision we have of a real desert, a truly remarkable sight!

Sonoran desert dunes
The dunes / Gcorpart / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en

6. A large variety of animals live in the Sonoran Desert

One of the most interesting facts about the Sonoran Desert is that even though the climate is extremely harsh, a huge number of animals not only survive but actually thrive in these conditions.

The desert is home to:

  • 350 bird species
  • 20 amphibian species
  • 100 reptile species
  • 30 native fish species
  • 1000 native bee species

Quite remarkable that so many animal species can survive in such a landscape, don’t you think?

Sonoran desert landscape
The desert’s landscape / $1LENCE D00600D / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en

7. It’s home to the only Jaguar population in the United States

One of the most fascinating facts about the Sonoran Desert is that it’s home to the only surviving wild jaguar population in the United States. The home of these huge cats is located southeast of the city of Tuscon in Arizona near the Mexican border.

This wasn’t always the case though because jaguars also used to live in the Colorado River Delta, but extensive damming has resulted in the jaguars moving further south.

jaguar sonoran desert

8. The desert is world-famous for its cactus species

The Sonoran Desert is world-famous for the numerous types of cacti that grow in it, especially the famous saguaro cactus which only grows here. This tree-like cactus can grow up to 12 meters (40 feet) tall!

Other special types of cacti that grow here are the:

  • Cholla (Cylindropuntia)
  • Beavertail (Opuntia basilaris)
  • Hedgehog (Echinocereus spp.)
  • Fishhook (Ferocactus wislizeni)
  • Prickly pear (Opuntia spp.)
  • Nightblooming cereus (Peniocereus spp.)
  • Organ pipe (Stenocereus thurberi)
Saguero Cactus
Saguero Cactus / WClarke / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0

9. It has the most types of plant species of any desert in the world

Cacti aren’t the only plants that grow in this part of the world as the Sonoran desert is home to over 2,000 different types of plants, based on the landscape and climate of the desert. This is the highest number of plants growing in any desert in the world and is mainly caused by the bi-seasonal rainfall.

These can be various types of flowers such as the desert sunflower and evening primrose, as well as various types of trees such as the desert ironwood and velvet mesquite.

Yes, that’s right, in some areas the Sonoran Desert looks pretty colorful!

sonoran desert flowers
Desert flowers / John Fowler / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en

10. A particular type of fly needs rotting cactus to breed

The Drosophila metlerri, better known as the “Sonoran Desert Fly,” actually managed to find a way to survive the Sonoran Desert by using rotting cacti. It’s able to detoxify the liquid spilled by rotting cacti and uses this soil to breed.

One of the most astounding facts about the Sonoran Desert is that for any other type of insect, this soil would be lethal, but the larvae of this particular type of fly manage to get nutrients from it.

organ pipe cactus
Organ Pipe Cactus. / Pixabay

11. The only native palm tree in California grows here

Alongside the oasis in the Colorado Desert, one of the sections of the Sonoran Desert grows the only native palm in California.

This palm is called the California fan palm (Washingtonia filifera) and grows up to 15 to 20 meters (49 to 66 feet) tall and 3 to 6 meters (10 to 20 feet) wide.

California fan palm
California fan palms / Stan Shebs / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0

12. Several large cities are located in the Sonoran Desert

Over a dozen Native American tribes live in various parts of the desert in both settlements in reservations in the United States as well as Mexico.

There are also large cities located inside the desert on both sides of the border such as:

  • Phoenix, Arizona – population of 4.7 million
  • Tuscon, Arizona – Population of over 1 million
  • Mexicali, Baja California – Population of 900,000
  • Ciudad Obregón, Sonora – Population of 700,000
  • Hermosillo, Sonora – Population of 400,000
Downtown phoenix
Downtown Phoenix / Melikamp / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en

13. Some areas of the desert have a very enjoyable climate

One of the most amazing facts about the Sonora Desert is that some areas such as the Coachella Valley are actually the perfect places for resort cities. That’s why cities like Palm Springs and Palm Desert have emerged here and are thriving!

The average temperature in the winter months is about 70 °F (21 °C) to 90 °F (32 °C) and the warm temperature make it the perfect place to grow citrus trees and other tropical fruits as well.

Palm springs
Palm Springs. / Pixabay

14. Several popular tourist attractions and parks are located here

The Sonoran Desert has numerous tourist attractions which include various nature parks and botanical gardens. Some of these include:

  • Arizona–Sonora Desert Museum
  • Sonoran Desert National Monument
  • Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park
  • Coachella Valley National Wildlife Refuge
  • Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument
Sonoran Desert sunset
Sonoran Desert sunset / Tomas Castelazo / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en