Chihuahuan Desert

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]

Chihuahuan Desert
Chihuahuan Desert
The Chihuahuan Desert in West Texas
Chihuahuan Desert map
Length1,280 km (800 mi)
Width4,400 km (2,700 mi)
Area362,600 km2 (140,000 sq mi)
CountryMexico and the United States
State/ProvinceNorth America
Coordinates30°32′26″N 103°50′14″W / 30.54056°N 103.83722°WCoordinates: 30°32′26″N 103°50′14″W / 30.54056°N 103.83722°W


Chihuahuan Desert from South Rim BIBE
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.

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.

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]


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]


Antelope, Otero Mesa NM
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.

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]


Creosote Larrea tridentata

Young creosote bush (Larrea tridentata)

VanHornTX 2008

Yucca, creosote, and mesquite typify the plants in the Chihuahuan Desert

Agave lechuguilla habitus

Lechuguilla (Agave lechuguilla)—one of the indicator plants of the Chihuahuan Desert

See also


  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. ^ a b "Chihuahuan desert". Terrestrial Ecoregions. World Wildlife Fund. Retrieved 2010-10-22.
  3. ^ "Lobos of the Southwest". Mexican Wolves. Retrieved 20 December 2017.
  4. ^ a b c d e "The Chihuahuan Desert". New Mexico State University. Archived from the original on December 27, 2012. Retrieved February 16, 2013.
  5. ^ a b c "Chihuahuan Desert". National Park Service. Retrieved February 16, 2013.
  6. ^ a b "Chihuahuan Desert". Encyclopedia of Earth. Retrieved February 16, 2013.
  7. ^ Chihuahuan Climate Archived September 6, 2006, at the Wayback Machine, Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute

External links

Alamo Hueco Mountains

The Alamo Hueco Mountains are a 15-mile (24 km) long mountain range, located in the southeast of the New Mexico Bootheel region, southeast Hidalgo County, New Mexico, adjacent the border of Chihuahua state, Mexico. The range lies near the southern end of the mountains bordering the extensive north-south Playas Valley; the Little Hatchet and Big Hatchet Mountains are adjacent, and mostly attached north; the mountain range series, ends south into the flatland plains of the Chihuahuan Desert. The much smaller Dog Mountains are adjacent south.

While the Continental Divide of the Americas traverses the western perimeter mountains of the Playas Valley, the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail traverses the entire mountain ranges on the east side of the Playas Valley; the Scenic Trail continues south into the Chihuahuan Desert region of northwest Chihuahua state.

Animas Valley

The Animas Valley is a lengthy and narrow, north-south 85-mi (137 km) long, valley located in western Hidalgo County, New Mexico in the Bootheel Region; the extreme south of the valley lies in Sonora-Chihuahua, in the extreme northwest of the Chihuahuan Desert, the large desert region of the north-central Mexican Plateau and the Rio Grande valley and river system.

The Continental Divide of the Americas forms the valley's eastern border in a series of mountain ranges. The parallel valley eastwards on the eastern side of the Continental Divide is the slightly shorter, but also long and narrow Playas Valley.

Westwards of the narrow, lengthy and divided Peloncillo Mountains, are the two valleys in Arizona, the San Simon and San Bernardino Valleys, both east of the massif of the Chiricahua Mountains and associated mountain ranges, which anchor the eastern half of Cochise County. Parts of this entire region with its mountain ridgelines, and mountaintops, and associated valleys are part of the sky island region called the Madrean Sky Islands of Arizona–New Mexico, and Sonora–Chihuahua, in the Sonoran and Chihuahuan Deserts.

Bolson tortoise

The Bolson tortoise (Gopherus flavomarginatus), also called the Mexican giant tortoise or yellow-margined tortoise, is a species of tortoise from North America. Of the six North American tortoise species, it is the largest, having a carapace length of about 46 cm (18 in). It lives in a region of the Chihuahuan Desert known as the Bolsón de Mapimí, which is located in north-central Mexico.

Broad-billed hummingbird

The broad-billed hummingbird (Cynanthus latirostris) is a medium-sized hummingbird of North America. It is 9–10 cm long, and weighs approximately three to four grams.

Centennial Museum and Chihuahuan Desert Gardens

The Centennial Museum and Chihuahuan Desert Gardens is a cultural history and natural history museum on the campus of the University of Texas at El Paso in El Paso, Texas, United States.

The museum was built during the 1936 Texas Centennial.

Chestnut-collared longspur

The chestnut-collared longspur (Calcarius ornatus) is a species of bird in the family Calcariidae. Like the other longspurs, it is a small ground-feeding bird that primarily eats seeds. It breeds in prairie habitats in Canada and the northern United States and winters to the south in the United States and Mexico.

Florida Mountains

The Florida Mountains are a small 12-mi (19 km) long, mountain range in New Mexico. The mountains lie in southern Luna County about 15 mi southeast of Deming, and 20 mi north of Chihuahua, Mexico; the range lies in the north of the Chihuahuan Desert region, and extreme southwestern New Mexico.

The Florida Mountains are east and adjacent to New Mexico State Road 11, the north-south route to Chihuahua; it becomes Highway 23 in Chihuahua and connects to Mexican Federal Highway 2, the major east-west route of the north Chihuahuan Desert adjacent the U.S.-Mexico border.

Fouquieria splendens

Fouquieria splendens (commonly known as ocotillo American Spanish: [okoˈtiʝo], but also referred to as coachwhip, candlewood, slimwood, desert coral, Jacob's staff, Jacob cactus, and vine cactus) is a plant indigenous to the Sonoran Desert and Chihuahuan Desert in the Southwestern United States (southern California, southern Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas), and northern Mexico (as far south as Hidalgo and Guerrero).Ocotillo is not a true cactus. For much of the year, the plant appears to be an arrangement of large spiny dead sticks, although closer examination reveals that the stems are partly green. With rainfall, the plant quickly becomes lush with small (2–4 cm), ovate leaves, which may remain for weeks or even months.

Individual stems may reach a diameter of 5 cm at the base, and the plant may grow to a height of 10 m (33 ft). The plant branches very heavily at its base, but above that, the branches are pole-like and rarely divide further, and specimens in cultivation may not exhibit any secondary branches. The leaf stalks harden into blunt spines, and new leaves sprout from the base of the spine.

The bright crimson flowers appear especially after rainfall in spring, summer, and occasionally fall. Flowers are clustered indeterminately at the tips of each mature stem. Individual flowers are mildly zygomorphic and are pollinated by hummingbirds and native carpenter bees.

Juniperus coahuilensis

Juniperus coahuilensis, commonly known as redberry juniper, is a species of conifer in the family Cupressaceae.

Las Cienegas National Conservation Area

The Las Cienegas National Conservation Area is a National Conservation Area of Arizona, located in the transitional zone between the Sonoran Desert and the Chihuahuan Desert.

Living Desert Zoo and Gardens State Park

The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens State Park, formerly the Living Desert Zoological and Botanical State Park, is a zoo and botanical garden displaying plants and animals of the Chihuahuan Desert in their native habitats. It is located off U.S. Route 285 at the north edge of Carlsbad, New Mexico, at an elevation of 3,200 feet (980 m) atop the Ocotillo Hills overlooking the city and the Pecos River. It is open every day except Christmas.

The park has been an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) since 2002.

Mexican Federal Highway 10

Federal Highway 10 (Spanish: Carretera Federal 10, Fed. 10 ) is a free part of the federal highways corridors (Spanish: los corredores carreteros federales) of Mexico.It passes through the northern part of Chihuahua.

Fed. 10's northern terminus is in Janos, Chihuahua where it joins Fed. 2. It continues south to the city of Nuevo Casas Grandes, the main city in the region. Afterwards, it continues until Buenaventura where it changes its direction from north-west to south-east and east, passing through the town of Ricardo Flores Magon and joining Fed. 45 at El Sueco, Chihuahua.

Mexican Federal Highway 16

Federal Highway 16 (Spanish: Carretera Federal 16, Fed. 16) is a free part of the federal highways corridors (Spanish: los corredores carreteros federales) of Mexico.Fed. 16 runs west-east through the northern Sierra Madre Occidental cordillera.

Mexican Federal Highway 30

Federal Highway 30 (Spanish: Carretera Federal 30, Fed. 30) is a free part of the federal highways corridors (Spanish: los corredores carreteros federales). The highway starts in Torreón at Fed. 40 in the southwest and winds across the central Mexican Plateau, following a roughly northeasterly direction. The highway eventually ends to the northeast in Monclova, Coahuila at Fed. 57. The total length of Fed. 30 is 351.0 km (218.1 mi).

The main Fed. 30 trunk runs from Torreón to Monclova at a length of 332.3 km (206.5 mi). At San Pedro de las Colonias, an additional 18.7 km (11.6 mi) spur reconnects Fed. 30 with Fed. 40 in La Cuchilla, Coahuila.

Mexican Federal Highway 45

Federal Highway 45 (La Carretera Federal 45) (Fed. 45) is the free (libre) part of the federal highways corridors (los corredores carreteros federales), and connects Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua through the Chihuahuan Desert to Panales, Hidalgo.It is operated under the management of the Secretariat of Communications and Transportation. Custody is the responsibility of "The Federal Highway Police", which in turn is part of the Federal Police (Mexico) (PF). Fed. 45 is part of the Pan-American Highway.

Mexican Federal Highway 49

Federal Highway 49 ( La Carretera Federal 49 ) (Fed. 49) is a free (libre) part of the federal highways corridors () of Mexico. The highway runs northwest-southeast in the western regions of the Mexican Plateau.

Fed. 49 has two separate improved segments: The first segment runs from Ciudad Jiménez, Chihuahua to just northwest of Fresnillo, Zacatecas. The highway is co-signed with Fed. 40 for 104.6 km (65 mi) from Gómez Palacio to Cuencamé.The second segment runs from Las Arcinas, Zacatecas to San Luis Potosí, San Luis Potosí.


Lophophora williamsii () or peyote () is a small, spineless cactus with psychoactive alkaloids, particularly mescaline. Peyote is a Spanish word derived from the Nahuatl, or Aztec, peyōtl [ˈpejoːt͡ɬ], meaning "glisten" or "glistening". Other sources translate the Nahuatl word as "Divine Messenger". Peyote is native to Mexico and southwestern Texas. It is found primarily in the Chihuahuan Desert and in the states of Coahuila, Nuevo León, Tamaulipas, and San Luis Potosí among scrub. It flowers from March to May, and sometimes as late as September. The flowers are pink, with thigmotactic anthers (like Opuntia).

Known for its psychoactive properties when ingested, peyote is used worldwide, having a long history of ritualistic and medicinal use by indigenous North Americans. Peyote contains the hallucinogen mescaline.

Rio Conchos

The Río Conchos (Conchos River) is a large river in the Mexican state of Chihuahua. It joins the Río Bravo del Norte (known in the United States as the Rio Grande) at the town of Ojinaga, Chihuahua.

Yucca elata

Yucca elata is a perennial plant, with common names that include soaptree, soaptree yucca, soapweed, and palmella. It is native to southwestern North America, in the Sonoran Desert and Chihuahuan Desert in the United States (western Texas, New Mexico, Arizona), southern Nevada, southwestern Utah, and northern Mexico (Chihuahua, Coahuila, Sonora, Nuevo León).

North America
South America
Polar Regions

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