Mojave Desert

Mojave Desert

Mojave or Mohave Desert, c.15,000 sq mi (38,850 sq km), region of low, barren mountains and flat valleys, 2,000 to 5,000 ft (610-1,524 m) high, S Calif.; part of the Great Basin of the United States. It is bordered on the N and W by the Sierra Nevada and the Tehachapi, San Gabriel, and San Bernardino mts. and merges with the Colorado Desert (part of the Sonoran Desert) in the southeast. Once a part of an ancient interior sea, the desert was formed by volcanic action (lava surfaces with cinder cones are present) and by material deposited by the Colorado River.

The temperature is uniformly warm throughout the year, although there is a wide variation from day to night. Strong, dry winds blow in the afternoon and evening. Located in the rain shadow of the Coast Ranges, the Mojave receives an average annual rainfall of 5 in. (12.7 cm), mostly in winter. Juniper and Joshua trees are found on the higher, outer mountain slopes; desert-type vegetation and numerous intermittent lakes and streams are present in the valleys. The Mojave River is the largest stream. Minerals found in the desert include borax and other salines, gold, silver, and iron.

Military installations were established in the Mojave during World War II; Edwards Air Force Base is perhaps the best known. Northwest of Edwards, on the western edge of the desert, is Mojave Air and Space Port, a civilian test facility and aircraft storage center. Further north and northeast is the U.S. Navy's China Lake weapons testing facility, which is also the site of the Coso Petroglyphs, the largest collection of ancient rock art in the Americas. About 1,450,000 acres (587,250 hectares) of the desert are protected in Mojave National Preserve. Death Valley National Park and Joshua Tree National Park are also located in the region.

See E. C. Jaeger, The California Deserts (4th ed. 1965); M. Q. Sutton, Papers on the Archaeology of the Mojave Desert (1987).

For the indigenous American tribe, see Mohave.

The Mojave Desert (or /məˈhɑːvi/), (Hayikwiir Mat'aar in Mojave), locally referred to as the High Desert, occupies a significant portion of southern California and smaller parts of central California, southwestern Utah, southern Nevada, and northwestern Arizona, in the United States. Named after the Mohave tribe of Native Americans, it occupies well over in a typical Basin and Range topography.

The Mojave Desert's boundaries are generally defined by the presence of Joshua Trees — they are considered an indicator species for the desert. The topographical boundaries include the Tehachapi together with the San Gabriel and San Bernardino mountain ranges. The mountain boundaries are quite distinct since they are outlined by the two largest faults in California: the San Andreas and the Garlock. The Great Basin shrub steppe lies to the north; the warmer Sonoran Desert (the Low Desert) lies to the south and east. The desert is believed to support between 1,750 and 2,000 species of plants.


The Mojave Desert receives less than 10 inches (250 mm) of rain a year and is generally between 3,000 and 6,000 feet (1,000 and 2,000 m) in elevation. The Mojave Desert also contains the Mojave National Preserve, as well as the lowest and hottest place in North America: Death Valley, where the temperature normally approaches 120°F (49°C) in late July and early August. Zion National Park, in Utah, lies at the junction of the Mojave, the Great Basin, and the Colorado Plateau. Despite its aridity, the Mojave (and particularly the Antelope Valley in its southwest) has long been a center of alfalfa production, fed by irrigation coming from groundwater and (in the 20th century) from the California Aqueduct.

The Mojave is a desert of temperature extremes and four distinct seasons. Winter months bring temperatures dipping to below 20 °F (-7 °C) on valley floors, and below 0 °F (-18 °C) at higher elevations. Storms moving from the Pacific Northwest can bring rain and snow across the region — more often, the rain shadow created by the Sierra Nevada as well as mountain ranges within the desert such as the Spring Mountains bring only clouds and wind. In longer periods between storm systems, winter temperatures in valleys can approach 80 °F (27 °C).

Spring weather continues to be influenced by Pacific storms, but rainfall is more widespread and occurs less frequently after April. By early June, it is rare for another Pacific storm to have a significant impact on the region's weather, and temperatures after mid-May are normally above 90 °F (32 °C) and frequently above 100 °F (38 °C).

Summer weather is dominated by heat — temperatures on valley floors can soar above 120 °F (49 °C) and above 130 °F (54 °C) at the lowest elevations — and the presence of the North American monsoon. Low humidity, high temperatures and low pressure draw in moisture from the Gulf of Mexico, creating thunderstorms across the desert southwest. While the Mojave does not get nearly the amount of rainfall that the Sonoran desert to the east receives, monsoonal moisture will create thunderstorms as far west as California's Central Valley from mid-June through early September.

Autumns are generally pleasant, with one to two Pacific storm systems creating regional rain events. October is one of the driest and sunniest months in the Mojave, and temperatures usually remain between 70 °F (21 °C) and 90 °F (32 °C) on the valley floors.

After temperature, wind is the most significant weather phenomenon in the Mojave. Across the region, windy days are common, and in areas near the transition between the Mojave and the California low valleys, including near Cajon Pass, Soledad Canyon and the Tehachapi areas. During the June Gloom, cooler air can be pushed out into the desert from Southern California; in Santa Ana wind events, hot air from the desert blows out into the Los Angeles basin and other coastal areas. Wind farms in these areas generate power from these winds.

The other major weather factor in the region is elevation. The highest peak within the Mojave is Charleston Peak at 11,918 feet (3,633 m), while Badwater in Death Valley is 282 feet (86 m) below sea level. Accordingly, temperatures and precipitation ranges wildly, in all seasons, across the region.

The Mojave Desert has not historically supported a fire regime because of low fuel loads and connectivity. However, in the last few decades, invasive annual plants (e.g., Bromus spp., Schismus spp., Brassica spp.) have facilitated fire, which has significantly altered many areas of the desert. At higher elevations, fire regimes are regular but infrequent.

Cities and regions

While the Mojave Desert itself is sparsely populated, it has increasingly become urbanized in recent years. Las Vegas, Nevada is the largest city in the Mojave, with a metropolitan population of around 1.9 million in 2006. Palmdale is the largest city in California in the desert, and over 850,000 people live in areas of the Mojave attached to the Greater Los Angeles metropolitan area, including Palmdale and Lancaster (referred to as the Antelope Valley); and Victorville and Hesperia (referred to as the Victor Valley) attached to the Inland Empire metropolitan area, the 14th largest in the nation. Smaller cities in the Mojave include St. George; Lake Havasu City; Kingman; Laughlin; Bullhead City; and Pahrump. All have experienced rapid population growth since 1990.

Towns with fewer than 30,000 people in the Mojave include Barstow, California; Rosamond, California; Needles, California; Ridgecrest, California; Mesquite, Nevada; Hurricane, Utah; Moapa Valley, Nevada; California City, California; Twentynine Palms, California; Joshua Tree, California; Pioneertown, California; and Mojave, California. The California portion of the desert also contains Edwards Air Force Base, the home of several past and current experimental aviation projects for the military.

The Mojave Desert contains a number of ghost towns, the most significant of these being the silver-mining town of Calico, California and the old railroad depot of Kelso. Some of the other ghost towns are of the more modern variety, created when U.S. Route 66 (and the lesser-known US Highway 91) were abandoned in favor of the Interstates. The Mojave Desert is crossed by major highways Interstate 15, Interstate 40, US Highway 395 and US Highway 95.

Other than the Colorado River on the eastern half of the Mojave, few long streams cross the desert. The Mojave River is an important source of water for the southern parts of the desert. The Amargosa River flows from the Great Basin Desert south to near Beatty, Nevada, then underground through Ash Meadows before returning to the surface near Shoshone, California and ending in Death Valley.


The Mojave Desert is one of the most popular tourism spots in North America, primarily because of gambling destination Las Vegas. The desert is also known for its scenic beauty, with four national parks – Death Valley, Joshua Tree, Zion and Grand Canyon all within the desert or adjoining it. Lakes Mead, Mohave and Havasu provide watersport recreation, and vast off-road areas entice off-road enthusiasts. Hoover Dam is a popular tourist destination. Visitors get a chance to see the structure, the hydroelectric power plant, and hear the incredible history of the dam's construction during the Great Depression.

Besides the major national parks there are other areas of identified significance and tourist interest in the desert such as the Big Morongo Canyon Preserve, which spans the Mojave and Colorado Desert, and the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, west of Las Vegas, both of which are managed by the Bureau of Land Management. The BLM also administers Rainbow Basin and Owl Canyon, two off-the-beaten-path scenic attractions north of Barstow. For the ATV/motorcycle crowd, the BLM runs several massive OHV areas in the Mojave, including Stoddard Valley, Johnson Valley, Basin and Dumont Dunes.

Among the more popular and unique tourist attractions in the Mojave is the self described world's tallest thermometer at high, which is located along Interstate 15 in Baker, California. The newly-renovated Kelso Depot and the massive Kelso Dunes in the nearby Mojave National Preserve are also popular recreation spots. Calico Ghost Town, in Yermo, is administered by San Bernardino County. The pseudo-authentic ghost town has several shops and attractions, and is said to have inspired Walter Knott to build Knott's Berry Farm.

The Calico Early Man Site, in the Calico Hills east of Yermo, is believed by some archaeologists, including the world-renowned Louis Leakey, to house the earliest evidence of human activity on the North American continent.

Mojave Desert in media

  • Louis L'Amour's novel, The Lonesome Gods, is based on the Mojave Desert for its first half, from crossing the Colorado River at Arizona, to leading into the Coachella Valley as the protagonist reaches Agua Caliente, CA.
  • The Kanye West music videos "Flashing Lights" and "Can't tell me nothing" is shot in the Mojave Desert
  • In the MTV movie Beavis and Butthead Do America, Beavis and Butthead are left stranded in the Mojave Desert where they meet their long-lost fathers, nearly die of thirst, and Beavis has psychedelic hallucinations after eating a peyote cactus. They are awakened by Muddy Grimes, who forces them at gunpoint to ride in his trunk.
  • The Newcomer ship in Alien Nation hovered over the Mojave Desert at its fictional 1988 arrival.
  • In Stephen King's short story The Langoliers a time rip is situated over the Mojave Desert.
  • Nicole Krauss's novel Man Walks Into A Room takes place largely in the Mojave Desert. Its amnesiac protagonist is found wandering there, and later returns to an experimental facility situated there in order to undergo memory research.
  • Fictional character Captain Christopher Pike of the Star Trek universe called the Mojave his home, having grown up in the town of Mojave, built in what was once desert "wasteland".
  • The play Fool For Love, written and directed by Sam Shepard in 1983, takes place on the edge of the Mojave Desert.
  • The Antonio Carlos Jobim album Wave features a song called "Mojave".
  • The Mojave Desert has been featured five times on the FOX drama series, 24:
    • In the first season, terrorist, Mandy, blew up a 747 airplane and then parachuted into the Mojave Desert.
    • In the second season, George Mason sacrifices his life to dispose of a nuclear bomb safely in the Mojave Desert.
    • In the fourth season, Air Force One was shot down by a stealth fighter over the Mojave Desert and Jack Bauer had to go in and find the Nuclear Football briefcase, which was among the wreckage of the aircraft, before the terrorists could get it.
    • In the first episode of the fifth season, Jack Bauer is living and working (under an assumed name in order to avoid detection by American or Chinese authorities) in the city of Mojave, California.
    • In the sixth season, Anatoly Markov reveals that Fayed's and Gredenko's base of operations was Shadow Valley within the Mojave Desert.
  • The stark back-drop for Madonna's 1997 comeback "Frozen" video is the desert shot through a cold filter.
  • In the PlayStation video game Parasite Eve 2, the majority of the storyline unfolds in a small town called Dryfield (said in game to be located in the Mojave desert).
  • The music video for the Spice Girls' second single, "Say You'll Be There", was shot in this desert in September 1996.
  • An album by U2, released in 1987, is entitled The Joshua Tree.
  • The post-apocalyptic computer game Wasteland is set in the area.
  • Paulo Coelho's book, The Valkyries, is set in the Mojave Desert.
  • The music video for the Interpol single "NYC" was shot at an airplane graveyard in the Mojave Desert.
  • In the novel Nightrise, by Anthony Horowitz, Telepathic Twins Jamie and Scott Tyler are imprisoned in the Silent Creek juvenile center, located at the bottom of a basin in the Mojave Desert, in which a natural magnetic field is present capable of negating the abilities of those possessing powers of the mind (Telepathy, Telekinesis, etc).
  • In the film Resident Evil: Extinction, the characters traverse the Mojave Desert as they escape their undead enemies.
  • The Frank Zappa song "San Bernadino" situates a woman living in the Mojave Desert in a Winnebago.
  • The Killers' song Don't Shoot Me Santa references the Mojave Desert. The music video also takes place in the Mojave Desert.
  • It was revealed in the Aqua Teen Hunger Force episode "Robots are Everywhere" that the Aqua Teens were being cocooned by military spiders in the Mojave desert.
  • The All-American Rejects shot their music video for It Ends Tonight in the Mojave desert.
  • The Automatic filmed there video for Steve McQueen in June 2008.
  • The novel The Host by Stephenie Meyer takes place in the Mojave Desert.
  • The former Mojave Phone Booth, located near Cima Dome in the Mojave National Preserve, spawned a handful of movies, including the award-winning short Dead Line, and the booth was frequently featured in news media during the height of its popularity in 1999.
  • The TV show Mythbusters has conducted many experiments in the Mojave Desert

Native Mojave plants and animals




See also

External links


  • Mojave Desert Wildflowers, Jon Mark Stewart, 1998, pg. iv

Further reading

  • Miller, D.M. and Amoroso, L. (2007). Preliminary surficial geology of the Dove Spring off-highway vehicle open area, Mojave Desert, California [U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2006-1265]. Reston, VA: U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey.

Search another word or see Mojave Deserton Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2015, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature