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The Secrets of the Mojave Desert – A Land of Wonder and Mystery

Posted July 20, 2013 12:00 AM by johngower

The Mojave Desert, located in southern California and Nevada, is the smallest of the North American Deserts. The Mojave is bordered by the Colorado River to the east and the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the west. The mountain range's rain shadow effect creates the Mojave's arid climate, with the desert averaging annual rainfall totals of between 2.23 and 2.5 inches a year - mostly in the winter season from October to March. The Mojave is classified as a "high desert" with an elevation between 2,000 and 5,000 feet. The desert's temperatures vary widely depending on location; the Mojave is a cold desert in the northern section and a hot desert in the southern. Temperatures plummet as low as 8 degrees Fahrenheit in January and exceed 119 degrees in August.

The Mojave contains a unique series of dune fields, the largest of which being the Kelso Dunes. These monumental mounds of sand are up to 600 feet in height, containing eolian sand deposits with a high content of quartz and feldspar. These dunes, sprawling over 45 square miles, are a relatively small part of a sand transport system that includes nearby Devil's Playground.

The Mojave Desert ecosystem places extreme stresses on its inhabitants - extreme temperatures, extremely small amounts of precipitation, lack of shelter or shade. Because of the unique biome, many of its plants and animals have adapted with strategies to survive its stresses. Mojave plants - including brittlebrush, creosote bush, Joshua trees, and sagebrush, among others - tend to have shallow root systems that allow for quick absorption of rain, spines and waxy leaves to help retain water, and thorns which protect their retained moisture from opportunist predators. The singularity of the ecosystem makes for distinctive plants - for instance, the Mojave is the only place that the Joshua tree is found in the world. The Joshua tree, a large, woody monocot, is itself is a glimpse into past eons as a plant that bridges the gap between grasses and more vascularly complex flora.

Animals have likewise adapted to the Mojave's harsh conditions. Desert tortoises, for instance, can store up to one quart of water in their bladder, to be re-circulated through their body in small amounts. Tortoises - and many other animals, including coyotes and rattlesnakes - burrow into the sand to avoid the sun's heat. Tortoises can spend as much as ninety-five percent of the their life underground.

The US Geological Survey has determined that the Mojave's climate is far from static, with precipitation increasing since the early 1970s. Changing weather patterns are likely going to affect the Mojave's vegetation, and possibly cause the desert's borders to shift over the next few hundred years.

Editor's Note: John Gower is a writer for NerdWallet, a personal finance website dedicated to helping you save money with financial tips on everything from travel to online stock trading reviews.

Image Credits: http://www.cas.vanderbilt.edu/bioimages/ecoregions/51308frame.htm, http://photography.nationalgeographic.com/photography/photo-of-the-day/tecopa-lake-bed-mojave/

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#1

Re: The Secrets of the Mojave Desert – A Land of Wonder and Mystery

07/20/2013 2:27 PM

Home sweet home! Where everything either bites, stings or stabs you to death!

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#2

Re: The Secrets of the Mojave Desert – A Land of Wonder and Mystery

07/22/2013 9:03 AM

As a proud drop-out of Quartz Hill High School, I can confidently say, "The Mojave is a wonderful place to be from."

-A-

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Re: The Secrets of the Mojave Desert – A Land of Wonder and Mystery

07/23/2013 5:56 AM

A preposition is a bad thing to end a sentence with.

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#4

Re: The Secrets of the Mojave Desert – A Land of Wonder and Mystery

07/24/2013 9:55 PM

I think a big part of it is still protected as the ''Joshua tree National Park''. I went to Jr. High somewhere near Lancaster, decades ago, and was nearly killed in a car accident out in the desert. I haven't been there since, and I don't think much has changed since then... and I'm not anxious to find out if it has, either...

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