What is the Mojave Desert?

Dan Cavallari

The Mojave Desert is a large desert in the southwest United States that encompasses much of southern California, some parts of central California, and parts of Arizona, Nevada, and Utah. Named after the Mohave Native American tribe, the Mojave Desert's borders are loosely defined by the presence of Joshua Trees, which are a native species to the area. More concretely, the Mojave Desert is bordered by the Tehachapi, San Gabriel, and San Bernadino mountain ranges.The Sonoran desert acts as a boundary to the south and east.

Joshua trees can be seen in the Mojave Desert in the United States.
Joshua trees can be seen in the Mojave Desert in the United States.

Though the Mojave Desert is known for its sky high temperatures, the desert has four distinct seasons and can get quite cold in the winter. It is not uncommon to see temperatures plummet to below 20 degrees Fahrenheit (-7 degrees Celsius), and even below zero degrees Fahrenheit (-18 degrees Celsius) in higher regions. However, winter temperatures have also been known to reach 80 degrees Fahrenheit (27 degrees Celsius). Snow is rare in the lower and middle elevations of the Mojave Desert, but snow can certainly occur in the higher elevations. The area receives less than ten inches (25.4 centimeters) of rain per year.

Much of Southern California is covered by the Mojave Desert.
Much of Southern California is covered by the Mojave Desert.

Death Valley lies within the Mojave Desert. This valley is the lowest and hottest region in North America, at nearly 300 feet (92 meters) below sea level. Temperatures can surpass 120 degrees Fahrenheit (49 degrees Celsius) in the summer. Today, Death Valley is part of Death Valley National Park, the hottest and driest national park in the United States. Joshua Tree National Park also lies within the desert's boundaries, contributing to the area's high number of tourist visitors each year. The highest point in the Mojave Desert is Charleston Peak, which reaches 11,918 feet (3,633 meters) above sea level. This swing in elevation accounts for some of the wild weather the region receives.

The Mojave Desert encompasses parts of California, Arizona, Nevada, and Utah.
The Mojave Desert encompasses parts of California, Arizona, Nevada, and Utah.

While the Mojave Desert is generally sparsely populated, several urban centers and small towns do exist in the region. The largest of these centers is Las Vegas, Nevada, which attracts tourists to the hot, dry climate because of legalized gambling and other attractions. Palmdale, California is also a larger city within the Mojave, but other towns in the desert are much smaller: Bullhead City and Kingman, both in Arizona, have populations of 40,000 people or less. Several major highways and roads cross the desert, including Interstate 40 and Interstate 15. Historic Route 66 also crossed part of the desert at one time, but most of the towns and road fell into disrepair once the interstate was built.

Las Vegas is in the Mojave Desert region.
Las Vegas is in the Mojave Desert region.

You might also Like

Readers Also Love

Discussion Comments


I once visited the Mojave desert and what i could not get over was how hot it was. I found it amazingly hot but surprisingly it was so dry that it was actually bearable. I guess it comes with living in a different climate than where I live in, I live in the South where there is high humidity.

I will say though the landscape of the Mojave was an incredibly sight. I was expecting a barren wasteland, and although there are areas such as this, most of the areas that I saw include neat looking canyons and scenery that included cactuses and really cool desert creatures that I would not see anywhere else.


I have been to Las Vegas and and one of the great things I remember is when I went outside the city limits around dusk and went out to the desert. It was quite a sight to see the sunset over the Mojave desert and it was quite different of a sunset than where I live in the Midwest.

While I was out in the desert I was able to see the sunlight hit over the mountains and the barren landscape of desert but the light gave an incredible glow which several years later I have yet to see again.


My husband and I took a tour of the Mojave Desert a few years back and there is nothing quite like driving along a Mojave Desert road. We rented a Hummer and got a really good map provided by the Mojave Desert Information Center. You can find them in downtown Lancaster, at 43779 15th Street West.

The information center also offers a lot of brochures for around the area, and you might be interested in checking out some of the Native American related sites in the area. I really recommend visiting the Antelope Valley Indian Museum, as it is an experience not to be missed.


You would think there is nothing to do in a desert but there are actually quite a few Mojave Desert attractions. Things like Death Valley tours offer an amazing chance for photographers to get the kind of pictures you usually only see in travel magazines.

Rugged mountains, colorful canyons, craters created by volcanoes, and salt pinnacles all make a trip to the Mojave Desert well worth wild. Plus there are a surprising amount of Mojave Desert wildflowers if you know where to look.

Any qualified tour guide should be able to lead you to the best shots and help you get quality Mojave Desert photos.

Post your comments
Forgot password?