Great Basin Desert Facts

The Great Basin Desert is the largest desert in North America. It is bordered by the Sierra Nevada Range, the Rocky Mountains, the Columbia Plateau, and the Mojave and Sonoran deserts. It receives 7-12 inches of precipitation annually and is cool or “cold” due to its more northern latitude.

Located in the Great Basin between the Sierra Nevada and the Wasatch Range, it is a temperate desert.

Parallel mountain ranges border wide valleys generally oriented north to south. The floristic Great Basin is home to 600 vertebrate species, including 33 species that are endangered.

Ecosystems of the desert differ by geography. The high elevation and location between mountain ranges influence regional climate, and Pleistocene lakes leave different amounts of salinity and alkalinity.

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Great Basin Desert Facts for Kids

  • On October 27, 1986, it was incorporated into the national park.
  • There are about 190,000 square miles (592,00 square kilometers) of arid land there.
  • Temperature varies from 13°F to 87°F and is rarely below -3°F or above 93°F.
  • Bristlecone pines grow in isolated groves near treelines. They can survive for 4,000 years.
  • Night skies are dark because of low humidity and minimal light pollution

Definition and boundaries

Animals and plants define the Great Basin Desert, but its borders are unclear. Due to the fact that scientists define the Great Basin Desert differently, often by its negative characteristics.

In 1999, the EPA renamed the Central Basin and Range ecoregion to the Northern Basin and Range ecoregion, which encompasses the Great Basin Desert.


Most precipitation that does reach the Great Basin desert precipitates in higher elevations due to the Sierra Nevada mountain range, which casts a large rain shadow on the region.

For every 1000 feet gained in elevation, temperatures decrease 3.6 degrees F across the Great Basin desert. As a result, the ecoregion is rich in species.

With hot summers and cold winters, the climate in Fallon is typical of lower elevations in the Great Basin.

The Great Salt Lake Desert is a cold desert climate with more precipitation than the western edge of the Great Basin desert.


The bristlecone pine in the Great Basin Desert is over 4,000 years old and was alive when Alexander the Great conquered much of the known world.

Vegetation is low and homogeneous, with a single dominant species of bush for miles. There are only occasional yuccas and very few cacti.

There are other trees that can be found in the Great Basin Desert, such as Limber Pines and Bristlecone Pines.


Bighorn sheep, mule deer, bald eagles, western meadowlarks, red-tailed hawks, and numerous other species of birds and mammals live in the Great Basin Desert.