Mojave Desert

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Mojave Desert

Mojave 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).

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