Five Amazing Facts about Deserts
By Kathryn Lance, writer, editor, and nature docent. Web site: www.klance.com; Nature blog: KL's Sonoran Nature Journal; Writing blog: KL's Writing Tips.
1. Not all deserts are hot. Most people think of deserts as hot and dry, with sparse vegetation. But many deserts are actually cold (in the Antarctic, for example), and some deserts, such as the Sonoran desert, support a wide community of plants. The thing that all deserts have in common is dryness. Most deserts have annual rainfall from less than 10 inches per year―to none.
2. There are four deserts in North America. These dry areas are the Great Basin, a cold desert found mostly in Northern AZ, NV, and UT; the Mojave Desert, in California and Arizona, which contains Death Valley, the lowest spot in the continental United States and often the hottest spot during the summer; the Chihuahuan desert, found mainly in Northeastern Mexico and Texas; and the Sonoran Desert, the lushest desert in North America, which is found primarily in Sonora, Mexico, and southern Arizona.
3. The saguaro cactus is found only in Arizona. This emblematic cactus, with its tall central trunk and expressive arms, is often used in illustrations and films as an emblem of the desert. But this very special cactus is found only in the Sonoran desert. There are a lot of old movies that are supposedly set in California or Texas, or other western states, where cowboys shoot it out among the saguaros. When you see these movies now you will know they were really filmed in Arizona or northern Mexico.
4. Part of Star Wars took place in Arizona. Most people's idea of a desert involves barren sand dunes and palm trees. The Sonoran desert in Arizona has several areas of barren sand dunes that have been the setting for dozens of movies, from Beau Geste in 1966 to Star Wars in 1977 (Tatooine).
5. The road to California used to be made out of wooden planks. The shifting sand dunes in western AZ and southeastern CA made road-building difficult in the early part of the last century. Eventually pieces of planking were attached to each other and laid on top of the dunes to support automobiles. My father used to tell me about traveling to California on the Old Board Road in a Model A Ford.