Top 10 Interesting Chihuahuan Desert Facts

Even though this fascinating desert in North America covers vast areas in 6 Mexican and 3 U.S. states, it was named after one particular state in Mexico.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at some of the most interesting facts about the Chihuahuan Desert, a desert that holds a couple of remarkable records.

1. It nearly covers the entire area of the state it was named for

As the name of this desert in North America suggests, it covers just about the entire area of the Mexican state of Chihuahua in the northern part of the country.

This is remarkable because it covers a total of 9 states in both northern Mexico and the southwestern part of the United States. In the U.S. it covers a vast area in West Texas, the southeastern part of Arizona, and two large areas in the southern part of New Mexico as well.

It also covers areas in 6 Mexican states which are Chihuahua, Coahuila, Durango, Nuevo León, Sonora, and Zacatecas. In geographical terms, it covers vast parts of the northern and central sections of the Mexican Plateau.

Chihuahuan desert location
Chihuahuan Desert landscape / Daveynin /

2. It’s the largest desert in this part of the world

One of the most interesting facts about the Chihuahuan Desert is that it’s the largest desert in North America. It covers a total area of 501,896 square kilometers (193,783 square miles).

This is substantially larger than the other large deserts in the region which are the Sonoran Desert (222,998 square kilometers / 86,100 square miles) which the desert borders to the east, and the Mojave Desert (124,000 square kilometers / 47,867 square miles), which is located just north of the Sonoran Desert.

3. It was formed because of two mountain ranges that surround it

The desert was formed because of two huge mountain ranges that pretty much encircle it. These are the Sierra Madre Oriental to the west and the Sierra Madre Occidental to the east.

These two mountain ranges create a rain shadow effect which means that precipitation can’t reach the Chihuahuan Desert area. This results in arid to semi-arid conditions as precipitation from the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico can’t reach this area.

The average precipitation in the desert is around 235 millimeters (9.3 inches) per year. This means it ranges from anywhere between 150 and 400 millimeters (6 and 16 inches). The highest parts of the desert also frequently receive snowfall.

Chihuahuan Desert facts
The desert landscape / Adbar /

4. It’s considered to be one of the most biodiverse deserts in the world

The biodiversity of the Chihuahuan Desert is extremely high because it covers such a vast area. This also means that the desert has been referred to by the World Wide Fund for Nature as one of the most biodiverse deserts in the world.

Even though the desert was originally covered in grasses, only 20% of these grasses remain today. The main reason they have disappeared is overgrazing, resulting in the conservation status of the desert being described as “vulnerable.”

Most of the bushes that grow in the desert today are the creosote bush yucca and mesquite, plants that thrive in the sandy soil and that dominate the lower areas of the desert.

An animal that lives in the desert is the Mexican wolf, a subspecies of the gray wolf which was nearly extinct and which is now considered to be endangered as well.

5. The desert is home to a large number of national parks in both countries

Even though only about 7% of the desert consists of national parks and other protected areas, because of the sheer size of the desert this still means an area of about 35,905 square kilometers (13,863 square miles).

Some of the most notable areas include the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge in Arizona, Oliver Lee Memorial State Park in New Mexico, and the Big Bend National Park in Texas.

One of the best things to do in the Chihuahuan is to cruise along the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, 48 kilometers (30 miles) that allows you to both learn about the history of the region and to admire amazing natural miracles such as the Santa Elena Canyon and the Mule Ears Viewpoint, to name just a few.

Ross Maxwell Scenic drive
Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive / Steevven1 /

More interesting facts about the Chihuahuan Desert

6. The desert is pretty young and was only formed about 8,000 years ago. The process of desertification has grown exponentially in the past 150 years as well.

When the Spanish first arrived in the region they mentioned that the area was covered in grasses that grew to the belly of their horses. These grasses have made way for a shrub desert landscape.

7. Most of the areas inside the huge desert are located at an altitude of between 480 and 1,800 meters (1,575 and 5,906 feet). This means that it’s significantly less hot than the Sonoran and Mojave Deserts to its west and northwest.

This doesn’t mean that it can’t get pretty hot here, though, as the daily average temperature in the summer months is between 32 and 40 °C (90 and 104 °F). The average temperature during the winter months ranges from anywhere between 13 and 22 °C (55 and 72 °F).

Chihuahuan Desert fauna
The arid conditions inside the desert / Wiki Commons

8. Most of the rain in the desert falls between late June and early October. This is during the North American Monsoon, a time of the year that moist air from the Gulf of Mexico can reach parts of the arid region.

Enormous amounts of rain also fall when a tropical cyclone moves inland. This doesn’t happen very often but is bound to happen more frequently due to global warming.

9. One of the most fascinating facts about the Chihuahuan Desert is that it features several small mountain ranges that create a remarkable feat of nature called “Sky Islands.”

These mountains are surrounded by a desert landscape but feature a much colder and wetter climate than the desert they are encircled by. This means that dense forests can grow on these sky islands while only grasses and shrubs can grow nearby.

10. Even though this arid region in the world doesn’t look like a hospitable place to live, many large urban areas are located here. Some of the biggest include Ciudad Juarez in Mexico which has a population of nearly 2 million inhabitants and El Paso in Texas with a population of nearly 900,000 inhabitants.

Other cities and towns located within the desert are Chihuahua, Saltillo, and Torreón in Mexico, and Albuquerque. Alamogordo, Alpine, Benson, and Carlsbad in the United States.

road to el paso texas
The road to El Paso, Texas / Wiki Commons