Arizona Desert

Arizona Desert welcomeWelcome to AZ - Visit our Desert!

The Arizona Desert consists of various desert area types. Arizona has unique topography - geography and environment. Although the entire state could be considered desert-like, because of the amount of rainfall every area gets, specific areas are more of what's typically thought of as a desert.

Deserts do bring up a certain picture or idea. What do you think of when Arizona Deserts come to mind? Do you think of sand dunes? Or flat lands with some mesas, and scattered giant cactus?

Some of these features are definitely in the Arizona desert...

You may be surprised to learn of one Arizona desert's tremendous variety of plant life! Sometimes there are flowers blooming all around! As you scan the desert scene, green can be a major color! We've been living here, a southern Arizona desert - it's called the Sonoran Desert.

Explore what our Arizona desert surroundings have to offer... We hope you'll even make plans to come visit us here - make some Arizona travel plans to enjoy it all first hand!

Arizona Desert Terrains

Which desert environment do you want to investigate? And perhaps visit! Each has its own unique characteristics, delights, particular flora and fauna, and best access.

The giant cactus that many people associate with the Arizona desert is called the Saguaro Cactus - pronounced suh - wahr - oh. Its natural environment is the Sonoran Desert - a great place to visit.

A desert we're quite familiar with.  It has been right at our back door, and also our front door! We've lived just West of Saguaro National Park West.

The park itself has an Eastern Section and a Western Section. It's the ideal place to find the Saguaro Cactus - in fact you'll discover areas that will be described as a "forest" of them!

Saguaro CactusSaguaro Cactus Forest in the Sonoran Desert

Ready for a wilderness type of adventure? Try a Bureau of Land Management area. They oversee the Sonoran Desert National Monument. There are 3 mountainous wilderness areas of Sonoran Desert with Saguaro Cactus forests... just gorgeous! More here >

Another totally different type of desert area can be found in Northeastern Arizona. It's probably one of the more well known deserts in Arizona. At a higher elevation, the characteristics of its desert are quite divergent from its more southerly neighbors. But as the name suggests - it's quite stunning in its own right. This is Arizona's Painted Desert.

Another desert within the Southeastern part of the state is the Chihuahuan Desert. We currently live within this biome. A little different from the Sonoran.

As you can see the areas within Arizona have different features. There are other diverse mini-climates which depend upon factors such as rainfall, elevation, and sun exposure. All the desert biomes of Arizona each have their own wonders to offer.

The Nature of the Desert

Desert Plants

The Arizona Desert is quite a diverse area for flora and fauna! It can be a really unique experience - almost like coming to another world! Road-runners - but not the cartoon types. Giant cacti! The saguaros. Or are they Cardon Cactus - what is the difference?

Yes - desert plants that you may have never seen - trees with not only leaves of green, but their branches and trunks are also green?! Arizona native plants have fortified themselves to survive in this environment. They have adapted to the intermittent rainfall, and the extremes of temperature.

Visit any Arizona desert Botanical Garden - to learn how these wonderful plants have managed to survive in this environment.

Another great spot which explains with living examples is the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum. This is an outdoor (for the most part) museum which is very unique, and a wonderful experience. We love going there! Read more>


Desert Animals

Desert animals have also adapted to survival in this climate. How do they find food and water? They've learned how to obtain their needs and adapt to their circumstances in the desert. There's  many unique varieties and species of desert animals - read more here>

Desert tortoises are beloved by many! They can become quite large. As we were driving back home from a short desert hike, my granddaughters and I saw one along the dirt road out of Saguaro National Park West. We stopped so that we could move it farther out from the roadway - plus let my granddaughters get a closer look! That was an exciting encounter for all of us!

Lizards are around at every turn. Many sizes, many varieties. They love the desert - they love the heat! They're true desert survivalists!

People hiking in the desert sometime can get a glimpse of Desert bighorn sheep! Not too easy a feat! They typically will be on a rocky area on a hill or mountain side.

Many types of birds reside in the desert. As previously mentioned - the roadrunner lives in the Arizona desert. It is so very cool to spot one! It can happen when you least expect it - so keep alert for them. They are just so fun!

We have some that come through our yard. They take a regular route on their path to finding their daily food rations. Our daughter also has one that comes through her backyard - she lives on the East side of Saguaro National Park West.

Some other desert birds are the cactus wren, curve billed thrasher, a few types of woodpeckers (they love openings in the Saguaro cactus), and a good assortment of hummingbirds.

Owls make their home in the desert also. One late evening as I was pulling into my driveway I was thrilled to just make out the wingspread of a great horned owl swooping just above the roof of my car! We've heard its hoots, and have seen it on a few more occasions - once even sitting on our carport roof!

A fascinating variety of owls make their home here in the Arizona desert. One unique and wonderful type of owl you can try to spot is the burrowing owl.

When it rains, there's another divergent feature. Suddenly there's moisture, and the frog chorus rings out into the night! Amazing to think! You may come upon one of them when you least expect it.

My daughter's pool has on occasion been inundated with varieties of frogs and toads the day after a monsoon storm. These amphibians, such as Bufo alvarius [see info on this unique toad here>], have made the intermittent rains their method to survival in the desert!

Many people think of the desert, in fact of Arizona - and fear rattlesnakes. Of course they do reside here. Yet they're not necessarily often or maybe ever encountered. They actually are a beneficial part of the natural balance - keeping rodent populations down.

I came upon one while hiking on a trail in the Rincon Mountains (SE of Tucson). It gave me ample warning to stay clear, while it then slithered away! It's a matter of being aware of them, doing what is safe - acting sensibly.

The Mexican Gray Wolf has been a somewhat controversial animal in Arizona. Wolves are predators, and some people are not happy that this animal is around. Yes, wolves can be scary. They can also be beautiful to look at.

Our son actually encountered what he was sure was a wolf-dog hybrid as he was hiking in the woods behind his home in the Flagstaff area of Northern Arizona. It kept its distance, but was eyeing them (his family), and their dogs as they walked. He heard that Animal Control was able to capture it, as people were reporting the sightings.

But a Mexican Gray Wolf? You are not likely to encounter one in the wild - very extreme, slim chance of that!


The Science of the Arizona Desert

It's amazing that in a place of harsh weather extremes - these plants and animals can adapt to survive, and even be successful. So exactly what is the weather in Arizona like? Here is a more detailed view - see it by clicking here.

There are many interesting archeological discoveries that have been found in the Arizona desert. For instance right in our area - which is called Picture Rocks - are petroglyphs. Examples are right here on our website's background. The spot where they're located is just a few miles from our home.


Southwest Gardening

If you love the desert, and its variety of desert biomes - maybe you live in an area where you can incorporate a landscape of Arizona native plants into your home environment.

If you don't live in a desert-like environment, but love the desert - you can incorporate some desert southwest gardening elements into your home area. Think about using containers for indoor area plantings. Or outdoor container plantings in warm weather.

Southwest gardening can mean many things. Would you want to make landscape plans to encompass your entire property? Would you just prefer front yard landscaping ideas to enhance your home presentation? Are you interested in backyard design to have a cozy retreat for relaxation or entertainment? Perhaps you just want to enhance a specific area with desert plants, and would like a focus such as patio landscaping.

Arizona native plants could be easily incorporated into the natural environment. Think about the beauty of desert wildflowers. Many are perennials, and self-reseed to come back again and again each spring. Consider some of the plants which can be placed into a desert landscape...

  • Chilean Mesquite
  • Acacia Saligna
  • Desert Willow
  • Texas Ebony
  • Palm Trees
  • Full Sun Plants
  • Saguaros and other Cacti