The largest desert in the United States, the Great Basin covers an area of 492,097 km2 (190,000 sq mi). Much of the Great Basin Desert centres on Nevada, but it also stretches into the states of Utah, Idaho, California and Oregon. It reaches between the Sierra Nevada Range on the west and the Rocky Mountains on the east. It is considered a cold desert because of the high elevation of the land and the rain shadow effect of the Sierra Nevada to the west.
This makes the climate somewhat unusual for a desert. Anywhere between 18 and 30 cm (~7 and 12 in) of precipitation falls each year, most of which is snow. The weather doesn’t play by the rules of specific seasons, and at higher elevations, snow can fall year-round. The desert does experience more traditional weather such as high temperatures and fierce thunderstorms during the summer.
The landscape of the Great Basin Desert is varied and extreme. Bowl-like basins sink into the earth, while mountain ranges up to 10,000 ft high (3,048 m) rise from it. Hundreds of habitats and uncharacteristic vegetation offer the perfect setting for an abundance of wildlife. Wild animals such as mountain lions, foxes, ringtail cats, beavers, skunks, porcupines, pygmy rabbits and coyotes roam the diverse environments. Parts of the land are even used for grazing livestock, such as cattle and bighorn sheep.
The Great Basin National Park offers plenty of recreational activities and opportunities to explore this unique area. Trails lead to unexpected attractions such as the fragrant pinyon-juniper forest and bristlecone pines, the world’s oldest living organisms according to the National Park Service which administers the park. By night, the Great Basin is perfect for a spot of unimpaired star gazing as the clear desert skies offer exceptional views of the heavens.