By Bob Difley
Every winter RV snowbirds flock to the American Southwestern Deserts in search of sunlight on their faces and a warming of their bones. And many don’t see much more than that, and then they go home in the Spring. But if you take the time to learn something about the desert (actually four deserts) you may find that they can be quite fascinating.
This post is the first in a short series to familiarize you with the desert and prepare you for what you will find.
All four of North America’s deserts lie in the Southwest between the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevada Range. They can be divided into three hot deserts (Mojave, Sonoran, and Chihuahuan) and one cold desert, the Great Basin, covering most of Nevada, southeastern Oregon, southern Idaho, and western Utah, where more than half the annual precipitation falls as snow.
The Great Basin’s climate does not attract hordes of snowbirds. The Mojave of Southern California–the smallest of the four–owns the record for the highest temperature (134 degrees) and the lowest elevation in the US, both in Death Valley. (photo – Joshua Tree National Park in southeastern California).
The Sonoran Desert occupies the southern part of Arizona, with two-thirds of it in Mexico. Characterized by the saguaro cactus–which grows naturally only in the Sonoran–this sub-tropical desert also contains more diverse and a greater quantity of plants and animals than the other deserts.
The Chihuahuan Desert also lies mostly in Mexico, but in New Mexico and extreme Southwestern Arizona it extends as fingers into the basins separating the mountain ranges, and also in Southwestern Texas at Big Bend and between the cities of El Paso and Pecos. The Chihuahuan is a high desert, consisting of many mountains that extend to 6500 feet in Mexico, which can be quite chilly in the winter except for the area around Deming in New Mexico and along the Rio Grande River on the Texas/Mexico border, its lowest point at 1000 feet. Temperatures are higher the lower the elevation, and cooler the higher you go.
Just as the deserts vary in their climate, plant life, and wildlife, so do snowbirds vary in the types of places that appeal to them as winter retreats. An RVer from the wet, cold winter climates may be perfectly happy in the Great Basin, for instance in Las Vegas. The snow that falls doesn’t stay long, the days are usually dry and sunny, and daytime temperatures are warmer, with highs reaching into the fifties and even sometimes into the sixties and seventies.
Most snowbirds, though, head for the warmer deserts, to the popular–and more crowded–wintering areas in the Coachella Valley around Palm Springs in Southern California, to Yuma, Quartzsite, Lake Havasu, and the Phoenix/Tucson areas of Arizona, and to South Texas along the Rio Grande near Brownsville. Easterners head for south Florida, which is not a desert, but rather a tropical and sub-tropical climate that is wet, warm, humid and has bugs, and alligators.
Next week, what kind of camping–from boondocking to the fancy RV resorts–you can expect to find.
Check out my website for more RVing tips and destinations and for my ebooks, BOONDOCKING: Finding the Perfect Campsite on America’s Public Lands, Snowbird Guide to Boondocking in the Southwestern Deserts (now available for $6.99 and in a Kindle version also), and 111 Ways to Get the Biggest Bang out of your RV Lifestyle Dollar.