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Sonoran Desert in Gila County, Arizona

Updated: Sep 23, 2020

Gila County is located on the northeastern edge of the Sonoran Desert, and covers a wide variety of life zones, including desert, high desert plains, chaparral, pinon-juniper and pine forest. 

The Sonoran Desert is one of the largest deserts in North American, which covers large parts of the Southwestern United States, California and Northwestern Mexico in Sonoara, Baja California and Baja California Sur.  It is the hottest desert in the southwest.

Among this vast spectacular region, Gila County has an abundant network of trails with access to some of the most wild and scenic back country in the world.  Standing atop the four peaks trail in the Four Peaks Wilderness is something everyone should experience once in their lifetime.  This is just one of the hundreds of amazing adventures waiting for you in Gila County.


Below 4,000 feet, grasslands blend into the Upper Sonoran Desert and impressively huge saguaro cacti thrive. The narrow canyons are pleasingly shaded with cottonwoods and sycamores.

In the winter, national and international visitors flock to Arizona to share the multi-hued stone canyons and Sonoran Desert environments of the Tonto National Forests' lower elevations with Arizona residents. In the summer, visitors seek refuge from the heat at the Salt and Verde rivers and their chain of six man-made lakes.

The key to the Sonoran Desert's climate is the amount of rainfall which falls. More rain falls on the Sonoran Desert than any other desert. When it does get rain, the desert is damp, and the air is cool. When it has no rain the desert is really dry and really hot. When the desert is windy, the sand gets picked up and tossed around which creates a sand storm or if the wind is blowing in a certain kind of way, it creates a whirlwind or dust devil. These mini-tornados move across the desert floor and they most often occur in hot weather. The desert valley is hot while up in the mountains it is cool and some mountains are even snow covered.

The seasons are like any other. Spring is a time when wild flowers bloom if the winter and fall had enough rain that year. During the summer it rains the most and that helps summer flowers grow. Then fall comes with a cooler breeze, which lets the deserts summer heat melt away. Winter brings snow to the mountains and cold air to the desert valley.  

The plants in the Sonoran desert are very interesting, such as fairy duster, jimson weed (poisonous), tumble weed, night blooming cereus, devils claw, ghost flower, hedgehog cactus and showy four o clock. There are some other plants with really interesting names: The desert Christmas cactus, prickly pear cactus, desert willow, western wildflower, cave primrose and desert lupine. These desert plants adapt

to their climate by seeking coolness. Their roots collect water when it rains. The saguaro cactus has shallow root systems allowing the cactus to store up to 160 liters of rainwater allowing it to live for weeks at a time without water. The other adaptations of the desert plants are that they live in the mountains where shade and coolness is found.

The Sonoran Desert animals fit in to the environment perfectly. Some of the animals in the desert are the Mexican gray wolf (el lobo), the mountain lion (cougar or puma), the great horned owl (Bubo virinus), the horny toad, gila monsters and the rattlesnake. The Sonoran desert is also the home to the Mexican jumping beans.

Gila County is a smorgasbord of great adventures and the Sonoran Desert is just one more of its amazing assets.  We invite you to Explore the Wild and Discover Gila County and its many world class destinations!

If you are looking to explore more of the Sonoran Desert in Gila County, Arizona you can plan your itinerary by visiting

Happy Exploring!

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