The Mojave Desert is a xeric desert in the rain shadow of the Sierra Nevada mountains in the Southwestern United States. It is named for the indigenous Mojave people. It is located primarily in southeastern California and southwestern Nevada, with small portions extending into Arizona and Utah.
Along with the Sonoran, Chihuahuan, and Great Basin deserts, a larger North American Desert is formed. Of these, the Mojave is the smallest and driest. The Mojave Desert is bordered to the west by the Sierra Nevada mountain range and the California montane chaparral and woodlands, and to the south and east by the Sonoran Desert. The boundaries to the east of the Mojave Desert are less distinctive than the other boundaries because there is no presence of an indicator species, such as the Joshua tree (Yucca brevifolia), which is endemic to the Mojave Desert. The Mojave Desert is distinguished from the Sonoran Desert and other deserts adjacent to it by its warm temperate climate, as well as flora and fauna such as ironwood (Olneya tesota), blue Palo Verde (Parkinsonia florida), chuparosa (Justicia californica), spiny menodora (Menodora spinescens), desert senna (Cassia armata), California dalea (Psorothamnus arborescens), and goldenhead (Acamptopappus shockleyi). With these other factors, the extent of these plants generally serves to differentiate the Mojave from the nearby Sonoran desert. The Mojave Desert displays typical basin and range topography, generally having a pattern of a series of parallel mountain ranges and valleys. The Mojave Desert contains various silver, tungsten, iron and gold deposits.: 124 It is also the site of Death Valley, which is the lowest elevation in North America. The Mojave Desert is often colloquially called the "high desert", as most of it lies between 2,000 and 4,000 feet (610 and 1,220 m).
The spelling Mojave originates from the Spanish language while the spelling Mohave comes from modern English. Both are used today, although the Mojave Tribal Nation officially uses the spelling Mojave. Mojave is a shortened form of Hamakhaave, an endonym in their native language, which means "beside the water".
The flora of the Mojave desert are helpful in determining the extents of the Mojave desert where there may not be distinctive geophysical boundaries, the Mojave desert consists of various endemic plant species, notably the Joshua Tree, which is a particularly notable endemic and indicator species of the desert. There are more endemic flora of the Mojave desert than almost anywhere in the world. Mojave Desert flora is not a vegetation type, although the plants in the area have evolved in isolation because of the physical barriers of the Sierra Nevadas and the Colorado Plateau. Predominant plants of the Mojave desert include all-scale (Atriplex polycarpa), creosote bush (Larrea tridentata), brittlebush (Encelia farinosa), desert holly (Atriplex hymenelytra), white burrobush (Hymenoclea salsola), and most notably, the Joshua tree (Yucca brevifolia). Additionally, the Mojave desert is also home to various species of cacti, such as silver cholla (Cylindropuntia echinocarpa), Mojave prickly pear (O. erinacea), beavertail cactus (O. basilaris), and many-headed barrel cactus (Echinocactus polycephalus). Less common but distinctive plants of the Mojave desert include ironwood (Olneya tesota), blue Palo Verde (Parkinsonia Florida), chuparosa (Justicia californica), spiny menodora (Menodora spinescens), desert senna (Cassia armata), California dalea (Psorothamnus arborescens), and goldenhead (Acamptopappus shockleyi). The Mojave desert is generally abundant in winter annuals.: 11 The plants of the Mojave desert each generally correspond to an individual geographic feature. As such, there are distinctive flora communities within the desert.
A good portion of the fauna of the Mojave Desert extends into the neighboring Sonoran and Great Basin deserts. The animal species of the Mojave Desert have generally less endemics than its flora. However, endemic fauna of the Mojave Desert include Kelso Dunes jerusalem cricket (Ammopelmatus kelsoensis), the Kelso Dunes shieldback katydid (Eremopedes kelsoensis), the Mohave ground squirrel (Spermophilus Mohavensis) and Amargosa vole (Microtus californicus scirpensis). The Mojave fringe-toed lizard (Uma Scoparia) is not endemic, but almost completely limited to the Mojave desert. Notable species of the Mojave desert include the desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii), which has adapted considerably to the conditions of the Mojave Desert and deserts in general. Various other species are particularly common in the Mojave Desert, such as the LeConte's thrasher (Toxostoma lecontei), banded gecko (Coleonyx variegatus), desert iguana (Dipsosaurus dorsalis), chuckwalla (Sauromalus obesus), and regal horned lizard (Phrynosoma solare). Species of snake include the rosy boa (Lichanura trivirgata), Western patch-nosed snake (Salvadora hexalepis), and Mojave rattlesnake (Crotalus scutulatus).