The Lure of the Desert Land


In "The Lure of the Desert Land", Madge Morris Wagner wrote

Have you slept in a tent alone—a tent
Out under the desert sky—
Where a thousand thousand desert miles
All silent round you lie?—
The dust of the aeons of ages dead,
And the peoples that trampled by?

... If you have, then you know, for you ve felt its spell,
The lure of the desert land,
And if you have not, then I could not tell—
For you could not understand.

While we might not all share Wagner's enthusiasm for deserts, we can all agree that they are pretty awesome places. Some deserts, such as Wadi Rum in Jordan, have become hot spots for adventurers and instagrammers. This is thanks to their combination of stunning scenery, relative accessibility and abundance of sheer cliff faces.

For centuries the lure of the desert has captivated adventurers, from Johann Ludwig Burckhardt to TE Lawrence. With that in mind, let us look at the 10 biggest deserts in the world, and wonder at their vastness and rugged beauty.

10) Great Basin Desert

The Great Basin Desert is the biggest desert in the USA and the 10th biggest one in the world. Covering roughly 190,000 square miles, the desert spans a large part of the state of Nevada, and extends into western Utah, eastern California, and Idaho. The desert is one of the four biologically defined deserts in North America, in addition to the Mojave, Sonoran, and Chihuahuan Deserts. It is a temperate desert with hot, dry summers and snowy winters.

9) The Syrian Desert

The name of this desert is slightly misleading, as it covers parts of Syria, Jordan, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia. In fact, 85% of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is occupied by the Syrian Desert, and only 55% of the Arab Republic of Syria. The Syrian Desert covers roughly 200,000 Square Miles, and the climate is generally hot and dry, although heavy rain and even snow are not uncommon.

8) The Patagonian Desert

Primarily located in Argentina, this huge, 200,000 square mile desert also encompasses parts of Chile. It is a cold desert with temperatures rarely exceeding 12 degrees Celsius. In fact, the average annual temperature is only 3 degrees Celsius.

7) Great Victoria Desert

The Great Victoria Desert is the biggest desert in Australia, measuring roughly 220,000 square miles. Thunderstorms are very common in the Great Victoria Desert, but rainfall is erratic and generally low, generally ranging from 200-250 mm annually. The desert takes its name from British Queen and Empress Victoria, and was thus named by British explorer Ernest Giles in 1875, when he became the first European to cross the desert.

6) Kalahari Desert

The Kalahari Desert is a large semi-arid sandy savanna in Southern Africa extending for 350,000 square miles, covering much of Botswana, parts of Namibia and regions of South Africa. The surrounding Kalahari Basin covers over 970,000 square miles, extending further into Botswana, Namibia and South Africa, and encroaching into parts of Angola, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Some of the areas within the Kalahari are seasonal wetlands, such as the Makgadikgadi Pans of Botswana. Tens of thousands of flamingos visit this area in the rainy season.

5) Gobi Desert

Covering significant parts of Northern China and Southern Mongolia, this sandy giant occupies 500,000 square miles, making it the sixth-largest desert in the world and the second largest in Asia. The Gobi is notable in history as part of the great Mongol Empire and as the location of several important cities along the Silk Road. Most of the Gobi’s surface is not sandy but rather exposed, bare rock. It is a cold desert and occasionally snow accumulates on its dunes.

4) Arabian Desert

The Arabian Desert is a huge desert wilderness in Western Asia. Stretching from Yemen to the Persian Gulf and Oman to Jordan and Iraq, and with an area of 900,000 square miles, it occupies most of the Arabian Peninsula. It is the fifth largest desert in the world, and the largest in Asia. At its centre is Ar-Rub'al-Khali (The Empty Quarter), one of the largest continuous bodies of sand in the world. Oryx, lizards, sand cats, and Gazelles are just some of the species that live in this extremely hot and dry environment.

3) Sahara Desert

Located in North Africa and occupying a whopping 3,300,000 Square Miles, the Sahara desert is the largest hot desert in the world. Contrary to popular images of the desert, it is not made up entirely of sand dunes, and in fact contains numerous mountains. The highest peak in the Sahara is Emi Koussi, in the Tibesti range of northern Chad. The Sahara also contains many towns and cities including the legendary Timbuktu in Mali and Nouakchott, the capital of Mauritania.

2) Arctic Desert

The Arctic Desert is the second largest desert in the world, covering an area of approximately 5.4 million square miles in territories claimed or controlled by the USA, Canada, Norway, Sweden and Russia.It is of course a cold desert, with winter temperatures dipping lower than -40!

1) Antarctic Desert

The Antarctic Desert is the largest desert on Earth, measuring a total of 13.8 million square kilometres. Antarctica is considered a desert because its annual precipitation can be less than 51 mm in the interior. Temperatures in Antarctica are generally very cold and can drop to as low as -89 degree Celsius in winter! Partially due to these extremes temperatures, there are no permanent residents in Antarctica. There are however a few thousand temporary residents at certain times in the year. These temporary residents are mainly people involved in scientific research.

Bonus: Windy Whispers Poster

For visitors to South America, the Bolivian Desert is one of the most alluring and photogenic locations in the continent. Our Windy Whispers photo poster was taken in the Bolivian Desert. Check it out along with the rest of our photo posters and let us know what you think!

Windy Whispers

More Deserts and Mountains

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