Desert Land Forms

About 10 to 20 percent of most deserts are covered by sand.  Gravel, boulders, mountains, clay, and various types of soil cover most of the rest of the land.  Most desert soil is too dry to support widespread vegetation, but much of it is rich in salt, uranium, and other minerals.  In addition, large deposits of oil and natural gas lie under many desert areas.  The climate of the desert, with both its high winds and limited rainfall, its excessively dry soil, and its limited vegetation all contribute to its unique land forms.  Below is an exploration of those land forms.

Glossary of Terms:

Alluvial Fans--fan-shaped land land forms created by deposits of minerals carried down desert mountains through arroyos by occasional flash floods caused by the few times it actually rains in the desert.

Arroyos--dried streams that can create small, roughly-hewn canyons in the desert landscape.  Arroyos can be narrow, but can also be deep, although most are rather shallow and only a few yards/meters wide.

Buttes--small mounds of rock that have been carved rather sharply or jaggedly at times by constant wind erosion.

Dunes--windswept piles of sand  that have many shapes and patterns that can change just as suddenly as the direction and intensity of the continual high winds usually prevalent in the desert.  They can easily reach heights of as much as 820 feet (250 meters).

Mesas--large flat-topped hills created by constant wind erosion.

Oasis--is a fertile area that may lie near a spring, underground stream, or source of artificial irrigation.

Playas--dry lake beds that have no outlet, but can serve as temporary storage of water and salt and other sediments deposited in arroyos during a flash flood caused by sudden heavy rainfall.  The water that collects there either evaporates or seeps into the earth.  The salt remains and builds up on the surface.

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