Sand Dunes of the Southwest

Yuma Desert, AZ

Yuma Desert

Olsen Family Photo

The Yuma Desert comprises the far southwestern corner of Arizona. It extends about 12 miles to the north and more than 40 miles along the international boundary. Wind-blown sand, which covers most of the Yuma Desert plains, also forms some dunes along the flanks of the Gila Mountains. This area is an extension of the even greater Algodones dune system that runs from the southeastern corner of California, across the southwestern corner of Arizona, blending into the Gran Desierto de Altar portion of the Sonoran Desert in Mexico.

One of my geography teachers once called the Yuma Desert "the most boring desert in the world." As shown in the Google Earth image below, this area does look rather bleak. And it gets extremely hot in the summer time. But the flat, sandy, desert plain is dotted with many creosote bushes. If you're lucky, you may be able to see wildflowers in the spring.

After visiting sand dunes in California, New Mexico, and Colorado, I was determined to find a dune in my own home state of Arizona. I knew there had to be one here somewhere, and I thought the Yuma area would be the best place to start my search. I drove past acres of agricultural land south of Yuma before reaching the natural desert. Then I kept driving over a vast sheet of sand until I came upon the border fence; still no dunes. Turning around, I headed northeast on Highway 95, which is the new business loop out of San Luis.

While on my quest for the elusive dunes, I was stopped and questioned by both the Border Patrol and the Highway Patrol! Finally, way off to the east in front of the Gila Mountain range, I could see some small rolling dunes. However, they were in the middle of the Barry M. Goldwater Air Force Range, surrounded by a fence with a sign saying "No Trespassing - Military Reservation - Exlosives & Laser Hazard Area," and thus inaccessible. But I was able to take a photograph using a telephoto lens, shown above.

Yuma Desert

Google Earth image


Website design and content (c)2010 by Peter Olsen. This educational unit study was my PVCC honors project for GPH 211 Landform Processes.