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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Great Basin
The Great Basin is a watershed that is located almost entirely in the Basin and Range Province and that differs from the Great Basin Desert, which extends outside of the Great Basin in southern Idaho, in south central Utah, and in Nevada at the northward spikes of the White River and Meadow Valley Wash of the Colorado River watershed.
Countries  United States,  Mexico
States  California,  Nevada,  Utah,  Idaho,  Wyoming,  Oregon
Borders on Great Basin continental divide
Highest point Mount Whitney summit
 - location Sierra Nevada Mountains between the Buena Vista Lake Bed & the Owens Valley,
draining west via Whitney Cr (Kern River)
and east via Lone Pine Cr (Owens River.
 - elevation 14,505 ft (4,421.1 m)
 - coordinates 36°34′42.89″N 118°17′31.18″W / 36.5785806°N 118.2919944°W / 36.5785806; -118.2919944
Lowest point Death Valley (-282 ft)
 - location Mojave Desert
 - coordinates 36°14′23″N 116°50′5″W / 36.23972°N 116.83472°W / 36.23972; -116.83472
Area 200,000 acres (80,937.1 ha) [citation needed]
Orogeny Basin and Range Province fault history [1]

The Great Basin is the largest watershed of North America which does not drain to an ocean. Water within the Great Basin evaporates since outward flow is blocked (e.g., by high fault-created mountains). The basin extends into Mexico and covers most of Nevada and over half of Utah, as well as parts of California, Idaho, Oregon and Wyoming. The majority of the watershed is in the North American Desert ecoregion, but includes areas of the Forested Mountain and Mediterranean California ecoregions. The Great Basin includes several metropolitan areas and Shoshone Great Basin tribes.


Physiographical description

The continental divide of the Great Basin demarcates the watershed of the Pacific Ocean from the basin, and the ranges of the drainage divide include the Sierra Nevada Mountains (west) and to the east, the Snake, White Pine, Wasatch, and Wilson Creek Ranges. The exterior watersheds of the Great Basin include those of the San Francisco Bay (west), Klamath River (northwest), Columbia Basin (north), Colorado River (east/southeast), and Santa Ana River (south). However, in the basin's southwest California High Desert, the 765 square miles (1,980 km2) San Jacinto River watershed is a tributary of the normally enderheic Lake Elsinore, which above 1,255 feet (383 m) can overflow into tributaries of the Santa Ana River, which drains to the Pacific. The Great Basin's natural southernmost point is east of Baja California in Mexico at the triple watershed point for the Great Basin and the Pacific watersheds of the Gulf of California and the Pacific Seaboard.

The Great Basin, especially across northern Nevada, consists of valleys, basins, and mountain ranges,[3] as well as 2 large dry lakes, Lake Bonneville and Lake Lahontan, that were wet lakes during the last ice age.[citation needed] Lake Tahoe on the west of the basin is North America's largest alpine lake.[4]

"Most precipitation in the Great Basin falls in the form of snow that melts in the spring. Rain that reaches the ground, or snow that melts, quickly evaporates in the dry desert environment. Some of the water that does not evaporate sinks into the ground to become ground water. The remaining water flows into streams and collects in short-lived lakes called dry lakes on the valley floor and eventually evaporates."[1]


Great Basin Desert

Great Basin Desert
The Great Basin Desert (22a).
Country United States
Part of North American Desert ecoregion[5]
Location western United States
Area 190,000 sq mi (492,098 km2)
For public 1986 Great Basin National Park

The Great Basin Desert is a xeric shrub-steppe (sagebrush steppe) that is the world's 10th largest desert. The nearctic high desert largely corresponds to the Great Basin, an endorheic watershed which has additional areas outside of the Great Basin Desert such as the 25,000 square miles (65,000 km2) Mojave Desert area and the non-desert areas that are part of Mediterranean California and Forested Mountain ecoregions near the Great Basin continental divide (e.g.,, the north of Nevada and most of Utah have semi-arid climates rather than desert climates). Parts of the Great Basin Desert have a cold desert climate, particularly where the ranges provide rain shadow for the northern basins/valleys.

For lists of fauna and flora (including trees) of this desert, see Fauna, Flora, and Trees of the Great Basin Desert.

Flora and fauna

The predominant flora of the Great Basin Desert are shrubs of the North American Desert ecosystem, mostly of the Atriplex genus (lowest elevations) and sagebrush (higher). Shadscale is also common.[6] Utah Juniper, Single-leaf Pinyon (mostly southern areas) or Curl-leaf Mountain Mahogany (northern) form open Pinyon-juniper woodland on the slopes of most ranges. Stands of Limber Pine and Great Basin Bristlecone Pine can be found in some of the higher ranges. In areas with dependable water, cottonwoods and Quaking Aspen groves exist.

Lagomorphs such as Black-tailed Jackrabbit and Desert Cottontail and the coyotes that prey on them are the mammals most often encountered by humans. Ground squirrels are common, but they generally venture above ground in only the spring and early summer. Packrats, Kangaroo rats and other small rodents are also common, but these are predominantly nocturnal. Pronghorn, Mule Deer, and Mountain Lion are also present throughout the area. Elk and Bighorn Sheep are present but uncommon.

Small lizards such as the Great Basin fence lizard, Longnose Leopard Lizard and Horned Lizard are common, especially in lower elevations. Rattlesnakes and Gopher snakes are also present.

Shorebirds such as Phalaropes and Curlews can be found in wet areas. American White Pelicans are common at Pyramid Lake. Golden Eagles are perhaps more common in the Great Basin than anywhere else in the US. Mourning Dove, Western Meadowlark, Black-billed Magpie and Common Raven are other common bird species. Two endangered species of fish are found in Pyramid Lake that lies in the Great Basin: the Cui-ui sucker fish and the Lahontan cutthroat trout.[7]

Large invertebrates include tarantulas (Aphonopelma genus) and Mormon crickets.

Chukar, Grey Partridge and Himalayan Snowcock have been successfully introduced to the Great Basin, although the latter has only thrived in the Ruby Mountains. Cheatgrass, which was unintentionally introduced, forms a critical portion of their diets. Feral horses (Mustangs) and wild burros are other highly successful, though controversial, alien species. Most of the Great Basin is open range and domestic cattle and sheep are widespread.

The Great Basin Program of the American Land Conservancy has conserved "over 80,000 acres in Nevada and the Eastern Sierras", including the Green Gulch mule deer migration corridor in 2009.[8]


The history of human habitation in the Great Basin goes back at least 12,000 years. Archaeological evidence of primitive habitation sites along the shore of prehistoric Lake Lahontan date from the end of the ice age when its shoreline was approximately 500 ft (150 m) higher along the sides of the surrounding mountains.

When Spanish explorers arrived in the late 18th century, the Great Basin was inhabited by Uto-Aztecan-speaking Native American Great Basin tribes, including the Shoshone, Ute, and Paiute. By the early 19th century, fur trappers from the Hudson's Bay Company had explored the upper Basin in the Oregon Country. The first comprehensive and accurate map of the region was made by John C. Frémont during several expeditions across the region in the 1840s.[citation needed]

The United States acquired control of the area north of the 42nd parallel via the 1819 Adams–Onís Treaty (Spain) and 1846 Oregon Treaty (United Kingdom), which were followed by complete control via the 1848 Mexican War treaty. The first large-scale white settlement in the region became the Mormon provisional State of Deseret in 1849, which encompassed the entire Great Basin and the coast of southern California, and was succeeded by the 1848 Oregon Territory, 1850 California statehood, and the 1850 Utah Territory. The 1848-1855 California Gold Rush crossed the Great Basin on the California Trail along Nevada's Humboldt River to Carson Pass in the Sierras. In 1860-61, the Pony Express transported transcontinental mail through the basin, and the 1869 First Transcontinental Railroad was completed in the basin at Promontory Summit. Circa 1902, the San Pedro, Los Angeles and Salt Lake Railroad crossed the basin to Las Vegas, Nevada.

In 1986, the 122 square miles (320 km2) Great Basin National Park was established near the Utah border.

To close a 1951 Indian Claims Commission case, the Western Shoshone Claims Distribution Act of 2004 established the United States payment of $117 million to the Great Basin tribe for the acquisition of 39,000 square miles (100,000 km2).[9] In 2006 the United Nations "urged the US government to halt any plans to appropriate Western Shoshone territory for private development or environmentally destructive government projects."[10] On February 21, 2008, a 6.0 magnitude earthquake occurred near Wells, Nevada,[11] centered on the Independence Valley fault system.[citation needed]

Present habitation

The Basin has remained among the most sparsely inhabited areas of the United States.[citation needed] The Great Basin's Wasatch Front is an urban area of 2 million people on the east of the Great Basin includes the Salt Lake City, Ogden-Clearfield, Provo–Orem, and Logan metropolitan areas . The basin's most populous city is Reno, Nevada on the west. Near Los Angeles, the Inland Empire includes the Palmdale Metropolitan Statistical Area (460,000)[12] which includes the basin's[citation needed] cities of Lancaster and Hesperia, California. The basin's Mojave River passes through Victorville, California in the Victor Valley. Major transportation routes of the basin include Interstates such as I-80 (Reno-Salt Lake City), I-15 (Utah-Idaho), and I-70 (central Utah-Colorado Plateau). Railroads through Salt Lake City, Utah provide service to Denver, Colorado, Oakland, California, and Los Angeles, California.

External media
USGS: North America Basins Map
Great Basin Map
Great Basin Shrub Steppe images (slow modem version)
Exploring the Great Basin

(slow modem version)


  1. ^ a b "Great Basin". Geologic Provinces of the United States: Basin and Range Province. National Park Service. Retrieved 2009-01-10. 
  2. ^ McPhee, John (1980) (html--book review). Basin and Range. Retrieved 2010-01-13. 
  3. ^ "Basin and Range Province". Geologic Provinces of the United States. United States Geological Survey. 2004. Retrieved 2009-01-10. 
  4. ^ "Amazing Lake Tahoe". Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority. Retrieved 2008-10-26. 
  5. ^
  6. ^ Trimble, Stephen (1999). The Sagebrush Ocean: A Natural History of the Great Basin. ISBN 0874173434. Retrieved 2010-01-13. 
  7. ^ Hogan, C.Michael; Papineau, Marc, et al (1987). Development of a dynamic water quality simulation model for the Truckee River. Environmental Protection Agency Technology Series. Washington D.C.: Earth Metrics Inc.. 
  8. ^ "Great Basin". Programs. American Land Conservancy. Retrieved 2010-01-11. 
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^

External links

Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikitravel

The Great Basin is that portion of the western United States, comprising most of Nevada and adjacent portions of eastern California, southeastern Oregon, southern Idaho, western Utah and southwestern Wyoming that do not drain to the sea. Geographically, this region is bounded by the Sierra Nevada in the west, the Wasatch range in the east, the Columbia Plateau in the north, and the Mohave desert in the south. central Wyoming's Great Divide Basin also does not drain to the sea, but is not considered to be part of the Great Basin.


Major cities in the Great Basin include Reno, Boise and Salt Lake City.


The Great Basin is characterized by a series of north-south running mountain ranges separated by relatively flat basins. The highest peaks in these ranges are over 13,000 feet, while the lowest points in the basins are about 4000 feet. Due to the "rain-shadow" effect from the Sierra Nevada, the Great Basin is very arid, with annual precipitation varying from approximately 4 inches per year to 10 inches per year, although the highest peaks can see significantly more precipitation. Most of this precipitation occurs in the form of snow in the winter, and is thus not available to plant life during the growing season. The predominant vegetation is sagebrush and shadscale in the lower elevations, dispersed Pinon-Juniper woodland at middle elevations, and Bristlecone and Limber Pine just below the alpine zone. Runoff collects in "playa" (dry lake-beds) or in a few cases year-round lakes and from there evaporates.

As well over 80% of the land in the Great Basin is publicly owned, opportunities for outdoor recreation are, quite literally, everywhere. Due to the region's remoteness and harshness, though, thorough planning is a necessity. Always bring reserves of fuel and water, and do not count on getting cell phone reception.

Get in

By plane

Major airports in the region are located in Reno, Boise and Salt Lake City. Smaller airports are located in Elko and Ely.

By train

Hjed and Salt Lake City are both served by Amtrak.

Get around

To get anywhere in the Great Basin outside of the major cities will require a car. Four-wheel drive is not a necessity during the summer months, but a high-clearance vehicle is necessary for traveling to the remote areas.

  • Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park
  • Lunar Crater
  • Black Rock Desert



Interesting hikes in the Great Basin are plentiful. Water, rather than access is generally the limiting factor. Many people limit themselves to a series of day-hikes rather than overnight trips in order to ensure water supplies. Aspen groves are a good indication of year-round water supplies, and in the autumn their golden leaves can be easily visible from a great distance.

See California desert camping for more advice.

  • Arc Dome Wilderness Area
  • Ruby Mountains
  • Great Basin National Park
  • White Mountains
  • Mount Jefferson
  • Mount Charleston
  • Steens Mountain
  • Deep Creek Mountains
  • Schell Creek Range


Native cutthroat trout are rare, but still found in remote streams and two large lakes. Most streams have been stocked with brook, brown and rainbow trout. These have become established and offer fishing for wild, but not native trout. In most of eastern Oregon's part of the basin, redband trout are the natives. These are closely related to rainbow trout, but are more vividly colored. Good places to try for native Cutthroats:

  • Pyramid Lake
  • Walker Lake
  • Sheldon Wildlife Refuge
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1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

GREAT BASIN, an area in the western Cordilleran region of the United States of America, about 200,000 sq. m. in extent, characterized by wholly interior drainage, a peculiar mountain system and extreme aridity. Its form is approximately that of an isosceles triangle, with the sharp angle extending into Lower California, W. of the Colorado river; the northern edge being formed by the divide of the drainage basin of the Columbia river, the eastern by that of the Colorado, the western by the central part of the Sierra Nevada crest, and by other high mountains. The N. boundary and much of the E. is not conspicuously uplifted, being plateau, rather than mountain. The W. half of Utah, the S.W. corner of Wyoming, the S.E. corner of Idaho, a large area in S.E. Oregon, much of S. California, a strip along the E. border of the last-named state, and almost the whole of Nevada are embraced within the limits of the Great Basin.

The Great Basin is not, as its name implies, a topographic cup. Its surface is of varied character, with many independent closed basins draining into lakes or "playas," none of which, however, has outlet to the sea. The mountain chains, which from their peculiar geologic character are known as of the "Basin Range type" (not exactly conterminous in distribution with the Basin), are echeloned in short ranges running from N. to S. Many of them are fault block mountains, the crust having been broken and the blocks tilted so that there is a steep face on one side and a gentle slope on the other. This is the Basin Range type of mountain. These mountains are among the most recent in the continent, and some of them, at least, are still growing. In numerous instances clear evidence of recent movements along the fault planes has been discovered; and frequent earthquakes testify with equal force to the present uplift of the mountain blocks. The valleys between the tilted mountain blocks are smooth and often trough-like, and are often the sites of shallow salt lakes or playas. By the rain wash and wind action detritus from the mountains is carried to these valley floors, raising their level, and often burying low mountain spurs, so as to cause neighbouring valleys to coalesce. The plateau "lowlands" in the centre of the Basin are approximately 5000 ft. in altitude. Southward the altitude falls, Death valley and Coahuila valley being in part below the level of the sea. The whole Basin is marked by three features of elevation - the Utah basin, the Nevada basin and, between them, the Nevada plateau.

Over the lowlands of the Basin, taken generally, there is an average precipitation of perhaps 6-7 in., while in the Oregon region it is twice as great, and in the southern parts even less. The mountains receive somewhat more. The annual evaporation from water surfaces is from 60 to 150 in. (60 to 80 on the Great Salt Lake). The reason for the arid climate differs in different sections. In the north it is due to the fact that the winds from the Pacific lose most of their moisture, especially in winter, on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada; in the south it is due to the fact that the region lies in a zone of calms, and light, variable winds. Precipitation is largely confined to local showers, often of such violence as to warrant the name "cloud bursts," commonly applied to the heavy down-pours of this desert region. It is these heavy rains, of brief duration, when great volumes of water rapidly run off from the barren slopes, that cause the deep channels, or arroyas, which cross the desert. Permanent streams are rare. Many mountains are quite without perennial streams, and some lack even springs. Few of the mountain creeks succeed in reaching the arid plains, and those that do quickly disappear by evaporation or by seepage into the gravels. In the N.W. there are many permanent lakes without outlet fed by the mountain streams; others, snow fed, occur among the Sierra Nevada; and some in the larger mountain masses of the middle region. Almost all are saline. The largest of all, Great Salt Lake, is maintained by the waters of the Wasatch and associated plateaus. No lakes occur south of Owens in the W. and Sevier in the E. (39°); evaporation below these limits is supreme. Most of the small closed basins, however, contain "playas," or alkali mud flats, that are overflowed when the tributary streams are supplied with storm water.

Save where irrigation has reclaimed small areas, the whole region is a vast desert, though locally only some of the interior plains are known as "deserts." Such are the Great Salt Lake and Carson deserts in the north, the Mohave and Colorado and Amargosa (Death Valley) deserts of the south-west. Straggling forests, mainly of conifers, characterize the high plateaus of central Utah. The lowlands and the lower mountains, especially southward, are generally treeless. Cottonwoods line the streams, salt-loving vegetation margins the bare playas, low bushes and scattered bunch-grass grow over the lowlands, especially in the north. Gray desert plants, notably cactuses and other thorny plants, partly replace in the south the bushes of the north. Except on the scattered oases, where irrigation from springs and mountain streams has reclaimed small patches, the desert is barren and forbidding in the extreme. There are broad plains covered with salt and alkali, and others supporting only scattered bunch grass, sage bush, cactus and other arid land plants. There are stony wastes, or alluvial fans, where mountain streams emerge upon the plains, in time of flood, bringing detritus in their torrential courses from the mountain canyons and depositing it along the mountain base. The barrenness extends into the mountains themselves, where there are bare rock cliffs, stony slopes and a general absence of vegetation. With increasing altitude vegetation becomes more varied and abundant, until the tree limit is reached; then follows a forest belt, which in the highest mountains is limited above by cold as it is below by aridity.

The successive explorations of B. L. E. Bonneville, J. C. Fremont and Howard Stansbury (1806-1863) furnished a general knowledge of the hydrographic features and geological lacustrine history of the Great Basin, and this knowledge was rounded out by the field work of the U.S. Geological Survey from 1879 to 1883, under the direction of Grove Karl Gilbert. The mountains are composed in great part of Paleozoic strata, often modified by vulcanism and greatly denuded and sculptured by wind and water erosion. The climate in late geologic time was very different from that which prevails to-day. In the Pleistocene period many large lakes were formed within the Great Basin; especially, by the fusion of small catchment basins, two great confluent bodies of water - Lake Lahontan (in the Nevada basin) and Lake Bonneville (in the Utah basin). The latter, the remnants of which are represented to-day by Great Salt, Sevier and Utah Lakes, had a drainage basin of some 54,000 sq. m. See G. K. Gilbert in Wheeler Survey, U.S. Geographical Survey West of the Hundredth Meridian, vol. iii.; Clarence King and others in the Report of the Fortieth Parallel Survey (U.S. Geol. Exploration of the Fortieth Parallel); G. K. Gilbert's Lake Bonneville (U.S. Geological Survey, Monographs, No. 1, 1890), also I. C. Russell's Lake Lahontan (Same, No. it, 1885), with references to other publications of the Survey. For reference to later geological literature, and discussion of the Basin Ranges, see J. E. Spurr, Bull. Geol. Soc. Amer. vol. 12, 1901, p. 217; and G. D. Louderback, same, vol. 15, 1904, p. 280; also general bibliographies issued by the U.S. Geol. Survey (e.g. Bull. 301, 372 and 409).

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Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary


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Proper noun

Great Basin


Great Basin

  1. A large arid area of western United States of America.

Simple English

The Great Basin is a desert area in the western United States of America. It is very dry and very large, occupying most of the state of Nevada and extending into California, Idaho, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming. In all, is is about 200,000 square miles (520,000 square kilometers) in size. It is an endorheic basin, which means that there is no outlet to the ocean. The longest river in the Great Basin is the Humboldt River, which is about 300 mi (483 km) long.


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