When many of us think of deserts, we think of hot, dry, desolate places filled with sand and maybe some cacti. But not all deserts are hot or even filled with sand. Antarctica, for example, is a desert, and it’s definitely not hot or sandy.
It turns out deserts are just as diverse as other natural landscapes like jungles and forests. In fact, there are six categories of deserts according to the U.S. Geological Survey: trade wind, midlatitude, rain shadow, coastal, monsoon, and polar. The only thing all deserts have in common is that they are dry.
We took a closer look at some of the world’s deserts and chose what we think are some of the most beautiful.
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The Namib desert, Namibia
The petrified Acacia trees in the Deadvlei area of the Namib desert are famous for their eery, almost haunted appearance. At 700 years old, they stand in stark contrast to living Acacia trees nearby.
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Sunrise over the Namib desert
If you’re lucky, you may see eagle owls nesting in the live Acacia trees in the Namib-Naukluft Park.
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Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
Salar de Uyuni, also known as the Uyuni salt flat, lies in the Andes Mountains in southwest Bolivia, and is the world’s largest salt flat. It is the result of a prehistoric lake that went dry, leaving behind nearly 7,000 square miles of bright salt. In the rainy season (January to April), the flats are covered in a thin layer of water, making Uyuni the largest mirror in the world.
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The animals of the Uyuni salt flat
Perhaps not surprisingly, there are not a lot of wildlife living in this desolate area, except for birds, especially flamingos that are drawn to the colored lagoons where they feed on plankton. In all, there are about 80 bird species to be found here at varying times of the year, including three species of flamingos.
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The Highlands of Iceland
The Highlands of Iceland are volcanic in nature, meaning these fields of ash, lava and even volcanic glass usually end up being gray, brown or black, as seen in this photo. While it rains and snows here, there is no soil to catch the water, making it impossible for plants to grow.
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Thar desert, India
Pictured here are cameleers in the Thar desert near Rajasthan, India. The Thar, also known as the Great Indian Desert, is in northwestern India, forming a natural boundary between India and Pakistan. At roughly 77,000 square miles, it is the world’s 17th largest desert and the 9th largest hot, subtropical desert.
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A beautiful desert city
There are several cities located in the Thar desert, but the mysterious blue city of Jodhpur and the Mehrangarh Fort rising above it may be the most breathtaking.
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All the deserts of Australia
Nearly 20% of Australia is classified as desert, with the Great Victoria Desert being the largest. That’s more than 850,000 square miles of desert — an area bigger than the entire country of Mexico.
In this picture, Uluru, one of Australia’s most iconic attractions, rises above the Central Australian Desert.
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There are a lot of … camels?
When you think of Australia kangaroos are often the first animal to jump to mind. But did you know that Australia has one of if not the largest populations of dromedaries (that’s the one-humped camel) in the world? That’s right.
During the 19th century, they were imported from British India as parts of Western Australia were colonized. Once cars and trucks became the preferred method of transport, many of these camels were released into the wild.
There are conflicting reports of just how many camels there are roaming Australia’s deserts, though many put the number at somewhere between 1 million and 3 million. The government culls the herds fairly regularly.
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The Gobi Desert, China
The Gobi Desert spans roughly 500,000 miles along the border of Northern China and Southern Mongolia and is the sixth largest desert in the world.
In this photo, the “rainbow mountains” of Zhangye Danxia National Geological Park, on the southern edge of the Gobi, show off exactly why they have the nickname they do.
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In true desert fashion
The Gobi gets only about 7 inches of rain each year, and because of its northern latitude, it is quite cold for a lot of the year, with temperatures well below freezing. Summers are hot, however, with temperatures often rising to around 100 F.
Despite these harsh conditions, there is abundant wildlife in the Gobi, including black-tailed gazelles, marbled polecats, wild Bactrian camels and sandplovers.
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Most people think of ice and snow (and penguins!) when they think of Antarctica, but just because there’s snowpack doesn’t mean there would be lush vegetation if it weren’t so cold year-round.
Antarctica isn’t the world’s largest continent — not by a long stretch. At 5.48 million square miles, it’s only slightly larger than Europe. But 5.4 million square miles of Antarctica (roughly 98%) is designated as desert, making it the largest desert in the world.
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There’s not much diversity
Antarctica is so barren that only a handful of animal species live there. But those that do live there in pretty large numbers. There are an estimated 12 million penguins on Antarctica, for example. You’ll also find a variety of sea birds, seals, sea lions and whales.
Plants are quite rare, however. In fact, just two vascular plants can be found in Antarctica, and that’s only along the coastal region of the Antarctic Peninsula. These are Antarctic hair grass and Antarctic pearlwort.
Only about 4,000 humans live on Antarctica at any one time, but that’s the high number during the summer months. Only about 1,000 live there during the winter.
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The Sahara, North Africa
At just over 5.3 million square miles, the Sahara desert is the world’s largest hot desert, but is still smaller than both the Antarctic and Arctic deserts (yep, the Arctic also is a desert). It covers nearly a third of the African continent and 11 different countries can claim a portion of it as theirs.
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It’s a harsh environment, but …
Roughly 2.5 million people live in the Sahara along with an abundance of wildlife, including the Fennec fox, possibly the cutest fox anywhere.
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The Mojave Desert, California
The Mojave Desert stretches from Southeastern California into Arizona, Utah and Nevada, taking up nearly 25,000 square miles. This picture was taken at Old Woman Rock, a popular climbing destination in Joshua Tree National Park, on the southern edge of the Mojave.
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Bring your sunscreen … and some water
Farther north is another well-known desert destination in the Mojave: Death Valley. It is one of the hottest places on Earth. In fact, at 134 F, it holds the record of the highest ambient air temperature ever recorded on Earth. That was set more than 100 years ago on July 10, 1913.
Badwater Basin, pictured here, is the lowest point in the United States at 282 feet below sea level.
This story was produced and syndicated by MediaFeed.org
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