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Desert exploration is the deliberate and scientific exploration of deserts, the arid regions of the earth. It is only incidentally concerned with the culture and livelihood of native desert dwellers. People have struggled to live in deserts and the surrounding semi-arid lands for millennia. Nomads have moved their flocks and herds to wherever grazing is available, and oases have provided opportunities for a more settled way of life. Many, such as the Bushmen in the Kalahari, the Aborigines in Australia and various Indigenous peoples of the Americas, were originally hunter-gatherers. Many trade routes have been forged across deserts, especially across the Sahara Desert, and traditionally were used by caravans of camels carrying salt, gold, ivory and other goods. Large numbers of slaves were also taken northwards across the Sahara. Today, some mineral extraction also takes place in deserts, and the uninterrupted sunlight gives potential for the capture of large quantities of solar energy.

Many people think of deserts as consisting of extensive areas of billowing sand dunes because that is the way they are often depicted on TV and in films,[1] but deserts do not always look like this.[2] Across the world, around 20% of desert is sand, varying from only 2% in North America to 30% in Australia and over 45% in Central Asia.[3] Where sand does occur, it is usually in large quantities in the form of sand sheets or extensive areas of dunes.[3] The following sections list deserts around the world, and their explorers. Expeditions are listed by their leaders; details of other expedition members may be found via the links.


Heinrich Barth approaching Timbuktu on September 7, 1853, as depicted by Martin Bernatz.



North America

Main article: List of North American deserts

Before the European exploration of North America, tribes of Native Americans, such as the Mohave (in the Mojave desert), the Chemehuevi (in the Great Basin desert), and the Quechan (in the Colorado desert) were hunter-gatherers living in the California deserts.[11] European explorers started exploring the deserts beginning in the 18th century. Francisco Garcés, a Franciscan friar, was the first explorer of the Colorado and Mojave deserts in 1776.[12] Garcés recorded information about the original inhabitants of the deserts.

Later, as American interests expanded into California, American explorers started probing the California deserts. Jedediah Smith travelled through the Great Basin and Mojave deserts in 1826, finally reaching the San Gabriel Mission.[13][14] John C. Frémont explored the Great Basin, proving that water did not flow out of it to the ocean, and provided maps that the forty-niners used to get to California.[15]

See also


  1. ^ "Misconceptions surround desert terrain, vegetation". Ask a Scientist. Cornell Center for Materials Research. July 11, 2001. Retrieved September 24, 2013.
  2. ^ "Habitats: Desert". BBC Nature. 2013. Retrieved May 23, 2013.
  3. ^ a b "Desert Features". United States Geological Survey. October 29, 1997. Retrieved May 23, 2013.
  4. ^ Roth, Jonathan 2002. The Roman Army in Tripolitana and Gold Trade with Sub-Saharan Africa. APA Annual Convention. New Orleans.
  5. ^ "Photographic image" (JPG). Retrieved August 10, 2017.
  6. ^ Ted A. Morris. "US Air Force Air Sea Rescue in Saudi Arabia 1950–1951". Retrieved April 9, 2011.
  7. ^  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Gobi". Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 12 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 165.
  8. ^ "Romance Gone, Given Divorce". The Evening News. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. July 28, 1926. p. 1. Retrieved October 4, 2016 – via In 1902, while Lesdain was leading an expedition through the Gobi desert, he crossed the path of another explorer. This latter proved to be Miss Mailey who, dressed in men's clothes, commanded her expedition with assurance borne of the safe culmination of many adventures.
  9. ^ "Who Was Roy Chapman Andrews". Roy Chapman Andrews Society. Retrieved June 21, 2023.
  10. ^ Kielan-Jaworowska, Zofia (1969). Hunting for Dinosaurs. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press. ISBN 978-0-262-61007-0.
  11. ^ "History & Culture". Mojave National Preserve. National Park Service.
  12. ^ "Fr. Francisco Garces". Profiles in Mojave Desert History. Digital-Desert.
  13. ^ Gilbert, Bil (1973). The Trailblazers. Time-Life Books. pp. 96–100, 107.
  14. ^ Smith, Alson J. (1965). Men Against the Mountains: Jedediah Smith and the South West Expedition of 1826–1829. New York: John Day Co.
  15. ^ Weiss, Stephen C. (May 1999). "The John C. Fremont '1842, 1843–'44 Report' and Map". Journal of Government Information. 26 (3): 297–313. doi:10.1016/S1352-0237(99)00031-3.