From sprawling sands to rugged mountains and dizzying salt flats, all deserts have one thing in common:

they receive very little rain.  

But make no mistake.  

These landscapes are far from the barren image that may come to mind when you hear their name. 

In fact, deserts are home to an abundance of wildlife and people, ancient customs and traditions.  

Let’s explore how these often-overlooked ecosystems support various forms of life. 

Enter your name to begin! 

Welcome to the Desert Journey, {NAME}. 

Which desert ecosystem would you like to visit first? 

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How cold can the Gobi Desert get in the winter? 

-40 °C (-40 °F)

Not all deserts are hot all the time! The Gobi Desert sees harsh, cold winters because of its elevation at around 900 m (3,000 ft) above sea level. Deserts like this—with hot summers and cold winters—are fittingly called “cold deserts”. Their plants, animals, and people have adapted to withstand the extreme temperatures.

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Fennec foxes, the smallest of all the fox species, are native to the Sahara desert. 

Their large ears help them hunt prey under the sand at night and dispel heat. 

Do you know what fennec foxes do to regulate their body temperatures in the desert heat?


Like many other mammalian species in the desert, fennec foxes have evolved to adapt to the harsh conditions of the Sahara. When temperatures climb, their breathing rates increase from 23 breaths per minute to up to 690 breaths per minute, which helps them regulate their internal body temperature.

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Birds are not the only ones who find Wadi Rum to be a nice spot! 

The desert landscape is also home to tribal groups, as you learned in the introduction. 

Can you guess how many tribal groups live in this desert?


Wadi Rum is home to the Zweideh, Zalabia, Sweilhieen, Omran, Godman and Dbour tribes. Many tribal groups in Wadi Rum use an eco-tourism model to protect both their livelihoods and the desert ecosystems. Hotels, restaurants, jeep tours, and camel excursions are a few examples of businesses operated by eco-tourism entrepreneurs. Other tribes practice profitable agriculture.


{NAME}, you’ve chosen to visit the Gobi Desert!

Located in Central Asia and stretching 500,000 miles into modern day China and Mongolia, the Gobi Desert is the largest of its kind in Asia and the fourth largest in the world.

The Gobi might not look like the kind of ‘desert’ most people imagine. 

Instead of shifting sand dunes, it has mostly rocky and packed terrain. 

And instead of constant, unbearable heat, this desert also faces harsh winters called “dzud” reaching below -45°C (49°F).

Despite the unforgiving climate, nomadic pastoralism—when people migrate within a territory to find pastures for their livestock—is the dominant livelihood in the Gobi Desert. 

Let’s journey through this incredible desert landscape to see what makes it so special.


Welcome to the mighty Sahara, {NAME}!

The Sahara Desert is the largest hot desert in the world, spanning a whopping 3.6 million square miles (9.4 million square kilometers), across 11 countries in North Africa, or about the size of the entire United States!

While the Sahara is best known for its sand dune fields, that only makes up 15% of the desert.

Mountains, plateaus, salt flat, basins, depressions, and sand- and gravel- covered plains cover the rest of the desert. 

The diverse ecology of the Sahara brings an abundance of biodiversity: 500 plant species, 70 known mammalian species, 100 reptilian species, 90 avian species, and several arthropods – such as spiders and scorpions – call the region home.

Let’s explore the stunning beauty of this desert landscape.


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Speaking of species, I think I see one up ahead!

What could it be? 


Camels are king in the Gobi Desert, where they are an invaluable resource to the nomadic herders in the region. Bactrian Camels provide clothing, milk, and transportation to the people of the Gobi Desert, making them an important asset to the economy. But they are critical for the ecosystem as well, helping spread the seeds of a shrub called Saxaul through their manure.

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The Sahara Desert is continuously expanding in a process called desertification. 

Although deserts are important ecosystems, as we’ve seen with the Sahara, it becomes a problem when once-green areas lose their vegetation and become deserts. 

By what percent do you think the Sahara has grown since 1920?


While it is normal for deserts to increase in area during the dry season and decrease during the wet season, the combination of natural climate cycles and human-caused climate change is causing the Sahara to grow more and shrink less. This process of desertification puts otherwise healthy land at risk of being infertile.

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Eco-tourism is not the only example of how natural resources contribute to the livelihoods of people in Wadi Rum. 

One such resource is commonly used to construct tents. 

What do you think it is?


Goat hair tents are a traditional staple in Wadi Rum, and they exemplify a clever adaptation to an otherwise harsh landscape. Goats are one of the most popular livestock species in the desert because they adapt incredibly well to both heat and water shortages. 

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The name “Gobi” is derived from a Mongolian word. 

What do you think that word roughly translates to?


The Mongolian word “Gobi” translates to “waterless place”, which is well-suited to describe the rocky, firm terrain with sparse vegetation. The Gobi experiences little rainfall because the Himalayan Mountain Range forms a “rain shadow” over the desert, which prevents rain-carrying clouds from moving over the mountains and reaching the Gobi.

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While the Sahara is known for being one of the harshest environments on earth with scarce water, there are actually water sources in the region. 

Which of the following sources are part of the Sahara?


Both the Nile and the Niger river run through the Sahara. Also present are huge aquifers, which are underground stores of freshwater that feed into over 90 desert oases. You can even find at least 20 lakes in the Sahara which dry and fill with the seasons.

Congratulations, you’ve completed the Gobi Desert Journey!

Although you were just a visitor, {NAME}, many people call the Gobi Desert home, including shepherds of goats, camels, and sheep. 

The tribes of the Gobi - who are of Mongolian and Han Chinese descent - live in traditional tents called “ger”, which provide a type of shelter that is conducive to their nomadic way of life. 

Unfortunately, increased desertification of the Gobi, which is the fastest growing desert on Earth, threatens the surrounding land. 

This expansion turns fertile grassland into arid, inhospitable land and creates sandstorms that cause problems for nearby cities. 

But hope is not lost!

The Chinese government implemented a project in 1978 known as the Great Green Wall, which attempts to slow desertification by way of a 2,800 mile wall of trees. 

Since its initiation, over 66 billion trees have been planted.

You can play a role in protecting the Gobi Desert by:

  • Engaging in responsible eco-tourism
  • Donating to organizations working to protect the Gobi
  • Talking with family and friends about the importance of natural deserts and the dangers of desertification of fertile lands
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The southern edge of the Sahara, called the Sahel, is a transition zone between the desert to the north and the savannahs to the south.

What is the name of the initiative underway to combat desertification and environmental degradation in the Sahel?


The Great Green Wall of the Sahara and the Sahel, a.k.a. The Great Green Wall, is an Africa-led movement with a goal of growing an 8,000 km (4,500 m) natural wonder of the world across the width of Africa. The Great Green Wall hopes to combat landscape degradation and provide food and livelihood security to the millions of people within its boundaries.

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Speaking of adapting to heat, how do you think Wadi Rum’s local Blaps beetle has adapted to scorching desert temperatures?


The Blaps beetle has long, narrow legs that help keep its body off the hot desert floor when it walks. Beetles are important prey species for birds, reptiles, and other insects in Wadi Rum.

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We mentioned that desert landscapes are often made up of much more than just a bunch of sand.

Which of the following is not an ecological feature of the Gobi?


Was that a trick question? Well, based on what you just learned about the name ‘Gobi’, maybe! This desert actually does have water, in the form of lakes, rivers, and salt marshes. But these diverse ecosystem features don’t include any volcanoes. 

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The Sahara is known for its seasonal dust storms, which leap across oceans and continents. 

How many tonnes of minerals, nutrients, and matter do you think are carried into the ocean from desert wind and sand storms each year?


Sand and dust storms, particularly those from the Sahara, carry minerals, nutrients, and matter (both inorganic and organic) into Earth’s oceans. This can have range of both positive and negative impacts on marine biodiversity, including providing a major source of nutrients and trace metals and fertilizing the algal blooms that feed many marine species.

To read more about the relationship between deserts and oceans, check out the article on the homepage.

Welcome to Wadi Rum, {NAME}! 

Nicknamed “Valley of the Moon” for its beautiful shades of red sand dunes and breathtaking rock formations that give it an almost alien-like appearance, this protected ecosystem is found in Southern Jordan.

Wadi Rum is home to hundreds of bird species, as well as reptiles, wolves, foxes, camels, hares, wildcats, and more.

Wadi Rum is abundant with evidence of human cultures dating from the prehistoric times and  was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2011.

Now the area is home to the Bedouins, who until recently led nomadic lives. 

Due to the growing popularity of tourism in Wadi Rum, which was made known by films such as “Lawrence of Arabia” and “The Martian”, many Bedouins are now involved in the eco-tourism industry. 

Let’s explore the some of the species and people who call Wadi Rum home.

Thank you for visiting the Sahara Desert!

As you probably noticed, {NAME}, the Sahara is massive in size! 

And although the landscape offers an abundance of biodiversity and natural resources, it is actually not a good thing when it expands, which is happening at an increasing rate.

This expansion puts surrounding areas and the rest of Africa at risk of desertification, which harms ecosystems and biodiversity along with the health and livelihoods of humans. 

But important initiatives are underway to combat this process, which you learned a little bit about during your journey.

Along with the Great Green Wall initiative, large-scale wind and solar farms are being installed to promote vegetation growth and bring more rainfall to the region, which could slow the desertification process and help agriculture and economic development. 

Click here to learn more about the Great Green Wall, and click here to learn more about the impacts Saharan dust has on the planet’s oceans.


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The Blaps beetle might be easy to spot in Wadi Rum’s sands. 

But another species is much more elusive, and experts once declared it extinct in the wild. 

Which species do you think it is?


The Arabian oryx is an antelope with a shoulder bump, and two long, straight horns. They were extensively hunted for the meat, coat, and horns, and many were accidentally poisoned in an effort to eradicate locusts. Declared extinct in the 1970s, the oryx population is increasing due to reintroduction programs that breed and release individuals across the Arabian peninsula.

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Deserts often provide us with rich historical data and artifacts.

The Gobi Desert has been particularly valuable in studying which natural phenomenon?


The Gobi Desert is a paleontological hotspot whose dinosaur remains were first made famous by an American scientist named Roy Chapman Andrews, the inspiration behind the movie character Indiana Jones. Today, efforts are being made by people like Bolortsetseg Minjin, who founded the Institute for the Study of Mongolian Dinosaurs, to inspire future generations of Mongolia's paleontologists.

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The Sahara is known as one of the hottest regions of the world. 

How hot can the temperature get in the hottest months of the year?

50C (122F)

Temperatures in the Sahara can soar to above 50 degrees Celsius (122 F) during the hottest months! The people, plants, and animals living in the region have developed clever ways of adapting to such hot weather. We’ll take a look at one such example in the next question.

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In the spring and autumn, Wadi Rum is part of a migration route for animals in need of some rest and re-fueling. 

Which animal would you be able to spot in the hundreds?


Wadi Rum is a great spot for bird-watching as they migrate between Africa and Europe, flying mostly along the Jordan Rift Valley and its margins. Although it is more of a side road than the main route, Wadi Rum’s large size and varied habitat make it a valuable sanctuary on the migration route.

We hope you enjoyed your visit to Wadi Rum!

{NAME}, you’ve seen how Wadi Rum, like other desert ecosystems, is extremely important to the ecological, social, cultural, and economical health of the region. 

Today, Wadi Rum’s beautiful landscape and rich biodiversity attracts many tourists, which provides nature-based livelihoods for the locals through eco-tourism. 

But throughout history, the landscape’s natural resources also sustained the nomadic livelihoods of local tribes, and these tribes still rely heavily on the desert for things like food and shelter.

Wadi Rum also holds much historical significance, thanks to the thousands of petroglyphs and inscriptions that give us a glimpse into a whopping 12,000 years of human history, from the Paleolithic Era to the Islamic Era. 

Despite the known importance of Wadi Rum, various human-caused factors threaten its state of conservation. 

While sustainable tourism brings economic benefits, unsustainabletourism - like poor waste management from tourism communities and harmful off-roading activities – needs to be addressed to ensure the successful future of Wadi Rum and its local communities.

Here are steps you can take to tour Wadi Rum responsibly:

  • Do your research and look for tour companies and businesses with desert-friendly business practices
  • Be respectful of monuments and other elements of the desert’s landscape. Touching or disturbing them may compromise future generations’ ability to enjoy them like we can!
  • Keep trash with you until you can properly dispose of it back in a village or town. The desert may seem like a hardy place, but even small disruptions can affect its balance.
  • Be mindful of the longstanding cultural history of Wadi Rum’s locals, and try not to degrade their culture or landscape in a search for an “authentic experience”.