The Great Basin
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What is the Great Basin?Tour guide with map of the Great Basin. Cheatgrass Charlie lounges on top of the map.

The Great Basin covers most of Nevada and parts of Utah, Oregon, Idaho and California. Generally, its east boundary is the Wasatch Mountains of Utah and the western edge is formed by the Sierra Nevada and Cascade Mountains that create a rain shadow over much of the Great Basin, preventing many Pacific storms from reaching the region. Northern and southern boundaries, depending on how they are defined, range from the Snake River Plain in the North to the Mojave Desert in the South.

As part of the Basin and Range Province, mountains and valleys are repeated in succession across the region like great waves cast in time. Valleys are 4,000 to 5,000 feet above sea level and mountain peaks range over 10,000 feet in elevation.

Plant communities define different portions of the Great Basin. Forest communities occur at high elevations and include the oldest living organisms on Earth, the Great Basin bristlecone pines, which can live 4,900 years. Lower in elevation are the pinyon/juniper woodlands. Image depicting the elevational structure of plant communities in the Great BasinAs elevation decreases further, plant communities are characterized by the presence of sagebrush. In the northern Great Basin, an important plant community, referred to as the sagebrush steppe, is co-dominated by big sagebrush and several perennial grasses and forbs. The lowest elevations are at the bottoms of valley basins. These areas often have very salty soils, and the only plants that can tolerate these conditions grow in salt-desert shrub communities.

The focus of this website is on the impacts of invasive weeds in sagebrush communities, and to a lesser extent pinyon/juniper and salt-desert shrub communities.

Old picture of a railroadHumans have long been part of the Great Basin ecosystem. Evidence of Native American habitation has been found dating back over 10,000 years. These people lived in small bands, growing corn and squash as well as hunting and gathering pine nuts and crickets. European explorers and trappers traversed the Great Basin during the 1700’s, but settlers didn’t start arriving until the early 1800’s. The Homestead Act of 1862 encouraged more settlers determined to endure the sometimes harsh, always unpredictable life in the Great Basin. Mining towns flourished and faded from the 1870’s to 1930’s as gold, silver, and copper were sought after. With the driving of the Golden Spike in 1869, the Great Basin became the place connecting East to West in a growing nation.

-Sidebar: Southwest Regional Gap Analysis Project. Field site database. (, 26 September 2006).

Picture looking over a valley with two mountain ranges in the background