8 Deserts That Aren’t Really Deserts

Jul 14, 2012 1 comments

Deserts take up nearly one-third of the Earth's land surface, yet only 41 countries in the world (one-fifth) are hosts to all the deserts on this planet. That leaves out quite a significant number of countries without one. I don’t know how it feels to live in a country without a desert, but it must certainly feel bad and inadequate because there are a large number of regions that don’t actually have these hot and arid geographic anomaly but are still quick to label any sandy or arid place a ‘desert’, and turn it into a tourist attraction. In the past we have seen more than a couple of such examples here at Amusing Planet. So today, we are going to find out some more.

Here are some of most notable pseudo-deserts around the world.

Desert of Maine


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The Desert of Maine is a 40-acre patch of exposed glacial silt in a pine forest in the town of Freeport, Maine, in the United States. Not only is the “desert” not a real desert, the “sand” is not real either, but a sand-like substance that was underground sometime around the last ice age until it was exposed.

The silt would have remained hidden underground if it wasn’t for the Tuttle family who decided to farm the land in 1797. The family had some poor farming practices. Failure to rotate crops, combined with land clearance and overgrazing, led to soil erosion, exposing the dune of sand-like glacial silt. The initial exposed small patch of sand gradually spread and overtook the entire farm. Eventually, the Tuttles had to abandon the land in 1919. An enterprising man who went by the name of Henry Goldrup bought the farm for $300 and converted it to a tourist attraction in 1925. Today the site is preserved as a natural curiosity, hosting a gift shop, a sand museum, and a farm museum.

Osoyoos Desert


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Tucked into the southernmost corner of the beautiful Okanagan Valley is a pocket of dry, shrub-grassland that is popularly called Canada’s only desert. Surrounding the community of Osoyoos, and the lake of the same name, this area of the Okanagan is home to 100 rare plants and 300 critters found nowhere else in the country. Osoyoos has a semi-arid climate with very hot, dry days in the summer and very mild days in the winter. Osoyoos Lake is the warmest fresh water lake in Canada, and in winter it never completely freezes over.

The Osoyoos Desert Centre conducts tours where visitors can learn about desert ecology, habitat restoration and conservation of endangered ecosystems in the South Okanagan.

Carcross Desert


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Located outside Carcross, Yukon, Canada, the Carcross Desert is often considered the smallest desert in the world. It measures approximately 1 square mile (2.6 km2), or 640 acres. It’s not an actual desert, but a large bed of sand that was formed during the last ice age, when large glacial lakes formed and deposited silt. When the lakes dried, the dunes were left behind. Today, sand comes mainly from nearby Bennett Lake, carried by wind. The dunes contain a wide variety of plants, including unusual varieties such as Baikal sedge and Yukon lupine, among others.

Carcross Desert is a popular tourist spot and very popular among locals who enjoy recreational activities in the dunes such as sandboarding. Tourist groups also use the area for off-road scenic tours, which is allowed on the fine-grained dunes. Other summer activities include hiking and all-terrain vehicles. In the winter, the area is used mainly for cross-country skiing and snowboarding.

Bledow Desert


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Błędów Desert is located between Błędów and the village of Klucze in Poland. At an area of 32 square kilometer, it is the largest accumulation of loose sand away from any sea in Central Europe. Yet, it is only one-fifth the size it was back in the 1950s. The sands were so large that visitors reported seeing mirages and sandstorms here.

Until medieval times the entire area was covered in forests, which grew over vast spaces of thick layers of sand, deposited by waters flowing out of melting glaciers. The situation changed in the 12th century, when residents cleared local forests to satisfy the needs of silver and lead foundries from nearby Olkusz. The massive deforestation exposed the sands which now cover the region.

Oleshky Sands


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Oleshky Sands also called Oleshky Desert is a huge expanse of sand situated inland from the Ukrainian coast of the Black Sea. The sands, located near the lower reaches of the Dnieper River, have existed for many centuries, but the desert appeared relatively recently. This sand area used to be covered with plants and vegetation which prevented the sands from spreading. But in the 19th century, with the good intention of turning the region into a wildlife preserve, a sheep breeder brought about a million sheep to these lands. Soon the animals had ate up all the grass exposing the sand underneath. Because of wind erosion, the unrestrained sands began to take over new territories and the desert quickly spread.

As any desert, the Oleshky Sands have their own oases, dried up, wet, and mineral lakes, and five-meter high sand dunes covered with grass and bushes. Sandstorms are known to occur in these regions.

In order to prevent the whole Black Sea region from turning into one big desert, in the 20th century, artificial forests were planted around the sands. Today, spread over a territory of 100,000 hectares, these forests are one of the largest artificial forests in the world.

Accona Desert


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The Accona Desert is a semi-arid area in Tuscany, Italy, characterized by dome-shaped formations locally known as biancane. This characteristic clay, known as mattaione, represents the sediments of the Pliocene sea which covered the area between 2.5 and 4.5 million years ago. This bare and almost plant-less region has been called the Accona desert since the Middle Ages.

Highlands of Iceland


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The Highlands of Iceland, cover most of the interior of Iceland, is an uninhabitable volcanic desert. The water precipitating as rain or snow infiltrates so quickly into the ground that it is unavailable for plant growth, which results largely in a surface of grey, black or brown earth, lava and volcanic ashes.

Rangipo Desert


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Rangipo Desert is a barren region in New Zealand that resembles a desert despite receiving plenty of rainfall because of a poor soil quality, drying winds and the mass sterilization of seeds during a series of violent eruptions about 20,000 years ago. The vegetation is low and sparse, consisting of mainly tussock and snow grasses. The headwaters of many small streams, which later to turn into large rivers, gouge deep serrated valleys through the unconsolidated ash and pumice-rich earth. The climate here is harsh particularly during winter, characterized by heavy snowfalls and ground frosts.

Other Desert Like Regions

Tottori Sand Dunes

Lençóis Maranhenses National Park

Chara Sands

Article based on Dubious Deserts by Google Sightseeing


  1. Good article. You are right that Osoyoos and Carcross aren't really deserts, but Canada does have a true desert: https://questioningthedata.wordpress.com/2015/08/22/canadas-only-true-desert/


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