Carcross Desert – Carcross, Yukon Territory - Atlas Obscura

Carcross, Yukon Territory

Carcross Desert

This tiny square mile of Canadian sand was once considered the world's smallest desert. 

If giants had sandboxes, what would they be like? Many children spend hours pondering this question, but you might be surprised to find that the answer lies just north of the tiny Yukon town of Carcross in the form of the world’s smallest desert.

North of the 60th parallel, the Carcross Desert is not the northernmost desert in the world, but it is one of the most remarkably contained. At just one square mile in area, it seems more like humans attempted to deposit a few thousand tons of sand along nearby Lake Bennett and missed their target by a few miles. In sharp contrast to China’s afforestation efforts on the frontier of the Gobi desert, nature has succeeded in sustaining this ecological gem for thousands of years.

The Carcross Desert was formerly the bed of a Pleistocene glacial lake, and remains arid due to the rain shadow effects of the mountains in Yukon’s southern lakes region. Although the winds are harsh and inhibitory to most plant life, the dunes are home to a few unusual flora, even sporting the exceptionally rare Baikal Sedge (which is normally found only off the coast of Lake Baikal in Siberia).

It also offers unusual recreational opportunities for outdoorsy Yukoners. Many in Whitehorse travel south during the summer months to go sandboarding on the dunes.

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