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Below are some dictionary examples in which the noun desert is used as an uncountable:

this area of the country is mostly desert (Longman)

drought and deforestation are turning fragile grasslands into desert (Oxford)

desert in the sense of a particular arid area is countable. I am wondering why it is uncountable in the examples aforequoted. Is there any subtle change in meaning when it is used as uncountable?

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Topographical features are expressed that way quite often.

There was about fifteen feet of beach from the near end of the pier to the waterline.

The land around the cabin was mostly forest, with a few outcroppings of rock.

If you drive through Iowa it's cornfield as far as you can see.

In all of these cases the feature in question is not being used as a discrete entity but as a descriptor for the type of land being talked about. There are other ways to say those things — "the beach", "forested", "cornfields" — but then there are different ways to say almost anything. The usages above, and your example as well, are common and unexceptional.

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