The pattern of dunes within the Gran Desierto of Sonora, Mexico, is both spatially diverse and complex. Identification of the pattern components from remote-sensing images, combined with statistical analysis of their measured parameters demonstrate that the composite pattern consists of separate populations of simple dune patterns. Age-bracketing by optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) indicates that the simple patterns represent relatively short-lived aeolian constructional events since ???25 ka. The simple dune patterns consist of: (i) late Pleistocene relict linear dunes; (ii) degraded crescentic dunes formed at ???12 ka; (iii) early Holocene western crescentic dunes; (iv) eastern crescentic dunes emplaced at ???7 ka; and (v) star dunes formed during the last 3 ka. Recognition of the simple patterns and their ages allows for the geomorphic backstripping of the composite pattern. Palaeowind reconstructions, based upon the rule of gross bedform-normal transport, are largely in agreement with regional proxy data. The sediment state over time for the Gran Desierto is one in which the sediment supply for aeolian constructional events is derived from previously stored sediment (Ancestral Colorado River sediment), and contemporaneous influx from the lower Colorado River valley and coastal influx from the Bahia del Adair inlet. Aeolian constructional events are triggered by climatic shifts to greater aridity, changes in the wind regime, and the development of a sediment supply. The rate of geomorphic change within the Gran Desierto is significantly greater than the rate of subsidence and burial of the accumulation surface upon which it rests. ?? 2006 The Authors. Journal compilation 2006 International Association of Sedimentologists.