Desert ephemeral gravel bed streams typically have bed surfaces that are relatively unarmored compared to the substrate below, while gravel bed streams in humid and snowmelt areas typically have well-armored surfaces. The degree of armoring can be characterized in terms of an armor ratio defined as the ratio of the surface median size to the substrate median size. A set of field data shows desert ephemeral gravel bed streams with armor ratios ranging from 0.5 to 2.4 and with an average value of 1.2. The armor ratio of snowmelt-fed gravel bed streams in the same set ranges from 2 to 7, with an average value of 3.4. The reason for this difference is sought in terms of differing hydrological characteristics and sediment supply regimes. Thirteen experiments were conducted to study the formation of armoring under a range of hydrological conditions. The experiments have two limiting cases: a relatively flat hydrograph that represents conditions produced by continuous snowmelt and a sharply peaked hydrograph that represents conditions associated with flash floods. All constant hydrograph experiments developed a well-armored structured surface, while short asymmetrical hydrographs did not result in substantial vertical sorting. All symmetrical hydrographs show some degree of sorting, and the sorting tended to become more pronounced with longer duration. Sediment supply appears to be a first-order control on bed surface armoring, while the shape of the hydrograph plays a secondary role.