The genetic structure of populations over a wide geographical area should reflect the demographic and evolutionary processes that have shaped a species across its range. We examined the population genetic structure of antelope ground squirrels (Ammospermophilus leucurus) across the complex of North American deserts from the Great Basin of Oregon to the cape region of the Baja California peninsula. We sampled 73 individuals from 13 major localities over this 2500-km transect, from 43 to 22° north. Our molecular phylogeographical analysis of 555 bp of the mitochondrial cytochrome b gene and 510 bp of the control region revealed great genetic uniformity in a single clade that extends from Oregon to central Baja California. A second distinct clade occupies the southern half of the peninsula. The minimal geographical structure of the northern clade, its low haplotype diversity and the distribution of pairwise differences between haplotypes suggest a rapid northward expansion of the population that must have followed a northward desert habitat shift associated with the most recent Quaternary climate warming and glacial retreat. The higher haplotype diversity within the southern clade and distribution of pairwise differences between haplotypes suggest that the southern clade has a longer, more stable history associated with a southern peninsular refugium. This system, as observed, reflects both historical and contemporary ecological and evolutionary responses to physical environmental gradients within genetically homogeneous populations.