Mojave, CA

The Petroglyphs at Grapevine Canyon

Heather Monroe

Every year, 2 million people visit the tiny gambling town of Laughlin, Nevada. Unfortunately, these visitors and some locals are unaware of the sacred Native American site only five miles away. With over 700 paleo-era petroglyphs, Grapevine Canyon is a sight to behold for visitors and archeologists alike. Visitors are welcome to explore the area for free.

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A View into Grapevine Canyon, near Laughlin, NevadaLake Mead NRA Public Affairs/Flickr

History

Long before Don Laughlin ever set foot in the Colorado River community, the area was occupied by the Pipa Aha Macav, better as the Mojave tribe.

According to Mojave lore, life began five miles north of Laughlin at Avi Kw Ame, which translates to Spirit Mountain. Those ancient people turned the walls of Grapevine Canyon at the foot of Spirit Mountain into a striking art gallery full of rock drawings called petroglyphs.

Today, Spirit Mountain and Grapevine Canyon are considered sacred by ten different tribes, especially to the Mojave People.

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A Story RockHeather Monroe

Getting There

Grapevine Canyon is easy to reach in any vehicle. The roads are well maintained and safe. From Laughlin, turn left onto Highway 163 and drive about 5 miles. Then, turn right at Christmas Tree Pass. After two miles, you'll come upon a designated parking area. After that, you'll need to walk a quarter-mile to the petroglyph site.

At the Canyon

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Hikers viewing the petroglyphsLake Mead NRA Public Affairs/Flickr

As you leave the trailhead, you'll notice petroglyphs sporadically etched into stones. As you walk, more and more petroglyphs appear. Soon, you find yourself at the mouth of a tall, narrow canyon with walls covered in the ancient artwork of natives who once called the area home.

A seasonal spring runs through the canyon bottom, nourishing several unlikely plants, including wild grapevines, cottonwood, cattails, and arrowweed.

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From a cave, looking out on Grapevine CanyonHeather Monroe

The canyon is home to many animals such as majestic bighorn sheep, bobcats, and coyotes. Reptiles, like rattlesnakes and chuckwallas, are also at home in Grapevine Canyon. Be on the lookout for the Mojave Desert Tortoise, which the International Union for Conservation of Nature lists as vulnerable.

Finding Meaning

Some of the petroglyph symbology is apparent. For example, you'll see drawings of animals, people, and water. Other symbols, such as grids, dots, and spiral patterns, make you wonder what the artists were trying to convey. Is the landscape you see today something that artists 1000-3000 years ago would recognize?

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A visitor stands among fallen petroglyphs and caves at Grapevine CanyonHeather Monroe

Modern Mojave people believe the petroglyphs are interpretations of the artists' shamanic journey and represent the tribe's creation and flood myths. But, of course, the glyphs aren't an alphabet to be read. Instead, the glyphs gain meaning when combined and observed through a cultural lens.

Preservation

Grapevine Canyon is on National Park Service Lake Mead Recreation. The site is historically significant and therefore protected. You are welcome to climb through the canyon, observe the petroglyphs and wildlife. However, you are on your honor to do so responsibly. Vandalism or any other destruction of these priceless artifacts is a federal crime.

In 2010, a 21-year-old man visited Grapevine Canyon with a paint gun. He defaced 38 areas of petroglyphs, all sacred to the Mojave People who are gracious enough to share this treasure with the world. Police arrested the man for defacement of an archeological resource, which is a felony. He pleaded guilty and received 15 months in federal prison with $10,000 owed in restitution.

When you visit, make sure to appreciate the petroglyphs from a distance. Avoid climbing on or even touching the petroglyphs if you can. You are welcome to take photographs, but do not remove any rocks, plants, or animals from Grapevine Canyon.

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Rock drawings depicting sheepHeather Monroe

Safety

You can visit Grapevine Canyon in the summer, but you really, really shouldn't. The hike is short, indeed. But the heat is too often underestimated.

The Mohave Desert is one of the hottest places on earth during summer. Daytime temperatures can often reach upward of 120°F. Therefore, this hike is more enjoyable and safer if enjoyed in the cooler months.

Also, snakes hibernate during winter, and this is home to the Mojave Green Rattlesnake, America's most lethal pit viper. The area is also crawling with sidewinders, diamondback rattlesnakes, and even scorpions. Wear protective clothing, such as jeans or snake boots, to stay a little safer.

No matter when you choose to visit, make sure you bring enough water. The National Park Service recommends one gallon of water per person. Restrooms are available at the trailhead.

Most of all, take your time and absorb the history around you. Grapevine Canyon is beautiful. With our good stewardship, the petroglyphs will remain for generations to come.

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Intricate Petroglyphs at Grapevine CanyonHeather Monroe

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I am a freelance writer, mom, and genealogist from California. I adore rock hounding, and living my best RV life.

Los Angeles, CA
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