Grapevine Canyon Petroglyphs (Lake Mead National Recreation Area)

Grapevine Canyon has been on my “short-list” for several years. When I found myself in the region for a DRECP meeting, I decided that it was time to pay a visit.  Grapevine Canyon is one of the most well-known petroglyph sites in the west, and supposedly the largest in Nevada. Unlike a majority of these sites, Grapevine Canyon isn’t a big secret, located in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, it is advertised by the National Park Service as a public site.

 

Approaching Grapevine Canyon

Approaching Grapevine Canyon

 

Grapevine Canyon

Grapevine Canyon

 

The canyon is located in Spirit Mountain, part of the Newberry Mountain Range. The entire area is sacred to the Colorado River Indian Tribes, many of which still live in region.  This includes the Mohave, Hualapai, Yavapai, Havasupai, Quechan, Pai pai and Maricopa. These same tribal groups regard Spirit Mountain as their spiritual birthplace.

The style of the petroglyphs in Grapevine Canyon are referred to by archeologists as “Grapevine Style.” It is closely associated with the Mohave Indian Tribe, with similar designs found throughout  their territory. The characteristics of the style are rectilinear, symmetrical, geometric design forms, bold lines, and distinctive “I” and “H” shapes. Like other cultures across the Southwest, there are also depictions of bighorn sheep, and shamanistic anthropomorphic figures.

 

An excellent example of "Grapevine Style"

An excellent example of “Grapevine Style”

 

Despite being a very well documented site, I wasn’t sure what I would encounter on my visit.  I make a habit of not looking at many photographs, or reading too much information about a place prior to visiting. I like to preserve the element of surprise, and discovery when I first see a place with my own eyes.

I pulled into the well-marked parking area around 8am, the temperature were already warming up. I hiked into the canyon using a trail to the south of the large sand filled wash running out of Grapevine Canyon. I wasn’t more than a few minutes into my hike when a Speckled Rattlesnake slithered across my trail. It curled up under a creosote bush and watched me.  Keeping calm I managed to get some incredible photographs and video.

 

Speckled Rattlesnake

Speckled Rattlesnake

 

Video of Speckled Rattlesnake:

 

Reaching the mouth of the canyon I was greeted by dozens of petroglyphs along the dark granite boulders. I recognized many of the designs from other places along my travels in the Eastern Mojave Desert. Walking along the canyon wall I was in awe of the sheer volume of designs that had been pecked along this corridor, many of which are thirty feet or higher above ground level. On the north side of the canyon there were hundreds if not thousands of petroglyphs covering the canyon wall from top to bottom.

In total there have been approximately 300 panels of “rock art” documented at Grapevine Canyon. If you were to look at individual designs that number would easily reach into the thousands! This was a massive undertaking that likely took several generations of Native people to create, going as far back as prehistoric times and reaching into historic times.

 

Several bighorn sheep designs, and what appears to be a sun motif.

Several bighorn sheep designs, and what appears to be a sun motif.

 

An extensive panel of "Grapevine Style" petroglyphs.

An extensive panel of “Grapevine Style” petroglyphs.

 

Large bodied, one-armed anthropomorphic figure.

Large bodied, one-armed anthropomorphic figure.

 

Large panel, which sits up roughly 30 feet high.

Large panel, which sits up roughly 30 feet high.

 

One of the more intriguing things that I came across was a break in the boulders on the north side of the canyon. A small crawl space allowed me to enter a very confined vertical slot. Inside there were several more petroglyphs, but what really caught my eye about the designs were the vertical representation of bighorn sheep and human figures. Out of curiosity, I chimnied my way up the vertical slot, coming out along a high ledge that I had previously been gazing at from across the wash,  wondering how they manage to get up there. I found my answer along with something that I doubt many visitors have the opportunity to see.

 

Inside the vertical slot. A petroglyph can be seen on the ground.

Inside the vertical slot. A petroglyph can be seen on the ground.

 

Inside the slot, a very interesting anthropomorphic figure, and a vertical bighorn sheep.

Inside the slot, a very interesting anthropomorphic figure, and a vertical bighorn sheep.

 

More vertical designs.

More vertical designs.

 

Venturing a short distance further into the canyon ,everything turned bright green from the native grapevine that covers the canyon floor. The small spring that usually flows was non-existent, there was not a drop of water in sight. Despite the lack of water, the scene is beautiful and serene, yet very concerning. Here was a spring that provided water for hundreds if not thousands of years to the people who once inhabited this area, due to drought conditions the spring has run dry.

 

Grapevines in the back of Grapevine Canyon.

Grapevines in the back of Grapevine Canyon.

 

Grapevine canyon was an incredible experience! I highly recommend visiting to anyone with the slightest interest in petroglyphs and Native American culture.  From Nevada State Route 163 turn on Christmas Tree Pass Road (dirt road). Follow Christmas Tree Pass Road for approximately 1.85 miles. On the left watch for the sign marking “Grapevine Canyon.” From the parking area it is less than a half mile to the mouth of the canyon.

 

Please enjoy this video presentation of Grapevine Canyon:

Please enjoy this extended image gallery:

 

Secret Places in the Mojave Desert Vol. 7

About the author

Jim Mattern

Jim is a scapegoat for the NPS, an author, adventurer, photographer, radio personality, guide, and location scout. His interests lie in Native American and cultural sites, ghost towns, mines, and natural wonders in the American Deserts.

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