Grapevine Canyon Petroglyphs
by Susan Homestead
Communication is a vital part of any society and has taken many forms throughout history. In the Southwestern United States, ancient people often communicated and recorded their lives in the form of pictographs or petroglyphs. While both are a form of communication and often tell a story, there is a distinct difference between the two. Pictographs are images and designs made by using natural materials to paint on rocks. This process makes pictographs quite fragile and vulnerable to the forces of nature. If left unprotected, they do not survive the passing of time. On the other hand, petroglyphs are images created by carving, engraving, or scratching through the dark surface, often termed desert varnish, of a rock. Most of the ancient rock art we find today is in the form of petroglyphs.
I recently visited a site with hundreds of impressive petroglyphs located in Grapevine Canyon just outside Laughlin, Nevada. The area is part of the Lake Mead National Recreation Area. In the canyon there are over 700 glyphs. They are believed to have been carved by the Ancient Mohave People between 1100 and 1900 AD. The reason for so many carvings here is thought to be the canyon’s location just north of Spirit Mountain or Avi Kwa’ Ame as known to the Mohave People. This mountain is considered sacred and believed to be the spiritual birthplace of the Mojave People.
The site was only a short drive off the main highway with good signage. Once we located the turn, we had to travel down a short well maintained gravel road to a small parking lot. From the parking area, it was just
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under a third of a mile walk along a wash to the location of the first petroglyphs. As we continued on, the canyon walls were covered with numerous rock carvings, everything from recognizable big horned sheep, human forms, and lizards to abstract, geometric drawings whose meanings have been lost to time. We spent a good hour or so near the entrance just inside the canyon exploring and photographing the carvings. It was impressive how many there were and how accessible they were.
Satisfied with what we had seen, we chose not to continue the hike further into the canyon. My research indicated that the best petroglyphs were at the beginning of the canyon and after that, the trail becomes much more difficult as it winds 1.7 miles through the granite boulders further into the canyon. The trail is lined with cottonwood trees, wild grapes, early cave dwellings, and a 15-foot waterfall when the water is flowing.
This was another great adventure and like most, makes me want to know more. I wish the rocks could talk. Oh wait, they are telling a story. A story of long ago in another time and place.
About Susan Homestead: Prior to her retirement, Susan spent 31 years as an educator in Washington State. Her career included, not only teaching elementary school, but working as a reading specialist and an instructional coach as well. She also developed and published educational materials. Now she spends her time traveling the country and writing reviews in an RV with her husband, Robert, and her two cats, Missy and Greyson.