Petroglyphs, waterfall highlight Grapevine Canyon near Laughlin
Special to the Appeal
It’s amazing how the desert finds ways to support and sustain life.
A good example of this can be found at Grapevine Canyon, about eight miles northwest of Laughlin. The canyon is a natural oasis in this extremely dry part of Southern Nevada.
To reach Grapevine Canyon, head west from Laughlin on State Route 163 for about six miles. Turn right on a marked dirt road (there is a Bureau of Land Management sign there) and follow the signs for two miles to the canyon.
The road to the canyon ends at a trailhead where you can park. Motorized vehicles are prohibited from this point. From here, walk about a half-mile on a flat trail to the mouth of the canyon.
The trail runs somewhat parallel to a wall of expressive sandstone rocks, about an eighth of a mile to the left, and a dry creek bed, immediately on the right. The rocks have been pocked and shaped into interesting shapes, a few of which bear a remarkable resemblance to contemporary impressionist sculptures.
Along the way, you pass through thick sagebrush, a few Joshua trees, mesquite bushes and, closer to the rocks, a handful of beautiful barrel cacti.
The trail reaches a narrow passage in the rocks, and it is here that you finally begin to experience the beauty of Grapevine Canyon.
A small stream of water pours through the canyon opening and spills into the creek bed, where it evaporates a few hundred yards beyond. And just ahead, you can hear the unmistakable sounds of a gurgling creek, its precious water splashing down and over several rock ledges in a small series of waterfalls.
More important, this is also the site of clusters of ancient petroglyphs carved into the surrounding rocks. This site has been described as the largest concentration of petroglyphs in Southern Nevada.
In fact, some almost seem to have been drawn on top of others. The images included geometric patterns (rounded and square shapes) as well as small drawings of bighorn sheep and stick figures apparently representing humans.
The setting suggests why such a great number of petroglyphs, which are prehistoric American Indian rock carvings, are found here. Perhaps hunters hid in these rocks awaiting deer, sheep and other game attracted to the canyon by the fresh water.
Naturally, the wait was probably long, and one can imagine these people carving various symbols – perhaps, for good luck – into the sandstone while waiting for a meal to wander along.
The trail passes through the canyon mouth and by the walls of petroglyphs, then heads up into the canyon. Above, you can find a nice stream of water tumbling down the rocks as well as several thick patches of wild grapes (hence the canyon’s name).
The canyon is in the Newberry Mountains, just south of Spirit Mountain, an important religious site for the local Indians.
According to the National Parks Service, Spirit Mountain plays a role in the mythology of the Mohave and Hualapai tribes, who believe it is their spiritual birthplace.
Spirit Mountain and the surrounding canyons have been named as Traditional Cultural Property and are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
For more information about Grapevine Canyon, contact the Laughlin Chamber of Commerce, (702) 298-2214.
• Richard Moreno is the author of “Backyard Travels in Northern Nevada”and “The Roadside History of Nevada.”