Grapevine Canyon is one of the best petroglyph sites in southern Nevada. It is also one of the easiest places to visit on a day trip, located in the southern part of Lake Mead National Recreation Area near Laughlin and accessible by car-friendly road. A short hike to the rock art itself is easy.
The trailhead is at 2,385 feet above sea level, so temperatures can be expected to be about the same as in Las Vegas. Therefore, this is a particularly good excursion on winter mornings — but hikers are exposed to the sun, so you need to wear a hat and sunglasses and bring all the supplies and water.
From the parking lot, walk along the gravel road, along the gravel road, about a quarter mile towards the clear mouth of Grapevine Canyon. On the right is the Grapevine Wash, which is usually dry except after a storm. Once you reach the canyon opening, start looking at the rocks and cliffs and you’ll see dozens of petroglyphs. They are more concentrated on the right side.
Petroglyphs were created by prehistoric people. Prehistoric people hammered and scraped natural desert varnishes to expose the bright colors below, creating long-lasting designs. Here you’ll find a variety of shapes, including abstract symbols whose meaning remains a mystery, and depictions of wildlife such as bighorn sheep and lizards. Native Americans spent time in the area by 1100 AD. Some of the rock art here is believed to be more than 800 years old and some 150 years old.
As the canyon narrows, petroglyphs are less concentrated. Approximately 30 yards from the canyon’s estuary, large rocks and dry waterfalls impede easy progress. This marks the end of the hike for most people, especially those with small children, but adults with some energy and rock scrambling skills can continue over and over again. I thought it would be easier on the right side, but be aware that the steep slopes make the granite slippery, especially when returning.
After crossing the huge rocks, you can return to the hanging canyon drainage channel above the dryfall. There aren’t many petroglyphs in this section, but there are areas where the canyons are heavily packed with grapes, often with small streams of running water, but the scenery is pretty. Cottonwood and willow grow, and there are also cattails and rushes. Sometimes you need to cross a stream to go upstream. About a mile from the mouth of the Grapevine Canyon is a narrow but low-walled slot canyon worth walking until it’s too narrow to continue. This is a good turning point.
The location of petroglyphs is religiously important to Native Americans, an irreplaceable scientific and cultural resource, and deserves attention and preservation. Do not walk, touch or disturb the rocks or panels. A small amount of oil on our skin can easily damage this fragile rock art. Bring binoculars to avoid the contempt and danger of climbing rocks and looking closely.
Just north of this canyon is the Granite-covered Spirit Mountain, or Abikuwaame, at 5,639 feet, the highest peak of Newbury Mountain. It is said to be the spiritual birthplace of the Mohave tribe and is important in the folklore of all 12 Humain-speaking people in southern Colorado. It is considered a sacred place and is probably one of the reasons why there are so many petroglyphs in the Grapevine Canyon. The mountain itself and its surroundings are registered on the National Register of Historic Places, and the Biden administration is moving to place a larger area under federal protection as a national monument.
If you go
From Las Vegas head south towards Boulder City, then turn south on US95 towards Searchlight. Follow 53 miles and turn left on State Highway 163 towards Laughlin for 12.9 miles. Turn left onto Christmas Tree Pass Road, follow this well-maintained gravel road for 1.8 miles, and turn left toward the parking lot.