Grapevine Canyon (Nevada)
by Gary A. David

Grapevine Canyon is located in the very southern tip of Nevada not far from the casino town of Laughlin. The rugged canyon lies six miles due west of the Colorado River, with the mouth of the canyon roughly facing east.

As the largest petroglyph site in southern Nevada, it has had ceremonial significance to the Mojave and other tribes for thousands of years.

Laughlin, Nevada along the Colorado River
with Spirit Mountain in the distance to the northwest.

Three-and-a-half miles to the northwest of the canyon, Spirit Mountain (elevation 5,639 ft.) dominates the landscape. Also known as Avikwa'ame by Yuman speakers, this peak has great mythic and cosmological importance. It was, in fact, the place where the world was created.

"For the Yuman-speaking inhabitants of the Colorado River region, no location was more sacred than Avikwa'ame, or Spirit Mountain, which we call Newberry Peak, in southernmost Nevada. According to the Mojave creation myth, the oldest spirit was Matavilya, made from the mating of Earth and Sky. Matavilya had two sons, Mastamho and Kaatar, and a daughter, Frog. Matavilya committed an unwitting indecency that offended his daughter, who then killed them. Mastamho directed the cremation and mourning ceremony for his father and, when completed, strode up the Colorado River Valley. When he got to the top Mastamho created the river by plunging a cane of breath and spittle into the earth, allowing the river to pour forth. Riding a canoe down the waters to the ocean, he created the wide river bottom by twisting and turning the boat. He returned from the ocean with his people, the Mojave, taking them in his arms to the northern end of Mojave country. There he piled up earth, creating the mountain Avlkwa'ame, and built himself a house on it. There too Mastamho plotted the death of Sky-Rattlesnake, an evil spirit and the source of dark powers. Mastamho killed Sky-Rattlesnake by cutting off his head, with his spilt blood becoming noxious insects. Mastamho then gave land to the different tribes and taught them to farm. Finally, Mastamho turned himself into a fish-eagle and flew off into oblivion." [David S. Whitley, A Guide to Rock Art Sites: Southern California and Southern Nevada (Missoula, Montana: Mountain Press Publishing Company, 1996), p. 128]

About 185 miles due south of Spirit Mountain (114.43 W. longitude) is Pilot Knob (114.75 W. longitude; elevation only 874 ft.).
Ancient tribes traditionally made pilgrimages upon a huge network of interconnected trails found in the low desert along the Colorado River. One such pilgrimage called the keruk is performed even today by tribes such as the Mohave, Yuma, Cocopa, and Maricopa. This four-day trek to Avikwa’ame, the sacred mountain in the north, is performed to celebrate the cosmogony.

“The route ran from Pilot Knob, or Avikwal [near Yuma, Arizona], the spirit house where the dead dwell at the southern end of the river, to Avikwa’ame, or Spirit Mountain, where the Earth was created, in the north. This pilgrimage was intended to honor the creation, and ritually retrace the path of Mastamho in his mythic adventures.”
[Whitley, A Guide to Rock Art Sites, p. 124-125.]

Here we find a north-south dichotomy similar to that found along the Nile in Egypt with the “Mound of Creation” (i.e., Heliopolis) located to the north. Atop Avikwa’ame, legends say, was a great house name Aha-avulypo, or literally “Dark Round House.” The north-south road itself was named Kwatcan, the “first trail to the homeland.” The Hopi word for “track” is kuku’at, but the word for “grandfather” is the near homophone kwa’at. Perhaps the suffix -can is a variant of “ka,” part of the word kachina, a sprit messenger. Thus, the intended meaning of Kwatcan is either “spirits of the track” or “spirits of the grandfathers.”

Midway on this spirit road between the sacred mountain of the north and the mouth of the Colorado River are earth sculptures known as geoglyphs (also called intaglios) found on the 33rd degree of north latitude. Located about 15 miles north of Blythe, California, these geoglyphs together with other cairns, stone circles, and cleared dance paths may be ritually associated with this great north-south road.

Spirit Mountain (35.17 N. latitude) is, incidentally, about 170 miles due west of the sacred mountain of the Hopi called Humphreys Peak (35.20 N. latitude; elevation 12,633 ft.).

In Grapevine Canyon the designs carved into the heavily patinated granite cliffs and boulders are predominantly abstract: geometric forms, nets, grids, zigzags, shields, spirals, concentric circles, meandering lines and dots, parallel lines, starbursts, and odd I-shaped or H-shaped forms. I did, however, occasionally find the engravings of a zoomorph (animal form) such as deer or bighorn sheep, and that of snakes. Also stylized anthropomorphs (human forms) appear among the welter of images sometimes densely superimposed as on a palimpsest.

Grapevine Canyon may be the ritual location where shamans on a vision quest entered mythic space-time to reenact the cosmic creation. The site might also have served as a summer solstice observation point, though further research is needed to verify this. At any rate, the petroglyphs found here are not mere doodles or idle recreation. On the contrary, these labor-intensive carvings undoubtedly represent the visionary re-creation of mythical or otherworldly dimensions. We may never fully know their true meanings.

Copyright 2007 Gary A. David
Deeply incised geometric petroglyphs.

Copyright 2007 Gary A. David
Near the mouth of the canyon looking west.

Copyright 2007 Gary A. David
Looking east from the mouth of the canyon
toward the Colorado River and mountains on eastern bank.

Copyright 2007 Gary A. David

Tripartite icon faces east. (Rising of Orion's belt?)
Also snake above and crude zoomorph below.

Copyright 2007 Gary A. David
Another triadic image isolated high on canyon wall (feathers?).

Copyright 2007 Gary A. David

Densely packed, geometric images superimposed.
Note star icon (outlined cross) at lower left of large rectangle near center of photo.

Copyright 2007 Gary A. David
Stairstep motif, possibly forming a double Tau.
Zigzags inside rectangle (lower left), T-shape inside fainter pyramid (upper right).

Copyright 2007 Gary A. David
Parallel lines inside geometric patterns.

Copyright 2007 Gary A. David
Meandering dots and lines, bear claws (center and lower right).
Atlatl, a flat wooden stick for throwing a spear (extreme left-center).

Copyright 2007 Gary A. David
Sunbursts and snake.

Copyright 2007 Gary A. David
Circular shield high on cliff face, possibly a solar-lunar calendar.
Outer concentric circle has 13 lines.
Upper portion has two rows of 6 parallel lines each.
(Or does the upper row have 13? You decide.)

Copyright 2007 Gary A. David
Somewhat rare zoomorphs, possibly elk or deer.

Copyright 2007 Gary A. David
Anthropomorph with rectangular body and faint suggestion of arms and legs.
To left, opposing arrowheads (warfare?) inside rectangle.
To right, circles, bighorn sheep, and starburst.

Copyright 2007 Gary A. David
Small ceremonial cave, located on the north side of the mouth of the canyon.

Copyright 2007 Gary A. David
Outside "shaman's cave." Parallel lines, concentric circles, meanders, etc.

Copyright 2007 Gary A. David
Inside cave looking eastward.

Copyright 2007 Gary A. David
Engravings inside cave.

Copyright 2007 Gary A. David
Inside cave: snake, river, or...?

Copyright 2007 Gary A. David
Heavily incised boulder outside ceremonial cave.
In the foreground at left is a jimsonweed (Datura wrightii),
which abounds in the wash that runs through the canyon.
This hallucinogenic plant may explain the plethora of so-called entoptic designs.

These geometric luminous patterns are generated by the optic nervous system,
frequently during the initial stages of altered states of consciousness.
Entoptic images can also occur during a migraine headache,
or by simply staring at the sun for a moment and then closing the eyes.

Copyright 2007 Gary A. David
The "I-beam" (above) may represent two Tau icons combined.
This south-facing star (below) perhaps represents Sirius, the brightest star in the sky.
(See similar sidereal shape at Palatki Ruin, over 150 miles to the east.)

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