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.
Nevada along the Colorado River
with Spirit Mountain in the distance to the
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.
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.
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.]
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
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
incised geometric petroglyphs.
the mouth of the canyon looking west.
east from the mouth of the canyon
toward the Colorado River and mountains
on eastern bank.
icon faces east. (Rising of Orion's belt?)
Also snake above and crude zoomorph
triadic image isolated high on canyon wall (feathers?).
packed, geometric images superimposed.
Note star icon (outlined cross) at lower
left of large rectangle near center of photo.
motif, possibly forming a double Tau.
inside rectangle (lower left), T-shape inside fainter pyramid (upper right).
lines inside geometric patterns.
dots and lines, bear claws (center and lower right).
Atlatl, a flat wooden
stick for throwing a spear (extreme left-center).
shield high on cliff face, possibly a solar-lunar calendar.
circle has 13 lines.
Upper portion has two rows of 6 parallel lines each.
(Or does the upper row have 13? You decide.)
rare zoomorphs, possibly elk or deer.
with rectangular body and faint suggestion of arms and legs.
To left, opposing
arrowheads (warfare?) inside rectangle.
To right, circles, bighorn sheep, and
ceremonial cave, located on the north side of the mouth of the canyon.
"shaman's cave." Parallel lines, concentric circles, meanders, etc.
cave looking eastward.
cave: snake, river, or...?
incised boulder outside ceremonial cave.
In the foreground at left is a jimsonweed
which abounds in the wash that runs through the canyon.
This hallucinogenic plant may explain the plethora of so-called entoptic designs.
geometric luminous patterns are generated by the optic nervous system,
during the initial stages of altered states of consciousness.
can also occur during a migraine headache,
or by simply staring at the sun
for a moment and then closing the eyes.
"I-beam" (above) may
represent two Tau icons combined.
star (below) perhaps represents Sirius, the brightest star in the sky.
similar sidereal shape at Palatki Ruin, over 150 miles
to the east.)