Grapevine Canyon – Christmas Tree Pass

Feb/24/2016 0 Malia Lane
Hikes - Trails

February 20, 2016 – While staying at Needles Marina RV Park in California, a friend and I did this little hike near Laughlin, Nevada at Grapevine Canyon.  From info sign: Grapevine Canyon, located within Spirit Mountain, is one of the earliest and largest petroglyph sites in Southern Nevada. This remote canyon is sacred to the Yuman and Numic speaking tribes indigenous to this area.

Christmas Tree Pass road

You have to go down Christmas Tree Pass, a 16 mile little dirt road that warns at the beginning that it is rough and they recommend a 4×4 vehicle.  I saw videos on YouTube that people said it wasn’t that bad early on and since it’s only two miles to the trailhead, we pressed on slowly with no problems.

Trailhead road

Turning off onto the short road to the trailhead.  It was a perfectly gorgeous day for a hike in the canyon!

Grapevine parking

Looking back from the beginning of the trail to the parking area.  There are two pit toilets that were surprisingly clean and not stinky.

Grapevine Petroglyphs 1

Just a short walk away, I couldn’t believe how many petroglyphs there were.  According to the NPS website, they think the etchings span a time period from as recent as 150-200 years ago to more than 800 years ago!  Per, “As the largest petroglyph site in southern Nevada, it has had ceremonial significance to the Mojave and other tribes for thousands of years.”

Grapevine Petroglyphs 2

Mostly they are not far up from the ground and are also close to the trailhead (about 1/4 mile).  I wondered about the dark coloring – according to Bird and, “The rock faces on both sides of the mouth of the canyon are covered in desert varnish, a naturally occurring dark patina that forms on the surface of rocks in the desert. Native peoples created petroglyphs here by pecking away the desert varnish to reveal the underlying light-colored granite rock.”

Grapevine Petroglyphs 3

I was so happy to see no visible signs of modern graffiti in this sacred area. Mostly geometric shapes, I wished I could interpret what they represented.

Grapevine ancient alien petroglyph

However, maybe since I watch the Ancient Aliens TV show, the figure at lower left reminded me of that.

Grapevine petroglyphs 5

Just the rock formations themselves are incredible on their own.

Grapevine petroglyphs 4

Sometimes it looked like little alcove patios were built into the walls.

Grapevine petroglyphs 6

What was really amazing was seeing fresh water springs in this so desolate area!

Grapevine - people on rocks

A little past the springs we turned around because it would have required climbing on and over boulders and even with a hiking stick, I don’t think I would have wanted to try that like these young folks did.

Grapevine - boulder & me

While of course you’re asked not to touch the petroglyphs, these massive boulders further into the canyon (with no petroglyphs) were so impressive I just had to give them a pat and thank them for staying put.

Grapevine - me sliding

Here’s where I was really wishing I had my hiking stick, but I probably would have slid on my butt here anyway since the rocks were really slick.  Thanks, Cheryl, for catching this less than graceful pose!  🙂

Grapevine petroglyphs 7

Finger rock?

Grapevine petroglyphs 8

Some of the balancing acts were impressive, along with the wedges that found their way between.

Grapevine Canyon - Cheryl

It was so fun to share this experience with my fellow RVing friend, Cheryl, who was as excited and thankful to be there as I was.

Grapevine petroglyphs sheep

One of the very few identifiable as a living thing rather than a geometric shape.  This one took a little bit to get closer to, but well worth it.  I read bighorn sheep are seen in the area especially when the springs are not dry, but we didn’t see any live ones.

Christmas Tree Pass road past trailhead

After the hike, we decided to continue on Christmas Tree Pass a little further to see what it was like.

Christmas tree on Pass

We only went another couple of miles before a truck we met coming the other direction said they didn’t think we should try to make the remainder 12 miles to the highway since it got a lot more hilly and rougher.  But at least we got to see one of the desert Christmas trees which gave the road its name. According to the Review Journal: “Years ago, some passer-by started a tradition of decorating some of the trees with leftover Christmas decorations and other shiny or colorful items, including beer cans and even underwear. The National Park Service takes a dim view of leaving refuse in areas it administrates, so the debris disappears, only to be persistently replaced.”  I can see why it’s not ecologically sound, but it was still fun to see.

Desert moonrise

The lighting on this side of the road was amazing due to the sun going down on the other side – with the bonus of the moonrise as an extra special treat.


Location:  After passing Laughlin on Highway 163, 6 miles west of Davis Dam, you turn right onto Christmas Tree Pass (there is a brown road sign); 2 miles to the trailhead road to the left.  Per Bird and, Latitude: 335.22582° — Longitude: -114.68072°

Tips:  Even though it looks perfectly flat at the beginning and you know it’s not far, bring your walking stick anyway.  It really would have come in handy by the time I got back to where the springs are.  I also recommend closed shoes instead of the hiking sandals I wore – the little bits of gravel on the road getting in was aggravating to have to keep stopping to shake them out.  Be sure to bring water and apply sunscreen before getting out there. Even in February, it got pretty warm (in the 80’s) and I can’t imagine being out here in the summertime!  The NPS website advises: “During the summer months this is a VERY HAZARDOUS activity due to excessive heat. Please consider re-scheduling this hike during the cooler fall and spring months.”

More Info:

National Park Service (NPS) website – To many first time visitors, the Mojave Desert seems barren and desolate, but a walk through Grapevine Canyon offers another perspective. A fresh water spring flows out of the canyon floor in non-drought years. This desert spring provides life-giving water to a wide assortment of plants and animals. The presence of the water and the abundance of plants and animals may have drawn early humans to this area as well. – This site has some good close-up photos and interesting observations about their possible meanings:  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.

Bird and – Details on the hike and also some good closeup photos.

Beautiful Scenery Surrounds Christmas Tree Pass (Review Journal) – The route gets its name from the scattered pygmy forest of junipers and pinyons growing among the rocky ridges of the Newberry Mountains.