There is something about rock art that draws me in every time. Maybe it's because I consider myself a wannabe writer and the stories etched into these rocks intrigue me. Or maybe it's because something so old and unique still exists in this world of toss-away items and short attention spans.
Like modern day billboards pronouncing roadside attractions or nearby shopping centers, these sacred, centuries-old areas, worked much the same way. Like neon signs pointing to watering holes or hunting areas or safe trails. Or perhaps they were etched deep into hard rock simply to preserve history. There are no concrete answers, just thought and theory.
For literally decades we have been driving past Christmas Tree Pass, gazing wonderingly down the gravel, because it called for a high-clearance vehicle, which we didn't have ... until now.
A mere two miles in you will find a parking area for the Mojave Desert's gem that is Grapevine Canyon. The Canyon is south of Spirit Mountain which is the highest peak in the Newberry Mountain range at an elevation of 5,639 feet. The mountain and its surrounding canyons are sacred grounds for the Yuman tribes of the lower Colorado River, including Mojave, Hulapai, Yavapai, Havasupai, Quechan, Pai pai and Maricopa. Members of these tribes continue to use this area today. It is such an important area to the Yuman tribes that it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as a Traditional Cultural Property.
It's hard not to feel that you are somewhere special, even before coming upon the first set of petroglyphs. Just sit for awhile and imagine what it must have been like here 200, 400 or 800 years ago.
The outer walls of the wash explode with mini storybooks - their pages filled with symbols - some intricate, some simplistic - that told detailed stories hundreds of years ago. We can still read them today, but aside from guessing the storyline, most of the meaning has been lost.
A short walk further into the canyon explains the importance of this area, and provides some clues as to what the meaning of the art might be. Grapevines can only mean one thing ...
Water. Both rare and vital to life in the desert. I stopped wondering where they got the name Grapevine Canyon! The small fresh-water spring gives life to cottonwood, arrowweed, cattails and rushes as well as attracting small animals - today it was all about the birds and the bees!
As hard as it was to pull myself away from the quiet stillness of the canyon (bees aside), it was time to continue on our journey. There was somewhere around 13 miles of Christmas Tree Pass to still explore.
Aside from a few small boulders and lots of loose sand, the road was in much better shape than I thought it would be. The rainy season probably changes all that, but at least at the moment it was an easy drive!
Climbing through this ruggedly beautiful section of Lake Mead National Recreation Area, the drive through the canyon took us less than an hour to complete, even with my screeching "Stop!" at every turn.
The desert is a mystifying place. It is barren and desolate and cruel. It is lush and green and peaceful. It is cold and hot and wet and cracked from the drying winds. It is sand and rock and cacti. It gives life and it takes it away just as fast.
Like the storybooks left behind on the walls of Grapevine Canyon, the desert is hard to read and has a different meaning to everyone. For me it's like an insatiable itch. I can never quite reach it. It never goes away. And I never want to stop scratching it!
(Thanks to the NPS US Dep't of Interior for the documents provided)
Christmas Tree Pass is located off State Highway 163, six miles west of Davis Dam at mile marker 13.
Keywords: christmas tree pass, geology, grapevine canyon, history, laughlin, nevada, open road, petroglyph, road trip, rock art, sightseeing, travel
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