Grapevine Canyon (Summary Page)

{Click on an image to enlarge, then use the back button to return to this page}
This page last updated on 10/11/2017
(Fig. 01)
Note: To learn more about the history of this site, the cultures who used it and how religion and the practice of shamanism explains many of the images found here, scroll to the sections “Site Occupation and History” and the “Relationship between Rock Art and Religion” at the bottom of this post
Site Overview: A study of Grapevine Canyon by the Nevada Rock Art Foundation for the National Park Service back in late 2009 recorded nearly 300  panels. The site's challenging topography and geology, extreme height of many panels, and the fact that many large panels contain dozens of very densely packed, complex, abstract designs, all combine to make this one of the most intriguing rock art sites found anywhere. Just standing in Grapevine Wash, elevation 2,395 feet, looking up towards the canyon from its base (Fig. 01), one is confronted with dozens of large boulder surfaces on both the south (Fig. 02) and north (Fig. 03) sides of the outer canyon walls that collectively contain dozens of panels with hundreds of individually pecked petroglyph images, some estimated to be more than 1,200 years old. Being careful not to damage any of the panels, climbing the east facing cliff (Fig 04) on the south side of the canyon will reveal many glyphs, seen in the collage in (Fig. 05), that are barely visible from the ground below. Could the image in Figure 5-1 be some type of centipede? Could the two etchings in the upper left corner of Figure 5-2 be representative of humming birds? Are the two zoomorphs in Figure 5-1 & 5-5 bighorn sheep?
(Fig. 02)
(Fig. 03)
(Fig. 04)
2015 Grapevine Canyon Figure 5
(Fig. 05)
The cliffs on the north side of the canyon are even more densely packed with dozens of distinctive rectilinear, symmetrical and geometric design forms, including "I" shapes, patterned lines, "H"-like motifs, and internally decorated rectangles. It is hard not to be overwhelmed by the sight (Figs. 06 thru 09) of these panels. The fact of the matter is that this is only the "tip of the iceberg". Hiking further into the canyon the walls on both sides of the canyon reveal hundreds more images (Figs. 10 & 10a) and (Figs. 11 & 12). In addition, hiking and climbing the east facing cliffs and hills on on the north side, reveals dozens more smaller panels, many hidden from view when walking along the sands at their base, a few of which can be seen in the collage in (Fig. 13). In fact, excavations have revealed that some of these Petroglyphs protrude 40 to 50 feet below the current sand level in the wash, as evidenced by (Fig. 14). These are some of the first known petroglyphs and have been buried for hundreds of years.
(Fig. 06)
The heavily incised boulder (Fig. 06) is just outside a ceremonial cave that has been dubbed, "shaman's cave." Several images can be found inside this small cave including a sheep-like zoomorph, a snake, star burst, etc. Jimsonweed (Datura wrightii), which abounds in the wash that runs through the canyon, can be found growing nearby the cave. This hallucinogenic plant may explain the plethora of so-called entoptic designs. Hunter-gatherer shamanism is anchored in institutionalized altered states of consciousness sough by shamans. To achieve ecstatic trance states, shamans typically resorted to techniques that ranged from non-chemical practices such as drumming, dancing, and sensory deprivation, to the use of psychotropic drugs. Much of the iconography found here suggests that Datura may have been employed as a hallucinogenic catalyst for altered states of consciousness.
(Fig. 07)
(Fig. 08)
(Fig. 09)
(Fig. 10)
(Fig. 10a)
There is a very distinct PBA (Pattern Body Anthropomorph) in the center of (Fig. 10) with a rectangular body and faint suggestion of arms and legs. It has been suggested that the figure to the left may be opposing arrowheads inside rectangle symbolizing “warefare”. On the right there are a series of circles, a bighorn sheep, and a starburst.
(Fig. 11)
(Fig. 12)
Clicking (Fig. 11) to enlarge you can more easily see several representations of atlatls, an ancient tool used by the Anasazi (Puebloan) cultures, 1,500-800 years ago, before the invention of the bow and arrow. Atlatl is an Aztec Indian word for spear thrower. It was a shaft which was used as a lever to increase the power imparted to a spear or dart, allowing them to be thrown further and with greater speed and power. Click here for more information on the atlatl ... The Atlatl. The view in (Fig. 12) contains numerous meandering dots and lines and two bear claws (upper left). During vision quests, shaman would evoke animal images as spirit guides, omens, and message-bearers. The bear was known to be one of the most powerful spirit animals in touch with the earth and the cycles of nature, and a powerful guide to physical and emotional healing.
2015 Grapevine Canyon 02
(Fig. 13)
As was often the practice, a cross representing a star was emphasized by surrounding it with concentric lines, bottom center of (Fig. 13-4). This same symbol can be found on at least three different panels at this site. Could this south-facing star perhaps represent Sirius, the brightest star in the sky.
(Fig. 14)
Though the vast majority of petroglyphs found here are nonrepresentational geometric motifs, several engravings contain zoomorphs (Fig. 15) such as deer or bighorn sheep and snakes, as well as a limited number of stylized anthropomorphs (Fig 16). After doing a lot more searching and hiking for panels on my last visit, I found several more panels containing rare zoomorphs that could be bighorn sheep, or possibly elk or deer (Fig. 17).
(Fig. 15)
(Fig. 16)
2015 Grapevine Canyon Zoomorphs
(Fig. 17)
As you can see by many of the pictures above, the varying degree of the patina color and intensity of many etched images suggests the possibility that some of the images may have been reworked. The following was noted by Quinlan & Woody in 2009, …
“Many designs appear to have been carefully reworked or refreshed over a long period, attesting to the enduring cultural significance of this place and its art. These "refreshing's" often exhibit great care to respect the outlines of the design being enhanced; the dense packing of designs on the same boulder and superimpositioning also were done in a way that suggests enhancement not obliteration. The emphasis on abstract designs and the fact that representational imagery is only a small component of the total motif assemblage can be argued to be indicative of a form of symbolism that was restricted in terms of those who had access to its meanings and authorized to provide exegeses of it.”
Because many of the petroglyphs panels at this site are on rock faces that high up on the canyon walls, they are difficult to see without ‘zooming’ in on them. In order for you to get a better feel for the panels natural setting as well as have a better opportunity to observe the many individual element within the panel, I have created some images that combines both the distant shots with their close-ups. Click here to view these … More Grapevine Canyon Petroglyph Pictures.
Paragraph divider
Site Occupation & History: The vast number of rock art panels on this site make it apparent that it has had a long history of use. Dating from early Patayan cultures up to the late eighteenth century. The term Patayan is used by archaeologists to describe the prehistoric Native American cultures that inhabited parts of modern day Arizona, California and Baja California, including southern Nevada and areas near the Colorado River Valley. These prehistoric people appear to be ancestral to several Yuman and Numic speaking tribes from this area, including the Mojave, Hualapai, Yavapai, Havasupai, Quechan, Pai Pai, Maricopa, Chemehuevi and Southern Paiute. “Numic” is a branch of the Uto-Aztecan language family. It includes seven languages spoken by Native American peoples traditionally living in the Great Basin and Colorado River basin. Today, it still remains culturally significant to modern Indian Peoples living in the region. Mohave (or Mojave) is the name given to a Native American people indigenous to the Colorado River in the Mojave Desert. The Mojave peoples held lands along the river that stretched from Black Canyon, where the tall pillars of First House of Mutavilya loomed above the river, past Avi kwame (Spirit Mountain), the center of spiritual things, to the Quechan Valley, where the lands of other tribes began. Translated into present landmarks, their lands began in the north at Hoover Dam and ended about one hundred miles below Parker Dam on the Colorado River.
Paragraph divider
Relationship Between Rock Art and Religious Beliefs: Even though modern day Mojaves have been unable to provide specific glyph interpretations of the many designs found at Grapevine canyon, they have offered a general setting from which to interpret the drawings.
“The drawings depict Creation Mythology. Every Indian nation possessed a similar Creation Mythology and these societies held it of higher importance than anything in life. For the Mojave, their Creation Mythology depicted the story of such powerful gods as Matavilya and Mastamho who shaped the world, fought off evil spirits, and taught men and women how to survive off the land.” (1)  
Traditional Yuman beliefs are characterized by a creation myth and belief in a supreme creator.
“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.” (2)
Though much of the detail about these beliefs has been lost over many subsequent generations, the Mohave have passed on their faith through traditional narratives and songs. The religious beliefs for these, and many other western cultures, were practiced by shamanism, a form of worship that was centered around a shaman (medicine man) and their personal interaction with supernatural spirits. By fasting and ingesting hallucinogens during a “vision quest”, a shaman would enter a trance state, throwing himself into the invisible world where all these ancestors of the modern human-people remained imprinted on the fabric of the spirit realm.
"Immediately following a vision quest, the shaman would pray and concentrate on the vision he had received. When moring came, he would paint or engrave his vision on rocks at his vision quest site. The art created by a shaman was meant to preserve his visionary images for posterity; if a shaman forgot his vision, it was believed he would sicken or die. Shamans sometimes returned to the site of their first vision quest to revitalize the memory of that first trance, to renew their power, and perhaps t reenter the supernatural world for additoinal powers and spirit helpers."(2)
“The importance of this cosmogenic myth to rock art is two folds. Known as the "Shaman's Tale," it was precisely this myth that the shaman "dreamed" to obtain his supernatural powers: In Yuman fashion, the shaman was believed to re-experience and witness these mythic events of creation in the supernatural world and, from them, obtain his power. It is at the foot of Spirit Mountain that the important Grapevine Canyon petroglyph site is located; that is, Grapevine Canyon is Atastamho's House, where the Mojave shaman went to witness, in his dreams, the creation of the world.(2)
“In looking at the Grapevine Canyon petroglyphs with this setting in mind, it becomes possible that the individual glyphs were ideograms or symbols that either captured a specific event in this four-fold evolutionary process or signified at what point in this four-fold process a specific event was taking place. That is, the petroglyph designs were the mythological stories in chronological form expressed through ideograms by the Mojave people or their ancestors. As an ideogram, each glyph was infused with meaning on its own, but that meaning was amplified when placed in combinations with other glyphs. Glyphs were either geometric, based on permutations of circles or extensions of lines, or representational, based on humanoids, therianthropes (part-animal, part-human), or animals. At Grapevine Canyon, some of the glyphs can be readily identified with Creation Mythology while others are more difficult to comprehend. The more obvious ones include: Creation: circles, rayed circles, spirals; God-people: amorphous humanoids with accouterments (ie: solar crowns, snakes); Animal-people: semi-humanoids with horns or tails; Modern Human-people: male and female genitalia, the squared-cross denoting the sacred number 4 or the idea of completion. There is still much work to be done by scholars in regard to the interpretation of these complex symbols. Fortunately, scholarship in recent years, when faced with the insurmountable evidence that the same glyphs reappear on rocks thousands of miles from one another, has gone beyond the suggestions that the designs on the rocks were indiscriminate doodles.” (1)
This fact is evidenced by the petroglyphs found at Keyhole Canyon located about halfway between Las Vegas and Searchlight, outside the town of Nelson in the Eldorado Mountains. For pictures of Keyhole Canyon Petroglyphs go to this page … Keyhole Canyon Petroglyphs.
“While it is unknown who carved the petroglyphs at Keyhole Canyon, scholars do agree that the Mohave, the Paiute, and the Anasazi/Pueblo were the main groups in the region thousands of years ago. Keyhole Canyon is a unique site because of the unusually large, round, geometric glyphs that cover several rock faces. These glyph symbols match up perfectly with other glyph patterns in the Southern Nevada region. As with Grapevine Canyon, many archaeologists interpret the mysterious symbols as stemming from the Creation Mythology of the Native Americans who lived in and around the region. In this case, that would mean the Mojave, Paiute, and Anasazi/Pueblo. By using this Creation Mythology as the general setting for understanding the meaning of the rock art, the following tentative explanations can be given: The Circle: The source of everything, the highest level of spirit; The Bisected Circle: When in combination with a male phallus, this is a female glyph symbolizing the separation of the human-people into man and woman. When in combination with astral glyphs, the notion of the feminine takes on a cosmic level. In Pueblo mythology, the twain worlds, or two, are created before the terrestrial world. That is, the first manifestation from the empty circle, or spirit, is dual, or the bisected circle. In Mojave, Paiute, and Pueblo mythology, the Grandmother of Many, who preceded Coyote, is one of the earliest god-people; The Cross within the Circle: As already noted, the circle represents highest spirit. The four arms of the cross correspond to the Native American sacred number 4 or completion. For example, the number 4 consistently appears: 4 worlds or ages, 4 Old Men, 4 directions, 4 solstices/equinoxes, 4 migrations, 4 colors, 4 divisions of night, 4 sacred mountains, 4 daughters of Coyote, 4 times for Coyote to repeat an action before he is finished. In Creation Mythology, what is being completed is the evolution of the human-people. Therefore, the cross within the circle symbolizes highest spirit evolving and completing itself through the separation of the human-people into male and female.” (1)
At any rate, the petroglyphs found at both these locations 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. Obviously, we may never fully know their true meanings.
(1) - by Don Shepherd, 17 January 2011.(2) - David S. Whitley, A Guide to Rock Art Sites: Southern California and Southern Nevada (Missoula, Montana: Mountain Press Publishing Company, 1996), p. 128