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A peaceful, historic canyon

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Posted: Sunday, December 21, 2008 12:00 am | Updated: 8:03 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

Once the flashing lights and ringing chimes of the casinos in Laughlin, Nev., reach their limit and relief is sought, a peaceful, historic canyon hike is less than half an hour away.

About six miles west on State Highway 163 and two miles north on graded Christmas Tree Pass Road, Grapevine Canyon will provide a welcome change of environment.

Named for the acres of wild grapevines that clog a narrow stretch of canyon, a highlight of the area are the hundreds, possibly thousands, of petroglyphs etched into stone. Estimated to be 1,000 to 1,500 years old, these ancient markings are proof of the centuries this canyon was visited, primarily believed to be by Yuman tribes of the lower Colorado River region. Honoring traditional ceremonies both in the canyon and to the peak of sacred Spirit Mountain (also known as Newberry Peak), large populations spent time throughout the Newberry mountain range.

From the trailhead, a quarter mile walk, either in the wash or along the brush covered bank, leads to an abrupt narrowing of the canyon. At this point, numerous petroglyphs appear on granite rocks lining both sides of the canyon entrance. A bonus of hiking in the wash is the possibility of seeing large tarantulas crawling across the sand.

While no established trail system has been developed, this popular spot provides a wandering network of paths, both in the creek bed and along the slopes. A few narrow sections require scrambling over or around massive boulders that over time have tumbled from the hills above.

Though most of the etchings defy interpretation, a few offer clear representation of bighorn sheep and humans. Some large stones, darkly painted in desert varnish, are nearly covered with abstract designs. Exploration into the deep sand has uncovered many more, buried as the eroding upper canyon sand is deposited.

Though dry on this late November day, this huge drainage obviously sees destructive flooding when heavy rains fall and as snow melts. A short but dramatic slot canyon appears, winding no more than a couple hundred yards through beautifully sculpted granite walls. Upstream of the narrow channel, the adventure continues into a vast, wide bowl, encircled by canyon rims of delicately balanced rocks. The desert floor as well as the mountain slopes are covered with healthy yucca, cholla and hedgehog cactus. Spines of barrel cactus grow in orange, yellow and red, brilliantly backlit by the low winter sun.

Juniper trees populate the upper slopes; cottonwoods hold strong in the creek bed.

Should more of an adventure be desired, Spirit Mountain, reaching over 5,500 feet, lies to the north and can be summited via additional unmarked and unmaintained trails. Continue north on Christmas Tree Pass Road another three to four miles to reach the trailhead. More petroglyphs will be found on this slightly over fuor-mile round trip climb.

Gentle breezes and under 70 degree temperatures afford a near perfect hiking atmosphere as well as the welcome escape from the crowds and clamor along the Colorado River.

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