If you have ever noticed the white mountain on the east side of the US Highway 95 freeway just past Searchlight, near Cal-Nev-Ari, then you have seen one of the most sacred spots in southern Nevada and probably didn’t even realize it. Spirit Mountain and the surrounding wilderness areas have been used for ceremonial and spiritual purposes for over a thousand years by various local tribes. Today, it is a federally protected nature preserve, and with its own ecosystem it is one of the best spots to get out into nature!
Spirit Mountain is the center of the world to all Yuman speaking peoples, but plays a particularly special role in the myths of the Mojave. Avi-Kwa-Me as it known in their language, was made by Mastamho, the grandson of the Earth-Mother and Sky-Father, after he created the Mojave people and carried them to what would be their land. By some accounts, Mastamho is portrayed in petroglyphs as having open arms as he is the protector of the Mojave people.
Getting to Spirit Mountain turned out to be much easier than expected. Just south of Cal-Nev-Ari there is a well-marked turnoff onto Christmas Tree Pass; this dirt road will take you right up to the mountain. The road is pretty smooth and easy to drive on, it should be drivable even for regular cars. There are a few unmarked roads that break off of Christmas Tree Pass, but those will most likely require four wheel drive.
At what I accurately guessed to be the closest point the road got to the mountain, I spotted a nice pullout and backed in, just as the sun was setting. Camping is permitted in the Spirit Mountain Wilderness area, and there were a few other good free campsites along the road to choose from leading up this spot. Luckily, I got the last campsite before entering Lake Mead National Recreation Area where camping is no longer allowed (there is a sign and it is enforced).
The site I chose was perfect for me, but may be a pain if you have a tent that requires staking. The ground was uneven and rocky, but the view is unmatched. The evening sun drenches the white cliffs with red sunlight, and in the morning they are a beautiful purple.
Although Laughlin is always hotter than Las Vegas, this canyon is actually a few degrees cooler than Vegas. The bushes are thick and cacti plentiful. I fell asleep to chirping crickets and what I think was the occasional hoot of an owl and was greeted by jackrabbits first thing in the morning. This is certainly a great place to enjoy nature.
While there are not petroglyphs on Spirit Mountain itself, Grapevine Canyon is just a few miles further down Christmas Tree Pass. With over 700 petroglyphs, the oldest dating to 1100 C.E., Grapevine Canyon has some of the best and oldest examples of native rock art. The road between Spirit Mountain and Grapevine Canyon is mostly easy driving with the exception of one patch of fairly loose dirt (just go slow and steady and try to stay on the higher ground).
Christmas Tree Pass will take you all the way around to NV State Highway 163, just a few miles outside of Laughlin. There are magnificent rock formations and hiking or photographic opportunities all along the way through the mountains.
If you visit, be sure to bring all the supplies you will need as there are no amenities. For more about the Spirit Mountain Wilderness go to blm.gov; roadtripamerica.com has a great article about Grapevine Canyon.