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Rock Art at Keyhole Canyon
Rock Art Around Las Vegas
Keyhole Canyon
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Keyhole Canyon Keyhole Canyon (view east from Hwy 95).

Overview

Keyhole Canyon is an amazing archaeological area with many petroglyphs and a few pictographs. Most of the petroglyphs are geometric symbols rather than representations of physical things, but a few petroglyphs depict bighorn sheep, lizards, and humans. In most petroglyphs sites, the rock art is fairly close to the ground, but here they are unusual because so many are very high on the cliffs.

Keyhole Canyon cuts into a ridge of hard granitic rock that juts so abruptly out of the desert flats that you can drive right up to the edge of cliffs at the base of the mountain. The mouth of the canyon, about 50 yards wide, opens onto the parking area. About 500 ft up the canyon, a 50-ft, water-sculpted and polished pour-over blocks easy progress up the canyon. The short canyon creates the feeling of being in a deep alcove in the cliffs rather than being in a canyon in the mountains.

Keyhole Canyon
Keyhole Canyon gate (view east).

Many rock faces, especially those facing south and west, are covered in desert varnish, a naturally occurring dark patina that forms on the surface of rocks in the desert. Native peoples created petroglyphs by pecking away the desert varnish to reveal the underlying light-colored granite rock. Native peoples also used pigments to paint images, a few of which can still be seen. There are also some unusual petroglyphs that are actually carved into softer parts of the rock; some of these appear to be extremely old.

Access is via fairly good dirt roads. The first mile or so is a bit bouncy (like moguls on a ski slope), but there are no rocks and little loose gravel. The next part, a powerline road, is a fine, maintained dirt road. The last part provides three choices of gravel versus rocks. High-clearance vehicles should have no problem with the road, and carefully driven sedans should make it too, at least to within 0.35 miles of the parking area. A 4WD vehicle is not required. Cell phones do not work from the end of the road, so don't get stuck in the loose gravel at the mouth of the canyon.

Keyhole Canyon

There are many rock faces (panels) in the area with petroglyphs that are easily accessible from the ground; other petroglyphs are high on the canyon walls. Most of the petroglyphs are located on the north wall of the canyon and along the west-facing cliffs north of the mouth. At the mouth of the canyon on the north side, large boulders provide surfaces for many fine petroglyphs. At the mouth of the canyon on the south side, there are some nice petroglyphs on the west-facing wall just above the parking area. There are a few more petroglyphs farther south along the mountain.

There are so many petroglyphs at and near ground level that there is little need to climb the walls to get close-up views of the petroglyphs farther up. If you do climb to the higher ones, don't climb on the petroglyphs, and keep in mind that the granite here seems unusually slick compared to the limestone and sandstone that are more common in southern Nevada. I saw one kid take a pretty good slider into the wash; fortunately, he landed in soft gravel and walked away.

Keyhole Canyon

Location

Keyhole Canyon is located on BLM land between Boulder City and Searchlight.

Links to Area Map and Site Map.

From Las Vegas, drive south on Highway 93/95 towards Boulder City. Turn right onto Hwy 95 and drive south towards Searchlight for 15.5 miles to an unnamed road (Keyhole Access Road) to the left (Table 1, Site 1220). Keyhole Access Road is 5.8 miles south of Hwy 165 to Nelson, and 3.2 miles south of El Dorado Valley Road (the last named road). Watch for a highway sign indicating a road intersection. The road goes through the barbwire fence at a white cattle guard with a "designated roadway" sign. There are no other roads in the vicinity.

Keyhole Canyon

Turn left onto Keyhole Access Road and drive east for 2.1 miles to a T-intersection (Site 1221) between the second and third sets of high-tension power lines. The first mile or so of this road is a bit bouncy (like moguls on a ski slope), but there are few rocks. At the T-intersection, turn right onto the powerline road (a private road; note the sign about public use), and drive south on the well-maintained road for 1.8 miles to the first (Site 1222) of three roads that fork off to the left. This point is less than 0.35 miles from the petroglyphs; read about the three choices before picking one.

The first road (Site 1222) runs southeast for 0.35 miles to the parking area at the mouth of the canyon (Site 0928). This road has some loose gravel and crosses Keyhole Wash at the mouth of the canyon before gaining higher and firmer ground of the parking area on the south side of the wash. This road was fine for my little, 2WD pickup.

Keyhole Canyon

The second road (see map, Road 2), 0.15 miles south of the first road, runs right up the gravel along Keyhole Wash; the loose gravel is fine for driving downhill, but loose gravel always make me nervous. This road also gains the higher and firmer ground of the parking area on the south side of the wash.

The third road (see map, Road 3), 0.27 miles south of the first road (across Keyhole Wash), is narrow and rocky, but it is the firmest of the three. There is no loose gravel, but someone might need to walk ahead of a sedan and kick the larger rocks off the road. This road ends at the parking area and does not go into the loose gravel.

From the trailhead parking area (Table 2, Waypoint 01), walk through the gate and up the wash. Rock wall and boulders on both sides of the canyon are marked with rock art. The rock was north of the canyon mouth also has rock art. Walking up the wash, the trail ends in about 500 ft at a high, nicely water-polished pour-over.

Keyhole Canyon Unusual carved petroglyph

Hours

This area is always open and is a well-used camping area. There is no established campground, but several large campfire rings are scattered about, and there is an outhouse at the parking area (bring your own paper).

Fees

None.

Table 1. Highway Coordinates based on GPS data (NAD27; UTM Zone 11S). Download Highway GPS Waypoints (*.gpx) file.

Site # Location UTM Easting UTM Northing Latitude (N) Longitude (W) Elevation (ft) Verified
0928 Keyhole Canyon Parking 687627 3954159 35.71534 114.92583 2,894 Yes
1220 Hwy 95 at Keyhole Cyn Access Rd 684977 3957284 35.74399 114.95439 2,228 GPS
1221 Keyhole Access Rd at Powerline Rd 688242 3957272 35.74327 114.91831 2,838 GPS
1222 Powerline Rd at First Keyhole Rd 687338 3954543 35.71885 114.92893 2,739 GPS

Table 2. Hiking Coordinates based on GPS data (NAD27; UTM Zone 11S). Download Hiking GPS Waypoints (*.gpx) file.

Wpt. Location UTM Easting UTM Northing Elevation (ft) Point-to-Point Distance (ft) Cumulative Distance (ft) Verified
01 Keyhole Trailhead (gate) 687631 3954174 2,894 0 0 GPS
02 Keyhole Pour-Over 687759 3954089 2,891 533 533 GPS

Happy Hiking! All distances, elevations, and other facts are approximate.
copyright; Last updated 120419

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