The proposed Avi Kwa Ame (pronounced Ah-VEE kwa-ah-may) National Monument is home to Christmas Tree Pass, landscape that is a part of Las Vegas’ holiday history. For years, the area filled with forests of junipers and pinyons growing among the rocky ridges of the Newberry Mountains attracted Las Vegas locals during the holidays for a tradition of decorating the trees with holiday cheer. In 1998, at the request of Native tribes, the National Park Service and Bureau of Land Management, the practice stopped. Still, the area’s majestic landscape makes it a must-visit, especially during the holiday season.
People can explore Christmas Tree Pass by car; 12-miles of backcountry road (four-wheel drive or clearance is recommended) is flanked by the Spirit Mountain and Bridge Canyon Wilderness Areas. Rising from the desert floor are striking sculpted granite rock formations; the area’s rock-studded canyons slope gently eastward toward the Colorado River. Explorers have fun spotting animal and human likenesses in the cliff bands and clusters of boulders.
Grapevine Canyon is a longtime favorite hiking spot in the area. Hundreds of petroglyphs grace the rocks, making it one of the most important and expansive petroglyph sites in the American Southwest. According to archeological research, the area’s rock shelters were used as early as 1100 AD. It is believed that the AhaMakav, ancestors of the modern-day Mohave, and Southern Paiute people camped here. The canyon’s freshwater springs yield plant life like cottonwood, grapevines, cattails and draw animals like desert bighorn sheep.
The proposed Avi Kwa Ame National Monument has been under threat of industrial development. The area includes about 380,000 acres of land sacred to 12 Native American tribes; Avi Kwa Ame is Mojave for Spirit Mountain. “This land is at the center of the tribes’ creation stories and spiritual ideology. It is currently used for ceremonial activities,” says O’Neill, now an advisor with the National Parks Conservation Association. “A national monument designation would preserve the area’s cultural value and other resources. It would be a big win for Nevada.”
Local, state, and national conservation groups such as The Wilderness Society, National Parks Conservation Association, Conservation Lands Foundation, and Get Outdoor Nevada have partnered with local tribes to secure a national monument designation to protect the area’s future. People interested in preserving the area can sign a petition at www.honorspiritmountain.org.
Getting to Christmas Tree Pass
From Las Vegas, drive south on U.S. 93/95. At Railroad Pass, head south on U.S. 95 through Searchlight. About 2.3 miles south of Cal-Nev-Ari, turn left on the Christmas Tree Pass Road. There is a small road sign for the turnoff. The gravel road loop is around 12 miles and connects back to the Nevada Highway about two miles west of Laughlin. The 163 travels back to its intersection with U.S. 95; head north on U.S. 95 back to Las Vegas.
For more information, please visit www.honorspiritmountain.org.