Keyhole Canyon is located about halfway between Las Vegas and Searchlight, outside the town of Nelson in the Eldorado Mountains. 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.
While overlooked as a tourist site when compared to Grapevine Canyon, Valley of Fire, and Red Rock, which are more easily accessible, 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.
Considered a significant archaeological site, Keyhole Canyon boasts both petroglyphs and pictographs, as well as other signs left by ancient cultures. The steep-walled cleft in the Eldorado Mountains south of Nelson contains an intermittent water source where a tiny pool gathers runoff at the bottom of a dry waterfall. It was enough to attract the nomadic hunters and gatherers who made the desert their home centuries before European settlers reached the continent.
A narrow niche in the granite of the mountains, Keyhole Canyon is a blind or box canyon. Crated by erosion, it is no place to be during a heavy rain. Steep rock walls enclose the gravely canyon bottom. For those early travelers, the spot provided shade and cooler temperatures during the hot months, protection from winds and storms all year and defensive position when needed.
Most of the petroglyphs were incised or pecked upon rock faces on either side of the entrance. The more you look, the more pictures and symbols you see. Those closest to the bottom of the rocks show the wear of the centuries. You'll spot better-defined symbols at eye level. Keep looking upward, for rock art appears wherever the ancient artists could find a place to stand.
Pictographs, rock art created by using pigments, occur on the protected undersides of boulders. Where cliffs or slabs of stone provided shelter, you'll see the black residue of cooking fires. A few flat stones bearing pockmarks created by tools, perhaps grinders or fire sticks, mark ancient campsites.