One pleasure of travel is stumbling on the unexpected. It was a 90 minute drive from where I stayed in Kanab, Utah to the airport in St. George. The highway meandered into northern Arizona, where just off the road was Pipe Spring National Monument—a rather uninspiring name, except the word “spring” in the desert packs a big punch. Now if only time travel would alone us visit here two hundred years earlier when this was a true oasis.
Native Americans lived here for millennium, harvesting the grasses that grew for miles around the spring and the animals that came for the water. In the mid-Nineteen Century, ranchers brought cattle that ate, trambled and killed off the grasses. Natives, ranchers and the government have sine disputed water rights, and the result is the spring will likely dry up in less than 20 years.
This is a view from “Winsor Castle,” the home and fort constructed by the Latter Day Saints in the 1860s. It was built as much to defend against the U.S. government as the Kaibab Paiute Tribe who had lived there. When Utah Territory government officials would attempt to enforce polygamy laws, Mormon women would be sent to the Castle just inside the Arizona border. Brigham Young was the first president of the Deseret Telegraph Company that connected LDS settlements to Salt Lake City. Stations could be no more than 50 miles apart, and the telegraph line shown above connected Pipe Springs to Salt Lake City. Some say the communication line was also a potential escape route for LDS leaders during tensions between the church and U.S. government.
The fort was built on top of the spring that ran from the hill on the right to a pool on the left. The next image is of the bedroom on the second floor on the right side buildings.
You can see the thickness of the walls through the windows (gun ports) and the door. Since the fort was built along a hill, one could escape (a prying government official), by running out the door on the second floor.
Below this room is the kitchen. One wife who was sent here for a long time, tired of cooking in the hearth, insisted that a wood burning stove be ordered and delivered from Chicago.
On the west side of the fort, the Pipe Spring flows into a trough along the wall. This room, cooled by the water, and the one next to it were used to make and store butter and cheese before being tithed to Salt Lake City.
As the water and land were being exhausted in the 1920s, a curious incident led to acquisition of the land for the National Park Service. Stephen Mather, the first National Parks superintendent, and the Union Pacific Railroad president were touring the Southwest finding ways to promote the National Parks—and train travel to the Parks. When driving from Zion National Park in Utah to the north rim of the Grand Canyon, their car got stuck in the sand near Pipe Springs. The rancher got them out of the sand and invited them to the Winsor Castle — and found a way to unload the property. Sell it to government. Pipe Sands became a way stop between Zion and the Grand Canyon. The two rooms below became a spot for passengers to rest and eat on their way between the parks. You can see that some carved names and initials in the mantle.
Part of the long negotiations to acquire land for the National Monument resulted in an agreement that the Park Service, Paiute Tribe and ranchers would each have access to one-third of the spring water. The water gathers in pool outside the fort. But the flow has reduced drastically and will likely stop in the near future.
The wagon looks out into the Arizona desert that less than two centuries earlier was a grassland oasis. Misuse of the land and water resulted in devastation of the environment. Just as at Pipe Springs, the U.S. government, private interests and Native American interests are currently disputing land that had been preserved as Bears Ears National Monument. The current administration’s opening of southern Utah to mineral exploitation will result in destruction of Native heritage as well as the desert environment. Oh, and don’t plan to visit Pipe Springs presently. The gates are locked as leverage to build a wall that itself would result in environmental degradation as well as animal habitat and migration destruction.