Pipe Springs National Monument

Pipe Springs National Monument

36°51’46”N, 112°44’21”W

Randall Chapman | May 24th, 2018 | Travel


A Brief History:

Pipe Springs is a natural spring along Arizona strip that provides a water oasis in the middle of a seemingly desolate area. The sandstone north of this area water is collected and stored in a natural aquifer where it’s filtered by the rock. The spring sits at the edge of the aquifer at the base of the cliffs where the water can come to the surface. This spring has been used by travelers in this area for thousands of years going back to around 100 BCE. In the mid-1800s it was the source of contention between the Mormon settlers and the local native tribe that both relied on the spring.

The Arizona strip is the high desert land in between the Grand Canyon to the south and Zion to the north and the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument to the east. This high desert area sees years of good rain fall but it is more often drought. During the wet years the land provides plenty of grass for grazing but in the dry years grazing is sparse making it harder to make a life here.

Some the earliest people in this area where the Ancestral Puebloans (Anasazi), contemporaries of the Fremont tribes to the north, it is estimated that they were in this area from about 100 BCE to 1250 CE. The Anasazi were a seminomadic tribe that roamed much of what is now the four corners area and they are famous for their settlements at Mesa Verde and Choco Valley. It is possible that the Fremont also traveled through this area as they followed the Colorado River downstream.

Between 1000CE and 1250CE the Anasazi faded out of the area most likely because of drought. Sometime after the Anasazi faded out the Kaibab Paiutes started coming to this area. There is some evidence that as the Freemont and Anasazi tribes faded away they or their descendance banded together to form the Ute, Navajo and Apache tribes and possibly the Paiutes as well as other tribes in the area.

The Kaibab Paiutes were a hardy bunch well suited to this harsh environment. The traveled seasonally to hunt deer, pronghorn, rabbits, and lizards and gathered grass seed, pinyon nuts, roots, and cactus fruit and they also cultivated maize and beans. They were accomplished basket weaver’s and they used seed gruel to make bowls and used pitch to coat water jugs. They built shelters from pinion tree branches and brush.

As Europeans move into the Americas in the 1500’s they brought with them diseases like smallpox and other illnesses. This decimated many of the native tribes including the Paiute. This combined with slave raids from the Ute and Navajo tribes it is estimated that by the 1860’s there were only 1200 Kaibab Paiutes still living.

In the 1860’s Mormon settlers started moving into the area and settling near the few natural water sources. James Whitmore acquired the title to Pipe Springs in 1863 bringing sheep and cattle as well as building a dugout and building corrals to water his orchards. Shortly after they settled here Navajo tribes started raiding the ranches and steeling cattle. In 1866 Whitmore and his herdsmen were killed while trying to recover stolen cattle from the Navajo. Fighting ensued between the natives and the Mormons for several years.

The Mormon Church bought the land from James Whitmore’s Widow and built a fort to protect their people from the raiding tribes. Brigham Young saw this as an important outpost to maintain their claims to the Arizona strip and in 1870 him and Anson Windsor laid out the plans to build a fort to protect their settlers. Windsor was put in charge of taking care of the building of the stone fort and running the ranch. They built a telegraph to connect the ranch to St George and it acted as a resupply post for the region as well as a place to collect the tithing for the church.

Throughout the 1800’s federal laws were passed that made polygamy a felony and several of the Mormons that practiced polygamy would hide their many wives from federal marshals at the fort at Pipe Springs. This came to an end in 1895 when the property was sold as they faced confiscation from the federal government under anti polygamy laws. It stayed open to travelers to the area for several more years.

The Kaibab Band of Paiutes faced starvation and continued to struggle as settlements developed and overgrazing took away food sources. In 1907 the Kaibab Indian Reservation was formed returning some of the native lands to the Paiute people. The Ranch at Pipe Springs remained in private hands surrounded by the new reservation.

In the early 1920’s there was a tour guide service that took people between Zion and the Grand Canyon and the director on the National Parks Service saw the fort at Pipe Springs as a potential stopping point of interest in between the two. On May 31, 1923 President Warren G. Harding proclaimed Pipe Springs a national monument.

In 1933 the Secretary of the Interior resolved conflict over the water at Pipe Springs by dividing it up equally amongst the Park Service, the tribe, and local private land owners. While I was there in 2018 they told me that there is only an estimated 8-10 years of water left in the aquifer due to drought and over allocation and plans are in the works to build a pipe line that will bring water from an outside source to the area.


I stopped at the Pipe Springs National Monument on my meandering drive from LA to Grand Junction Colorado earlier in the year. I found the place by scrolling through google maps along my intended route and looking for cool places to visit. On google maps green represents public lands and usually represents national parks or forest service land though it can also signify other public land. Grey usually signifies reservation land so it struck me as odd when I saw a little green dot in the middle of a large area of reservation land. I had to zoom pretty far in to even find out what the place was called.

As per usual I did very little research before visiting and was glad that I did once I got there. As you drive into the parking lot it looking like many other National Parks buildings and visitors’ centers. Inside they have a greater and a place to pay, I bought my new Annual America the Beautiful pass that day. There is a museum on the one side and gift shop on the other. The museum as a lot of articles and artifacts from the area and gives a history of the local land.

As you head out the back door of the visitors center it’s like stepping back into the wild west (well except for the concrete walk ways). They have a self-guided tour that allows you to wander the property and see how life was lived in the 1800’s. One of the first things you come across is a couple of Kahns (shelters made from juniper branches and brush that the Paiute slept in). They have brought in several items from the 1800’s like covered wagons that were used to travel west during the Manifest Destiny era and other carts, tools, and the like. There is a stable with a couple of long horn cows and other animals that were brought to the area. The buildings are original but most of the items were brought in as a lot of the original stuff is long since gone. The items brought in are from the same era however.

When I was there they offered guided tours every hour of the Windsor Castle (the fort built to protect from raiding natives and to hide the wives of polygamists). The Castle is also full of beds and cloths from the era but not original to the fort with a few exceptions. They take you through and describe what life was like back then and tell you the history. I was the only one in my tour group so I got to ask a lot of questions and take more time on things I cared about and less on things I didn’t. You get to see the old telegraph (first one in Arizona) and the butter churn as well as where the water comes out of the ground protected by the fort.

It is definitely worth a stop if you’re on your way out to Lake Powel from St George or are otherwise in the area. I am very interested in exploring the area and learning more about the Paiute after visiting here. I didn’t realize when I was there but there was a visitors’ center run by the Paiute next to the monument. I would like to go back and learn more about the history of the Paiutes and the Anasazi. Perhaps next winter I’ll explore more of the land of the Ancient Ones and visit more locations in the Southwest like this.

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