Pipe Spring National Monument: A Seldom-Seen Oasis on the Arizona Strip

Lisa Fritscher October 11, 2011 No Comments

Pipe Spring Mormon Wagon

Pipe Spring was settled by Mormon pioneers in 1870

While exploring the national parks of Utah, Dad and I decided to base camp at an RV resort in Hurricane, just over the Utah border in the extreme southwest corner of the state. We had a few extra days in Hurricane, so we decided to explore the area. On the advice of a friendly local at the free Hurricane Valley Museum, we drove out to Pipe Spring National Monument about 45 miles away, just over the border along the Arizona Strip.  We took Utah State Route 59 east until we reached the state line where it turns into Arizona State Route 389.

About Pipe Spring

Pipe Spring Ranch

The ranch has been carefully preserved

Pipe Spring has long been a source of vital water in the Arizona desert. The Ancestral Puebloans settled in the region in approximately 1 A.D. They were followed by the Paiute people in approximately 1200 A.D. The Paiute saw their role as stewards of the land and water. They built a complex society, in which resources were freely shared, ensuring that everyone had enough.

In 1847, Mormon settlers traveled to Utah under the direction of Brigham Young. In 1870, on orders from the Mormon church, Anson Winsor went to Pipe Spring to establish a tithing ranch. The ranch house he built is still known as Winsor Castle. As it was isolated from local government or other services, the ranch house was constructed as a fort.

Pipe Spring Tour

The guided tour was fascinating

Winsor Castle soon drew the ire of the Paiute, as it was constructed literally on top of the spring. The Mormons argued that they needed the water for their ranch operations, while the Paiute felt that they were selfishly hording a community resource. Meanwhile, the Mormon church came under fire from the federal government for their practice of polygamy. Many Mormon men sent their additional wives to live at Winsor Castle, far away from what they felt were the prying eyes of government agents. Tensions ran extremely high between the three groups.

Eventually the competing interests were resolved. The Mormon church renounced polygamy in 1890, paving the way for Utah statehood in 1896. The church sold the ranch to a private owner in 1895. Starved for resources, many native Paiute families were forced to move away or take survival jobs on local ranches. In 1913, however, the Kaibab Paiute Reservation was established on 200 square miles along the Arizona Strip. Pipe Spring became a national monument in 1923 and is jointly managed by the National Park Service and the Kaibab Paiute tribe.

Our Experience

Road from Hurricane to Pipe Spring

The drive was half the fun!

The drive from Hurricane to Pipe Spring was breathtakingly beautiful. The route includes steep mountain grades, tight switchbacks and wonderful scenery. Pull-offs are available for those who want to enjoy the views. Arizona does not observe Daylight Saving Time, so during the summer Arizona time is an hour earlier than Utah time. We were happy to discover that the gas station across the street from the monument is on tribal land, so no sales tax is charged. Plan to fill up there if you can.

Unlike many national monuments, Pipe Spring is not well known. Only 55,000 people visit each year, in contrast to upwards of 2 million at Zion National Park, or more than 5 million at the Grand Canyon. The relative lack of tourism provided a very peaceful and relaxing day with park rangers who had plenty of time and energy to answer questions. As of 2011, the monument is open from 7 to 5 daily during the summer, and 8 to 5 daily from September through May. Admission is $5 for adults, valid for seven consecutive days. Children aged 15 and under are free. National park passes offer free admission for the passholder and three guests.

Pipe Spring Park Rangers

The park rangers were friendly and helpful

We arrived just after noon Arizona time. We ran straight to the theater at the back of the visitor center to catch the fantastic introductory film. The movie sets up the relationships between the opposing groups in a way that avoids taking sides. After the film, we headed directly to Winsor Castle for a guided tour.

The 25-minute tour was packed with historical details. Our guide was fantastic at keeping everyone engaged, while an older woman in our group delighted us with her own memories of some of the period appliances and décor. We were invited to dip our hands into the spring water, but warned not to drink it as the water is not tested or treated for possible bacteria.

Pipe Spring Animals

The animals were adorable

After the tour, we explored the grounds on our own. Farm animals still live on the ranch. They are not tame, but tolerate visitors with a sort of idle curiosity. A half-mile trail through the property leads to some truly amazing views.

We spent a bit of time exploring the small museum in the visitor center at the end of the day. Crops are still grown on the property and visitors are invited to take samples of whatever happens to be in season. The rangers are helpful and friendly, and always happy to share their knowledge.

Tips for Parents

Pipe Spring is a wonderful place to take a break from the high-energy touring at nearby national parks. A quiet oasis with plenty of space to play or simply sit and chat by the water, Pipe Spring offers something for everyone. Plan to spend at least two hours taking it all in. The weather is often hot and dry, so carry water if you plan to spend time outdoors.

avatarAbout the Author:

Lisa is a full-time travel writer. She lives in an RV with her disabled father and writes about their experiences. Although she has no children of her own, Lisa loves being an Aunt to her own relatives and the children of all her friends. You can follow her adventures on her blog, Travel Confessions.

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