Pipe Spring National Monument

May 1, 2019

Pipe Spring National Monument

Pipe Spring NM Visitor Center

A Little History

In the arid southwest, water is life. Over hundreds or thousands of years, snow melt and rainwater seep slowly through the sandstone and other porous rock layers until it reaches a non-porous layer. It then travels horizontally until it finds an opening where it springs forth, allowing life to flourish. To the Paiutes, water was, and still is, sacred.

According to the Kaibab Paiute, they were brought to this area in a sack by Coyote. Their Sehoo (umbilical cord) is buried here. And this is where they will return to the spirit world. This is sacred land.

Mormons, persecuted for their beliefs back east, fled westward and settled in the Salt Lake Valley in 1847. Thousands more followed over the next 20 years, settling throughout Utah and neighboring states and territories.

Unlike the United States, the Mormons opted to work with the Native Americans, believing it was cheaper to feed them than to fight them. But the clash of cultures could not be avoided. For example, why could Mormons hunt deer, but Indians couldn’t hunt cattle? Why did the Mormons take the best water and land for themselves and deny it to the Indians?

Meanwhile, the United States aggressively pushed its boundaries ever westward, simply taking what they wanted and fighting anyone that stood in their way.

Conflict was inevitable. Sporadic warfare erupted between the United States, the Mormons, and the Native Americans, lasting from 1850 until 1870.

It was in this environment that, in 1858, Pipe Spring was “discovered” by Mormon travelers. By 1860 it had become a popular watering hole and campsite for ranchers. In 1870, at Brigham Young’s direction, a so-called fort, named Winsor Castle, was built over Pipe Spring. Pipe Spring eventually became one of several tithing ranches. Mormon families were expected to donate or tithe 10% of their income, often in the form of farm animals or agricultural products. These ranches managed livestock donated by Church members and their operations supported Church enterprises.

The Visitor Center and Cultural Museum

This visitor center is a cooperative venture between the Kaibab band of Paiute Indians and the National Park Service.

The museum tells the story of how the Paiutes lived on this land, how they viewed the resources they found here, and how they used as much of each plant and animal as they could.

It also tells the story of the Mormons, how they came to settle in northern Utah, how they spread throughout the state, and how they tried (and failed) to live cooperatively with the Indians.

Then the United States government made its appearance. John Wesley Powell, representing the government, recommended that the Kaibab Paiutes move to the Ute reservation. I don’t know if Powell knew it or not, but the Kaibab Paiutes and Utes were enemies, so the Kaibab Paiutes stayed put. They were eventually moved to another reservation where they were “transformed” into ranchers and farmers. The government also attempted to “civilize” the Kaibab Paiutes by schooling their children in boarding schools where they were forcibly Americanized by having their hair cut, wearing uniforms, being forbidden to speak their native language or to use their native names.

While things eventually improved for the Kaibab Paiutes, significant damage to their lifestyle had already been done.

Visitor Center Museum

Winsor Castle

The fort, called Winsor Castle by the occupants, was the base for ranching and farming operations. Men and boys tended up to 2,000 head of cattle and milked 80 to 100 cows every day. They also grew crops to feed the farm animals and the inhabitants.

Corral and longhorn steer

Women turned the milk into butter (40 pounds/day) and cheese (60 pounds/day). In addition to childbearing and child rearing, the women also cleaned, cooked, did laundry, and operated a telegraph station on the Deseret Telegraph line.

Calling this structure a fort is a misnomer. It was more of a walled compound consisting of two two-story sandstone-block buildings with heavy wooden gates at each end. The heavy wooden gates at each end were wide enough to accommodate wagons that could be loaded or unloaded in the courtyard.


For a mid to late 1800s frontier settlement, it wasn’t too bad. The rooms were large and comfortable but I suspect it was still pretty crowded. There were also several bunkhouses for the single male farm and ranch hands.


Pipe Spring itself ran beneath the compound. Back in the day up to 100 gallons of water per minute flowed from the spring. Today, that’s down to about five gallons per minute.

Pipe Spring today

Pipe Spring also played another role – as a hideout for polygamous wives. After the Federal government outlawed polygamy, several men hid their “extra” wives at Pipe Spring. When the Federal government threatened to confiscate Pipe Spring, the Mormon Church sold it.

Kaibab Paiute RV Park

Kaibab Paiute RV Park from Pipe Spring NM

We scoped out this RV Park as a potential site for a Phoenix Cruiser Travel Club rally. While it might appear to be remote, it’s not that far from several well-known National Parks – Glen Canyon, Grand Canyon (North Rim), and Zion. And Pipe Spring NM is a half mile down the road.

It’s a very well maintained and managed RV park with lots of amenities – level sites, full-hookups, excellent WiFi, showers, laundry facilities, large gathering room with kitchen facilities, and a large covered outdoor picnic area. The staff was very friendly, helpful, and courteous.

Gathering area and community kitchen

Covered picnic area

And the price is outstanding – $25/night for a full-hookup site, $140/week, and $450/month.

The only thing missing is…shade.


Kanab, UT

Kanab is a nice little town with several restaurants and hotels. They have several RV parks ranging from seriously small and tight to spacious and open and a bit of a hodge-podge. We stayed at a small and tight one and a spacious and open one (with no trees). FRBY (for rent by owner) lists several houses that are rented as vacation properties for those that don’t RV.

There is a BLM Visitor Center in town (where you can enter the daily lottery for a popular hike “The Wave”) as well as two grocery stores, a bakery, hardware store, very nice laundry and several parks. There is a historic hotel there also but we haven’t visited that yet. The town gets a lot of business from Animal Sanctuary guests so many businesses are pet friendly and many restaurants offer vegetarian entrees (but you can find a nice steak if you like that also). Best Friends has a little shop in town where you can snuggle some critters (cats, bunnies and birds when we were there – no snuggles with the birds though) and watch them care for tiny kittens in their facility in the back.

The town is surrounded with BLM land and there is National Forest land just down the road so if the weather is good, there are plenty of options for disbursed camping. There are also many guide services in town to get you out and about and there are tons of places to go to when you do. Kanab is building itself up as a central location for numerous National Parks and adventure activities and they definitely fit the bill. There are five National Park properties within a two hour drive (Zion and Pipe Spring are within a half hour). If you want to hike, bike, ATV/OHV, check out dinosaur tracks, visit the sanctuary or tour National Parks, Kanab just might be the ticket for you.


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