Pipe Spring site rich with pioneer history

Pipe Spring National Monument on the Arizona Strip preserves remnants of pioneer life on the frontier in the latter decades of the 1800s. The former ranch headquarters sits near a busy highway cutting through the Kaibab Paiute Indian Reservation, and passers-by who take time to visit discover glimpses of turbulent times in regional history.

Pipe Spring invites visitors to tour its museum and visitor center, peruse the wealth of publications available in its bookstore, explore its grounds and join a guided tour through the two-story ranch house built as a fort in 1872.

The National Park Service has managed the site since it was named a national monument in 1923. The $5 entrance fee is waived for holders of any of the federal recreation lands passes and up to three companions. About 55,000 people a year stop by this historical gem, which is open all year except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's days.

Pipe Spring is about 180 miles from Las Vegas in Northern Arizona near the Utah border. Follow Interstate 15 north from Las Vegas into Southern Utah. Watch for the exit onto Highway 9 toward Hurricane a few miles north of St. George. In Hurricane, turn onto Highway 59, which becomes Arizona Highway 389 at the stateline. Pipe Spring is about 45 miles from Hurricane.

The route cuts across the Arizona Strip to link with U.S. Highway 89A at Fredonia, a few miles south of the junction in Kanab, Utah. Accessing major attractions such as the Grand Canyon's North Rim, Lake Powell, Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park, this route currently carries more traffic than usual since a landslip closed Highway 12 east of Cedar City, the major access route to the high country north of Zion.

Situated near the vivid Vermilion Cliffs at about 5,000 feet elevation, Pipe Spring frequently receives winter snow. Plan for frigid temperatures and wet or icy footing on park trails. The rewards of a snowstorm outweigh the inconveniences because winter visitors witness a frosty transformation. At the ranch, snow outlines structures, fence lines and bare trees. Behind the ranch, snow frosts the red sandstone cliffs, creating dramatic contrasts.

A source of consistent water in an arid region, Pipe Spring naturally drew people, starting with the earliest nomadic cultures. Early hunter-gatherers gave way to cultures that used spring runoff to farm patches of corn, beans and squash. Then came people who built cliff dwellings and farmed more intensively. Perhaps straining limited resources, the cliff dwellers eventually decamped. Well-attuned to their environment and living within its rhythms, the Kaibab Paiutes occupied, or reoccupied, the region in small family groups. However, a parade of explorers, mountain men, soldiers, travelers and adventurers soon appeared.

The Kaibab Paiute people prospered until Europeans appeared in the New World, introducing diseases that decimated native tribes across the land. Spanish colonization demanded a large workforce. The Kaibab people and many other groups became targets of slavers from both the Spanish and stronger tribes. When Mormon settlers arrived to colonize, they utilized every available water source. Their activities finished the disruption of the Kaibab Paiutes' traditional ways of life, even though Mormon policies toward the Indians were much more conciliatory than most other groups settling the West.

Spend some time in the visitor center to view the short video presentation and absorb historical and cultural information displayed in the museum exhibits. The Kaibab Paiute Indians in cooperation with the National Park Service explain the changes that shaped frontier life in the region.

Guided tours of Winsor Castle, the forfeited Mormon ranch headquarters, gather every half-hour from 9 am. to 4 p.m. The fort is a short distance by trail from the visitor center. Visitors learn that by the time the house was completed, the Indian troubles had been settled. Used to support Mormons building in early St. George, church tithing herds fed upon grass, then abundant in the area, producing meat and dairy products. Ranch orchards and gardens added variety.

Margo Bartlett Pesek's column appears Sundays.