I can’t emphasize how important it is to add in interesting breaks to a trip, and how hard it can be to find something to keep a 3 year old occupied on a 3 hour drive.

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We found a great one on the long drive from Glen Canyon (we were staying just outside Boulder) to Zion Park in Pipe Spring. NPS link here

A rare gem on a long road

One of the things that always surprises us in the US, is the lack of prominence given to native culture in the national parks. Pipe Springs was an exception, being based on a Paiute tribal reservation, and also being associated with  the start of Mormonism in Western States, this was a location rich in history.

The site is small, you can probably see it all in two hours tops, and that’s if you take in a ranger program, but it’s definitely worth the time.

It’s great to see a visitor center that gives as much space to native history as European Settlers

The visitor centre is fairly modern but small and is split roughly 50:50 between the history and culture of the Paiute Tribes of the Great Basin and the Mormons who settled in the mid to late 1800’s.

The reason for the connection is that the mormons hated the federal government so much, they sided with the native tribes in an attempt to find allies. This resulted in a “slightly” better relationship than I’ve heard about in other areas, and an interesting contrast in two different worlds.

One of the things I most admired about the Paiute culture was their belief in land as something for everyone to use. For example, if there was a spring, it did not belong to any one person, but it was the responsibility of the person living there to keep the stream clean and accessible to all in the tribe, for everyone to benefit. I’m not an expert on Native American culture, and would love to learn more, here’s a starter for anyone interested in Paiute culture

Pipe spring is so named because of the fresh water spring which feeds through Winsor castle (see below) and still flows today.

S loved the working farm and Winsor Castle

There’s a small farm on the site which is worked in both the traditional Paiute style (known as three sisters) and European settler style. When we were there, a nice lady was in full mormon historical dress and was tilling weeds much to S’s delight (one of his favorite garden jobs).

img_3453She told S about the three sisters which was used for by the Kaibab tribe in
the area, which involved creating a straight mound in the soil and then planting three complimentary crops in it. First corn in the centre, then surrounded by beans around (the corn would be a stick for the beans to grow up) and finally squash around the edges which would keep the ground cool and moist.

The Europeans brought the veg we see today, which grew, but when they added animals, it wiped out much of the top soil, and within ten years, had killed off the grasslands in the area making it tough to survive.

There’s also a small animal farm on the site with a couple of longhorn cows and some chickens that seem to roam free (chickens not the cows). S loves a good animal farm, especially if he can say hi to a chicken up close.

Ranger talks from Ranger Ben

We attended the ranger talk with S who was doing his junior ranger badge which had a requirement for him to attend an activity, and we went on a tour of Winsor castle.

Ranger Ben

The talk was led by Ranger Ben Paiute (pictured here, credit to the NPS for the photo, he’s a little older and greyer now), a Native American ranger who grew up in the area. He guided us through the smallish fort (6-8 rooms housing between 40-60 people, mostly children). He gave a great talk on how the people lived, and who they traded with etc, and a little insight into the relationships with the local tribes.

The mormons also built Winsor castle on the spring, a fort intended as a last holdout against the federal government of the time which was never used. Comical to us Brits, given our Queen spends much of her time in Windsor Castle.

Funnily enough, he’s also the voice guide on the Zion shuttle buses talking about Paiute history in Zion and the sacred lands there.

Pioneer exhibitions on coaches etc

There were a few aged examples of pioneer wagons and tools around the place, and there’s a short hike called the Ridge trail (we didn’t have time sadly) for those who have time and sunscreen to brave the desert. The views would be spectacular I’m sure.img_3454

For those with an animal interest in addition to the farm, there’s a huge number of tiger salamanders for those with keen eyes, or toddlers who are close enough to the ground to seek them out.

Conclusion

S loved Pipe Spring, and not just because he got a junior ranger badge. There was an interesting video and exhibits, a fort to look at and a working farm, but the area itself is beautiful. A short drive from the main road through from Grand Canyon to Zion, I really can’t recommend this stop off to learn some history and catch a break from the kids music.

Great spot for a little picnic also!

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