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Pioneer Desert Outpost – Pipe Spring National Monument

Arizona’s deserts conceal many secrets: hidden springs, gold veins, and occasionally—castles.

The Mormon pioneer outpost of Winsor Castle (spelled without the –d), part of Pipe Spring National Monument, sits at the base of the Vermillion Cliffs southwest of Fredonia, AZ. The name conjures images of towers and turrets like those of its more famous British counterpart, but this so-called “castle” is more farm than fort. Here, visitors are much more likely to find heads of cattle than heads of state.

Pipe Spring’s Winsor Castle has stood sentry over the high desert landscape since the 1870s. Photo courtesy of National Park Service via Wikimedia Commons.

Pipe Spring’s Winsor Castle has stood sentry over the high desert landscape since the 1870s. Photo courtesy of National Park Service via Wikimedia Commons.

Named for ranch manager and builder Anson P. Winsor, Winsor Castle is the main fortification at Pipe Spring. The “castle” was a defense against potential threats, but it was also a home and a working tithing ranch established under Brigham Young. Mormon pioneers often paid offerings in livestock, and Pipe Spring, a water source used first by the Ancestral Puebloans and Kaibab Paiutes, was the obvious choice for the herd as the Church’s population expanded south.

Cheese, butter, and beef produced at the ranch fed local road manufacturers and the builders of the St. George Temple and Tabernacle during the 1870s. Today, visitors to Pipe Spring can see the corrals and the cheese room, where a whopping 50-60 pound wheel of cheese was produced daily.

So much dairy production in the desert might seem unusual, but even in the heat of this area, known as the Arizona Strip, the spring room sits at 50 degrees. Winsor Castle is cooled by the spring, bubbling up from beneath the parlor floor and mostly covered through the spring room, where up to 40 pounds of butter were churned daily.

This region of Arizona was also the last stand of plural marriage before the 1890 Church manifesto that ended the practice. Plural wives and their children were hidden at Pipe Spring during the 1880s to avoid persecution, and living history displays today are just as likely to include pioneer toys and wedding quilts as they are farm equipment.

Pipe Spring is rich with layers of history, and crops have been raised at this desert oasis for over 1000 years. Photo by Ken Lund via Flickr.

Pipe Spring is rich with layers of history, and crops have been raised at this desert oasis for over 1000 years. Photo by Ken Lund via Flickr.

Even after the property changed hands and the practice of polygamy ended, the ranch was a stop on the “Honeymoon Trail,” the route taken by faithful northeastern Arizona Latter-day Saints to solemnize their marriage in the St. George Temple—the closest temple to this area until the completion of the Mesa Temple in 1927.

But Pipe Spring is much more than water and wives. Visitors today can learn about thousands of years of geology and occupation through the National Park Service.

“During the summer months, park rangers will be situated on the grounds doing a wide variety of demonstrations pertaining to the people, plants, animals, and geology of the site,” says Ranger Darren Lewis. “A few times a year, generally spring and fall, the Kaibab Paiute Band of Indians allows us to conduct guided tours of nearby sites on the reservation including petroglyph panels and a Powell survey marker.”

Pipe Spring, about fifteen minutes from Fredonia, is an easy stop from the Valley en route to most Utah destinations. For more information, visit https://www.nps.gov/pisp/index.htm or call (928) 643-7105.

The Beehive

The Arizona Beehive is a complementary East Phoenix Valley LDS lifestyle and living publication, published six times a year, featuring content on people to meet, places to explore, events to attend and businesses to patronize.

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