Earth Notes: The Southwest’s Stamp on 100 Years of the National Park Service, Part 4

Jun 22, 2016

The Grand Canyon, Wupatki National Monument and Sunset Crater Volcano are some of the geologic and cultural gems of the National Park Service. This summer, KNAU's Earth Notes series will highlight these, and other special places across the Southwest in honor of the Park Service's 100th anniversary. In the fourth installment of the series, we look at northern Arizona's Pipe Spring National Monument and its rich human history.

To many Colorado Plateau tourists, Pipe Spring National Monument is about as far from civilization as it gets—a 40-acre flyspeck tucked onto the vast Arizona Strip between the North Rim of Grand Canyon and the colorful canyon parks of southern Utah.

An 1885 drawing of Pipe Spring by Albert Tissandier
Credit NPS


But to locals, Pipe Spring is a place of richly textured history, and a meeting point for cultures. A new oral history project is revealing just how much, and how, peoples have met there.

Gregory Smoak, a historian at the University of Utah, is working with the National Park Service and Navajo Nation to collect Navajo accounts about the Pipe Spring area.

With its reliable spring water in the midst of vast desert terrain, Pipe Spring is Paiute territory. It’s entirely surrounded by designated Kaibab Paiute lands. But Navajo people have long passed through. And the stories Smoak is collecting show how relations between Navajo, Paiutes, and Mormon settlers were sometimes peaceable, sometimes less so.

Smoak has heard how Navajo crossed the Colorado River to trade for supplies, or to raid for livestock. The latter particularly happened during what Navajo call “the Fearing Time,” when Kit Carson rounded up most Navajo in the 1860s and marched them to captivity on the plains of eastern New Mexico. Those who remained in Arizona and southern Utah sometimes resorted to raiding for sustenance.

The stories will ultimately form the core of new interpretative materials at the monument—a vivid reminder that relations between neighboring peoples are almost always complicated and changing.