One ranger-led evening program included an entertaining slide show where the audience was invited to guess: Mars? Or Utah? It was harder than you might expect.
What we don't know about the religion would fill a library. (Just for the record: our ignorance extends to nearly all branches of belief. We are non-denominational like that.)
But thanks to the Big Parks Trip, we do know why there are orchards at Capitol Reef National Park, and why the fort at Pipe Springs was built.
Here's my abbreviated version of the history: Back in the day (mid 1800's), when Mormons were facing persecution in the eastern US, Brigham Young led his followers into the Utah Territory, where they could practice their religion without oversight or interference from the government. Since, naturally, the territory was not yet a state.
Long story short, the conflict between faith and state came to actual war between Young's followers (the Nauvoo Legion) and the US Army.
It's no surprise then, that Young would encourage his people in self-sufficiency and plan for what felt like an inevitable return to open hostilities with the government.
Mormons went into the desert to start farming. Taking advantage of the water in the Waterpocket Fold (that's what the cognoscenti call that 100-mile long wrinkle in the Earth's crust), farmers planted apples, pears, peaches, apricots, cherries, peaches, almonds, and more.
These orchards are part of the "historic landscape" that visitors to the Fruita Campgrounds in Capitol Reef can still enjoy today.
3000 or so fruit trees are maintained by the National Parks Service (the last settlers moved out in the 1960's after selling their land to the Park). An earthly paradise.
And likewise, the Mormon ranch at Pipe Springs is a National Monument. Halfway between Zion National Park and the Grand Canyon, Pipe Springs served as a stop-over for early tourists out west.
My historical summary: For time immemorial, local Kaibab Paiute people came here on their annual circuit. At the end of winter, this little oasis was full of rice grass and small game. And for time immemorial, the Paiutes moved along for better hunting and gathering as the seasons changed.
Then the Europeans showed up.
To be fair, according to the story we heard, Mormons settlers arrived in November.
They didn't know someone was already calling the Springs home.
They didn't understand that the rich grazing they found for their cattle might not last forever.
They didn't realize the life-or-death impact their cows' overgrazing would have on the Kaibab Paiutes.
By 1905, there may have been something like 90 tribe members left.
So why the fort? And why the telegraph line?
It was, so we heard in our tour, part of Brigham Young's strategic line of retreat in case the US government took up against the Mormons again.
Young would head south to Mexico if things went –– you know –– South for him.
The fortified ranch house ("Windsor Castle" was also a handy spot to hide plural wives when the federal marshals came looking for proof of polygamy.
It became a National Monument partly because Pipe Springs offered a way-station between the Grand Canyon and Zion National Park, Today, the water rights are split between the Kaibab Paiute Tribe, the National Parks Service, and a group of descendants of the cattle farmers.
The Kaibab Paiute (now numbering 200 souls) would still like to have the spring back, by the way.
Ironically, of course, when the states came into being, Pipe Springs ended up in Arizona rather than Utah. Which is another thing we learned about Utah.