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History of Aravada Springs

by Mark Rawlins, Owner

Memories Connecting Past to Present

Many of my most cherished memories came from our family’s yearly camping trips to Whitney Pockets and Aravada Springs ranch. My love for the desert and Aravada Springs began as a young boy during these camping trips each year along with my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins.

Family gathered together at Aravada Springs for 60th wedding anniversary of G. Fenton and Lettie T. Whitney

Fenton & Lettie Whitney’s 60th Wedding Anniversary

Our family’s connection to Aravada Springs and surrounding areas commenced when my great grandfather, G. Luke Whitney bought the ranch in 1910 from Bert Nay for $1,500. My grandfather, G. Fenton Whitney, was just ten years old when his father bought the ranch.

My mother, Julia Whitney Rawlins was born in St. Thomas and spent her summers at Aravada Springs ranch until she was ten years old. At which time, (1932) the federal government bought out the town of St. Thomas as part of the Hoover Dam building project because it was going to be flooded by Lake Mead. This agreement transaction greatly improved their circumstances. My grandfather Fenton was able to buy a farm in Hurricane, Utah. He was also able to buy a house, a new car and put $1,000 in the bank.

As part of this move, grandfather Fenton sold his share of Aravada Springs ranch to his sister Flora Whitney Nay. Eventually, Flora’s son Keith Nay, bought the ranch. And then, in 2017 I was able to buy Aravada Springs from Keith Nay’s widow, Marilyn Nay.

I bought the ranch because of the love my grandparents instilled in me. Every year when we camped here, my grandfather told us about pioneering this land while going on excursions to see places like the Indian writings. He told us sacred stories of when his life was preserved at the Whitney Pockets—named after my great grandfather.

Grandfather Fenton Whitney story telling at the Indian writings

Grandfather Fenton Whitney Telling Stories at Indian Writings

My grandparents lived at Aravada Springs as newlyweds and loved it here. One of my memoriable trips was camping at Aravada Springs for my grandparents’ 60th wedding anniversary. That was one of my last trips with my grandfather Fenton.

Let me share some more historical facts of Aravada Springs and why it holds such a special place in our family’s hearts.

According to grandfather Fenton, the main reason his father Luke bought Aravada Springs was because his wife, Julia Ann suffered from the heat and bad water in St. Thomas. Water came from dipping the water out of an irrigation ditch into a barrel or underground cistern, then letting it settle, and then using it for drinking water. The water also ran through livestock corrals. The water was so alkaline that it made your stomach feel like a salt barrel. He also said, that you were thirsty-er after drinking it than before.

In the Fall of 1910, Luke took his family on their first trip to decide whether or not to buy Aravada Springs ranch. The Nays had a little bed of strawberries about sixteen by thirty feet in size. They were ripe at the time, providing a real treat for Luke’s children. The water was fresh and pure. All in all, it was a paradise. After that trip, Luke negotiated to buy Aravada Springs for $1,500.

Illustration of a slip scraper like the one used at Aravada Springs

Slip Scraper Like What was Used at Aravada Springs

Building Terraces

Their first challenge after buying Aravada Springs was how to make a living. With the ideal climate conditions, growing fruit seemed to be the place to start. Since Aravada Springs had so much water, they needed to level the ground and build an irrigation system. This required constructing terraces. To do so, they used a slip scraper attached to a horse and a rock mover. Both are horse drawn and are very hard work—for both man and beast. These terraces still exist today. It’s hard to fathom how they were able to piece together the rock walls for these terraces.

During those years, Fenton says, “Father’s family cleared the hillside of the rocks and used them to build walls to form three terraces. The terrace above the cabins is in line with the spring and helps form the walls of the pantry they built around the spring.”

A horse attached to a slip scrapper for moving dirt

Using a Slip Scrapper Attached to a Horse

Another important improvement they made was to use a slip scraper to build a road up to Aravada Springs, and to build catch basins to capture water off of one of the large rock formations in order to water their horses before they started the steep climb up to the ranch. These catch basins were eventually named “The Whitney Pockets” and are still seen to this day.

Once the irrigation system was underway, fruit production became an important way of making a living in this rugged environment. Luke and Fenton Whitney sold their canned product to the local mines.

Another way they made money was to invite the women and children from St. Thomas to come up and camp for free during the summer. They sold them eggs, milk and fruit. My grandmother Lettie Whitney said, “Aravada was a pregnant woman’s paradise in the summer.”

One tradition that grew out of having women and children camp at Aravada Springs, was that the men from St. Thomas, who worked in the salt mines, were encouraged to spend a few days around the 4th of July with their families.

View of more terrace walls separating upper, middle and lower levels at Aravada Springs ranch

View of Terrace Walls Separating Upper, Middle and Lower Levels

Close up view of terrace wall separating the upper from the middle terrace where main spring access is located

Terrace Wall Separating Upper from Middle Terrace

Peach cans with labels recovered during ranch restoration

Peach cans with labels recovered during ranch restoration

Invitation to Aravada Springs

Grandparents Lettie and Fenton Whitney sitting among desert flowers

Grandparents Lettie and Fenton Whitney Sitting Among Desert Flowers

Let me extend you an invitation to visit Aravada Springs.

Aravada Springs welcomes you! Come appreciate the grandeur of this desert oasis. Explore the outdoors. We have so much to offer in making your stay the most memorable you can imagine.

Call us at 801-431-4950 now, or reserve here to book a vacation with us today!

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