More photos from Pipestone National Monument

Pipestone Travel Blog

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entrance sign

We only worked a part day today so I drove the 45 minutes down to Pipestone to see the famous rocks that I knew nothing about and figured I should.  Plus, it was a gorgeous, warm, fall day just perfect for a drive. 

It was easy enough to find the park by following the signs and soon I was there.  I really didn't know anything about the park or even what to expect.  It was only $3 to enter (or $5 per carload) so I figured I couldn't go wrong there.  The park ranger gave a brief overview of the monument, handed me a little informational booklet and I took off down the 3/4 mile Circle Trail.  I wanted to see some rocks! 

The trail was nice and had several markers along the way.

Newer spotted pipestone quarry
  Some were plant or tree identification and others were numbered stakes with a description in the booklet.  One of the first stops was the Spotted Pipestone Quarry.  The what?! (It is a softer stone, easier to carve).  I could see some recent quarry action, probably done by the demonstrators in the Visitor Center.  The trees were starting to turn and the sumacs were a bright red.  Part of the trail followed Pipestone Creek and it was thought that early Native Americans discovered the stone either from the creek exposing the pipestone or buffalo trails wearing down and exposing the stone.   Either way, someone discovered it was great for carving pipes, though the legend says otherwise:

At an ancient time the Great Spirit, in the form of a large bird, stood upon the wall of rock and called all the tribes around him, and breaking out a piece of the red stone formed it into a pipe and smoked it, the smoke rolling over the whole multitude.

Dammed up Lake Hiawatha
  He then told his red children that this red stone was their flesh, that they were made from it, that they must all smoke to him through it, that they must use it for nothing but pipes: and as it belonged alike to all the tribes, the ground was sacred, and no weapons must be used or brought upon it. - Sioux account of the origin of the pipestone, as recorded by George Catlin, 1836 - as found on National Park Service brochure.

Near the falls, you can opt to take a longer, roundabout path up some natural stone steps to the top of the quartzite outcrop.  From up there you can see carvings in the stone by early American Pioneers and early explorers.  You also see the top of Leaping Rock (Old Stone Face from the bottom).  This rock is associated with young Indian men making the leap to show their bravery.

Minnewissa Falls
  It is not a wide gap, maybe 5-6 feet, but you must leap up to get to the rock and it looks to be a good 20 ft drop.  Nearby are some big quartzite blocks perfect for sitting on and listening to the waterfalls - very peaceful up there.  Maybe I'll bring a book there next Saturday...

You walk around the top of the falls and down some stone steps to get back to the main trail.  A little bridge takes you over the creek past Winnewissa Falls.  The trail follows along the base of the quartzite wall and through a wooded area.  You can go up some steps to view the Oracle - a stone face that Medicine Men claim speaks to them.  The trail comes back through the prairie and past the main quarry area.  You can see several prayer cloths tied to the trees, possibly for good fortune during the quarrying process or to give thanks for the stone.

trail from top of steps
  No one was quarrying today but I could see evidence by hand tools left in the quarries.

Next to the visitor center you can enter an old quarry and walk on the pipestone.  It can be slippery when wet, but was fine for me.  Pushing a button on a speaker will give you more infomation on the quarrying process.  The pipestone is 10-15 feet underneath some hard, pink quartzite and only accessible by removing the overburden by hand.  This is a slow process as you can only use sledgehammers, chisels, wedges, and the like.  Anything more and you risk damaging the pipestone.  This little observation quarry shows poor quality pipestone left in place on the floor but you can see a little of the more desirable red pipestone a few inches above quarry floor (I have acorns for scale).

trail along the quartzite
  The usable pipestone is only a few inches thick, sandwiched between the thick quartzite, and has a slippery, smooth feel to it.

Inside the Visitor Center, two people were giving cultural demonstrations.  One man was cutting fresh stone and shaping it into a pipe using a saw and file.  He had just started and so only the rough shape was visible.  He had some examples of unfinished pipes and carvings as well as a photo book showing the quarrying process.  He answered many of my questions (mostly related to the rock and quarrying).  I asked him what they did with the unusable pieces (hoping to score some) and he said he the more usable pieces are given to the women for carving and the rest is returned to the earth, to honor the earth and show respect for the gifts that were given.

observation quarry
  A very spiritual answer.  The woman there was starting shaping some smaller pieces into turtles.  She was still roughing out the shapes, but she also had some finished and unfinished pieces for viewing.  The finished pieces are rubbed with beeswax to give the shiny surface to them.  You can buff them up to make them shiny again.  The demonstrators work 5 days a week for 5 months (during warmer months) so if you go at the right time you should be able to catch one. 

Near the demonstration area was an exhibit of petroglyphs on several stones from near the Three Maidens.   There was a small room showcasing several pipes, carvings and old bead work.  The giftshop had several items for sale made from pipestone.

woman carving turtles
  On the way out I stopped at the hands on station where you can try your hand at working pipestone.  Or rather, just see how soft the stone is.  Several small pieces of rock are on a table with some saws and files and you can cut grooves in them.  It was sort of strange cutting stone with a saw by hand (but I just had to do it!).  There is also a video that plays every half hour but I didn't see it.  I returned my borrowed booklet and took off.

On the way out of the park is the Three Maidens - a large glacial erratic (granite from Canada) that has since broken into several smaller blocks (but are still large).   The rocks are believed to shelter the spirits of some maidens that require offerings before quarrying the pipestone.

Three Maidens
  Just outside of the Monument is a little tourist trap called Fort Pipestone.  I popped in because the signs said you could buy pipestone there.  They have a separate quarry not in park boundaries and you can buy the raw pipestone by the pound.  It is full of toursity knicknacks but they do have some nice pipestone pieces as well.  I bought a couple of little tree ornaments made from pipestone as well as some raw rock.  They have all the typical "Indian" souviners - moccasins, t-shirts with "spiritual pictures" such as a warrior head or wolves running, etc.  The fort itself is a replica of a fort used to protect early settlers from an Indian uprising. 

And then I drove the 50 minutes back to my hotel in Marshall.

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entrance sign
entrance sign
Newer spotted pipestone quarry
Newer spotted pipestone quarry
Dammed up Lake Hiawatha
Dammed up Lake Hiawatha
Minnewissa Falls
Minnewissa Falls
trail from top of steps
trail from top of steps
trail along the quartzite
trail along the quartzite
observation quarry
observation quarry
woman carving turtles
woman carving turtles
Three Maidens
Three Maidens
returning the dust to the earth
returning the dust to the earth
Spotted stone quarry
Spotted stone quarry
beginning of the Circle Trail
beginning of the Circle Trail
Stone bridge
Stone bridge
tall grass prairie along the trail
tall grass prairie along the trail
Lake Hiawatha
Lake Hiawatha
fall colors
fall colors
Sumacs are turning red
Sumacs are turning red
close up of sumac
close up of sumac
Pipestone Creek
Pipestone Creek
little fishes
little fishes
view of the falls
view of the falls
Can you see the old stone face? (i…
Can you see the old stone face? (…
quartzite wall
quartzite wall
natural stone steps
natural stone steps
ripple marks in quartzite
ripple marks in quartzite
a sea of sumacs showing their Chri…
a sea of sumacs showing their Chr…
page from the booklet
page from the booklet
old graffiti from the 1800s
old graffiti from the 1800s
aster and graffiti from 1894
aster and graffiti from 1894
close up of aster
close up of aster
Circle Trail map
Circle Trail map
top of quartzite wall
top of quartzite wall
cross bedding in the quartzite
cross bedding in the quartzite
steps go under loose block
steps go under loose block
another view of Minnewissa Falls
another view of Minnewissa Falls
Trail through two trees
Trail through two trees
The Oracle - can you see it?
The Oracle - can you see it?
if not, look through here
if not, look through here
now can you see the Oracle?
now can you see the Oracle?
lichens on the rock
lichens on the rock
me holding up the rocks (couldnt …
me holding up the rocks (couldn't…
Goodbye quartzite
Goodbye quartzite
Few trees on the prairie
Few trees on the prairie
prayer cloth at a quarry
prayer cloth at a quarry
Hand tools in a quarry
Hand tools in a quarry
A recently worked quarry
A recently worked quarry
prayer cloths in the rubble pile
prayer cloths in the rubble pile
water in the quarry
water in the quarry
Discarded pipestone
Discarded pipestone
pipestone from a quarry
pipestone from a quarry
quarry on the edge of the prairie
quarry on the edge of the prairie
geology of the park
geology of the park
pipestone and acorns
pipestone and acorns
pipestone quarry floor
pipestone quarry floor
try your hand at cutting the stone…
try your hand at cutting the ston…
- I did!
- I did!
more info on pipestone
more info on pipestone
This is what was smoked in the pip…
This is what was smoked in the pi…
pipe carver
pipe carver
man carving pipes
man carving pipes
human and animal pictographs
human and animal pictographs
hand pictographs
hand pictographs
fall colors
fall colors
Fort Pipestone entrance
Fort Pipestone entrance
inside Fort Pipestone
inside Fort Pipestone
Pipestone
photo by: alyssa_ob