The Pipestone National Monument, managed by the US National Park Service, is the site of ancient quarries where Native Americans have dug out stone used for the carving of their ritual pipes. As noted in the seminal text of Native American religious beliefs and practices, Black Elk Speaks, “When you pray with this pipe, you pray for and with everything.” The American Indians believed that the smoke from a pipe made a connection to the Great Spirit by carrying prayers aloft.
Native Americans have quarried pipestone from this site for centuries. Only members of registered Indian tribes are allowed to quarry at the site now.
You can read more stories about the importance of pipes on the National Park service site.
Your visit to the Pipestone National Monument will consist of a three quarter mile walk through the prominent Sioux Quartzite outcroppings. There are a couple of spots where you can climb stone stairs to the top of the formations in order to get a better look at the entire site.
There are three spots on the upper path worth noting: the Leaping Rock, the Oracle, and the carved inscription left by early white Minnesota explorers known as the Nicollet Expedition.
Another interesting bit of Pipestone history is that the Dakota warrior chief Inkpaduta camped with his band, and their captives, at the Pipestone site after they killed more than 30 white settlers in what has come to be called the Spirit Lake Massacre in 1857. Spirit Lake, in Iowa, is about 90 miles southeast of Pipestone. The attacks there was one of many incidents that caused increasing hostility between Indians and Whites which eventually led to the 1862 Indian war in southern Minnesota.
After descending from the upper walking trail, your tour continues along the lower path until you exit the area of the outcroppings and follow the creek from the waterfall through the tallgrass prairie down a gentle slope and back toward the visitor center. If you want, you can veer off the path near the center down a cut and into an active quarry area where you may see people working at the hard quartzite trying to get down to the pipestone layer.
Pipestone National Monument is in far southwestern Minnesota and is about a 3 1/2 drive from the Twin Cities. That’s a bit long for a day trip, and I stayed overnight at the Pipestone Inn. I suggest combining any trip to Pipestone with a visit to the Jeffers Petroglyphs, which are between the Twin Cities and Pipestone. The Petroglyphs site is open much less than the Pipestone site, so plan your visit accordingly.
While you’re in town, be sure to check out the Pipekeepers shop at 400 N. Hiawatha Ave. A very nice collection of pipes and other Native crafts. See the work of contemporary pipe makers and learn a bit about how pipes are made.
Note: as of September 2020, the visitors center at the National Park site is closed due to Covid 19 restrictions, but you can still grab an informational brochure there and take the three quarter mile path through the outcropping site. Check the NPS site for information on when the visitors center might reopen. There are exhibits in the center well worth seeing.
More info from MNTrips
The Pipestone National Monument is one of the U.S. National Park sites in Minnesota.
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