Visit Pipestone National Monument at Pipestone Minnesota. Stay in a local hotel or at the Pipestone RV campground.
Charming Pipestone, MN is a perfect destination to learn about Dakota Native American culture. It's an area rich in Native American and quarrying history. The buildings in the town were built primarily of the red Sioux quartzite quarried in Pipestone. Its a town like no other!
Many Native Americans consider Pipestone to be one of the most sacred destinations in the U.S. The name comes from early (16th century) use of the quarried stone to create ceremonial pipe bowls.
Catalinite pipestone is found in no other place (though there are other forms of pipestone in other parts of the world.) Tribes al across North America valued these pipes and traded for them.
National recognition for the location began in 1937 when Native tribes sold their rights to the area to the federal government. Nevertheless, Native Americans remain the only people with the right to quarry here.
"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. 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 brought or used upon it." ~Lakota artist, George Catlin, 1836.
In the early part of the 20th Century, interest in quarrying for pipestone lagged. In recent years there is increased interest in digging by hand through the the 10 foot deep layer of quartzite to get to the small layer of pipestone.
The best time of year to observe the digging process is late summer through early fall. If you are fortunate in your timing, you may see several people working in the quartzite pits.
Go to the visitor center to learn about the entire process of of quarrying and pipe making. If you visit during April to October you are likely to be able to also see local Dakota Native pipe-makers carving the intricate designs.
While visiting the quarry, explore the Circle Trail near the waterfall. Enjoy viewing the quartzite ridge and stunning rock formations including the large granite boulders called "The Three Maidens." The belief was that the "maidens" lived in the boulders. Gifts of food and tobacco were sometimes left for them.
On the Mountains of the Prairie,
On the great Red Pipe-stone Quarry,
Gitche Manito, the mighty,
He the Master of Life, descending,
On the red crags of the quarry
Stood erect, and called the nations,
Called the tribes of men together. ~Song of Hiawatha, Longfellow
Longfellow's poem is reenacted each year in an amphitheater on the Pipestone National Monument grounds.
You can learn more of the history and practice of pipe making, and of Dakota culture, at the Little Feather Center (317 4th St. NE in Pipestone) and at Keepers of The Sacred Tradition of Pipemakers (400 Hiawatha Av.) Both locations sell pipes and other native crafts.
Don't miss the Pipestone County Museum ( 113 Hiawatha Av. S.) and Fort Pipestone (104 9th St. N.E.)
The Pipestone National Monument gift shop offers various native crafts for sale as well as finished pipestone pipes. You can also buy a couple of the pipes online through amazon.com.
Minnesota hosts two national monuments. The Pipestone National Monument is one, the other is Grand Portage National Monument in northern Minnesota. Both celebrate, and teach about, the history of Minnesota's Native Americans.
Pipestone National Monument photos courtesy Wikipedia commons
Jeffers Petroglyphs is another important site in the same area where you can learn about Native American influence on the history of Minnesota.
Photo Courtesy Trip Advisor
Minnesota State Parks in this area: