Pipestone National Monument
Pipestone National Monument is a 280-acre site located in the far southwestern corner of Minnesota. Created in 1937, the Monument was set aside to protect an important Native American cultural site used to this day to mine a type of rock known as "catlinite" (i.e. pipestone), which is used to make ceremonial pipes. Mining activities in the area long predate white settlement and pipes made of pipestone have been found at native sites all across North America. In fact, prior to the 1700's, Pipestone was considered neutral ground of sorts where even tribes from remote regions could come and extract the materials needed to create these extremely important religious artifacts. By the late-1800's white settlers arrived and the land was sold to the United States. Thankfully, through the creation of Pipestone National Monument, Native Americans have been allowed to return to the site and continue the sacred practices of their ancestors in centuries past.
On this short visit I'd be touring the visitor center and making a quick walk around the trail system which lies adjacent to it. Extremely short, the loop trails leading from the visitor center are all but flat and completely paved allowing access to anyone to the major highlights of the Monument. On this visit I walked the loop in a clockwise direction. From the visitor center the path heads out into a restored tallgrass prairie, makes a crossing of Pipestone Creek and passes by tiny Lake Hiawatha. At its halfway point the loop reaches scenic Winnewissa Falls, where a short and optional side loop leads to the top of the nearby bluffs. The falls themselves are striking as they tumble from between the reddish quartzite bluffs. After passing the falls the loop continues to follow the base of the beautiful quartzite cliffs for an extended time. A short stairway along this stretch leads up to the Oracle viewpoint which shouldn't be missed. Just before arriving back at the visitor center the Quarry Trail splits off leading to pipestone quarries which remain active to this day. This side trip only adds about a quarter-mile of walking so I'd highly recommend it.
Overall I was pleasantly surprised with my experience at Pipestone National Monument. It is an incredibly well-interpreted park and both the cultural and natural highlights of the park are fascinating. Due to its rather out-of-the-way location it's also a fairly quiet park which, considering its sacred value, is most definitely a positive as it allows visitors to better reflect upon and respect the land preserved here. If you find yourself in the area I'd highly recommend stopping by this unique park...it will no doubt surprise you as well. With that said, come along with me as I make my quick exploratory visit of Pipestone National Monument and as always...ENJOY!!
Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 44.013165, -96.325533
Route Type: Loop + spur Difficulty: EASY
Hike Length: 1.2 miles Hike Duration: 1:00
Trailhead Temp: 75'F Trail Traffic: 10-25 people
Min. Elevation: 1,650' Max. Elevation: 1,710'
Total Vertical Gain: 150' Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile: 125'
Trails Used (blaze color): Circle (unblazed), South Quarry (unblazed)