On Tuesday, I wrote about Grand Portage National Monument in the far northeast corner of Minnesota. All the way down to the southwest corner is Pipestone National Monument protecting a sacred location for Native Americans. The space does not quickly reveal its treasures surrounded by the tallgrass prairie.
However, as you walk in, the cliffs of Sioux Quartzite begin to appear. The rocks are often covered with spectacular lichen. As beautiful as these rocks are rising out of the prairie, they are not the rock that has been used for nearly 3,000 years by Indians throughout America.
The place continues to slowly reveal itself. As you walk further in, the waters of the Pipestone River create a lush environment of plants and trees.
Finally, you get to the highlight of the hike — Winnewissa Falls. According to lore and oral tradition this beautiful spot in the prairie became a holy place for the area Indians. Just as it slowly reveals itself today, either the river or bison exposed a layer of soft, red pipestone underneath the hard quarzite. The people found this 14 to 16 inch layer was easy to carve and would become a rich, red color.
The Indians found the pipestone was easy to carve into figures or pipes, and the red stone developed a beautiful patina with the oils from human hands. Their stories said the red was representative of ancestors blood. The sacred area was recognized as one to share even among warring tribes.
Today, the monument remains a place where dozens of Indian tribes are issued permits to quarry the pipestone each year. The soft stone is called catlinite, named after Philadelphia lawyer George Catlin, who quit his law practice to paint Plains Indians in the 1830s. He documented the quarrying and carving of the pipestone. The Monument has workstations where Native crafters demonstrate their work on the stone.
Another of the legends at Pipestone offers that you can sit by the feature called the Oracle and receive some of the wisdom this sacred place offers.