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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Pipestone National Monument

The Pipestone National Monument was only half an hour drive from Blue Mounds State Park, so of course we had to go.  There is a $3 dollar entrance fee per adult, but if you have the National Parks pass you're covered.  This year the only National Park we are hitting is the Smokies, and it's one of the parks that doesn't charge so we don't have a pass and paid the fee. (By the way, Sharon, since I now know that you haven't been getting my replies in the comment section, I will be contacting you shortly before I get to Tennessee!)

Most of the rock at Pipestone is Sioux Quartzite, but layers of catlinite are sandwiched between them here and there.  The Sioux Quartzite is harder then ordinary steel, but the catlinite is very soft similar to human fingernails.  Its softness is what makes it ideal for pipe carving.  Geology rocks, right?

We took the 3/4 mile trail through the monument.  Signs are scattered throughout with information on the prairie ecology and other natural features.

Our favorite was the Old Stone Face.  You could see him from above and below, but I like the view from above better.

For the last 3000 years the Plains tribes have traveled across the region to quarry pipestone here.  The task of extracting pipestone from the earth is a slow and labor intensive process and the hand tools used today are not much more advanced than the tools and methods used in centuries past. The process can require many days of physical labor with only the use of hand tools such as sledgehammers, pry bars, chisels, wedges, and steel bars allowed.

Prayer cloths were also located throughout the trail, we did not touch or disturb them.

The big surprise was a collection of petroglyphs!  Historically, there were 79 petroglyphs on 35 slabs of rock placed around the Three Maidens, granite boulders dropped here by glaciers. The carvings depicted various forms such as people, animals, bird tracks, and more. The petroglyphs were removed in 1888 or 1889 after some had been defaced. The stones changed locations many times before some of them were returned to Pipestone National Monument in the mid-1900s. Seventeen of the petroglyphs are now on display in the Visitor Center.

From the NPS website:
Black Elk, who, for a time, traveled with the Buffalo Bill Show, committed many traditional stories to print. His contributions are invaluable to anyone who wishes to learn more about the traditions of his people. As recorded and edited by Joseph Epes Brown in The Sacred Pipe: Black Elk's Account of the Seven Rites of the Oglala Sioux, Black Elk told the story of the gift of the pipe from White Buffalo Calf Woman, a wakanwoman, who presents the people with a pipe before leaving the village and morphing into a white buffalo calf.

"'Behold this and always love it! It is lela wakan [very sacred], and you must treat it as such. No impure man should ever be allowed to see it, for within this bundle there is a sacred pipe. With this you will, during the winters to come, send your voices to Wakan-Tanka, your Father and Grandfather.'

After the mysterious woman said this, she took from the bundle a pipe, and also a small round stone which she placed upon the ground. Holding the pipe up with its stem to the heavens, she said: 'With this sacred pipe you will walk upon the Earth; for the Earth is your Grandmother and Mother, and She is sacred. Every step that is taken upon Her should be as a prayer. The bowl of this pipe is of red stone; it is the Earth. Carved in the stone and facing the center is this buffalo calf who represents all the four-leggeds who live upon your Mother. The stem of the pipe is wood, and this represents all that grows upon the Earth. And these twelve feathers which hang here where the stem fits into the bowl are from Wanbli Galeshka, the Spotted Eagle, and they represent the eagle and all the wingeds of the air. All these peoples, and all the things of the universe, are joined to you who smoke the pipe - all send their voices to Wakan-Tanka, the Great Spirit. When you pray with this pipe, you pray for and with everything.'"

There was an artist carving in the visitor center, but by the time I wandered over they were gone.  Pipes are for sale as well, perhaps when we're retired we'll stop back and buy one. While I didn't take any pictures of the pipes themselves I did like this sculpture.  Stop in if you're in the area.  I know I plan on visiting more sites like this to learn about the people who called America home before we did.


  1. Brilliant place to go, when I saw the first photo I though some high cliffs, then looked at the photo and saw they were not so big. Did not fancy a pip then.

  2. I visited there back in 1970, but couldn't remember much about it. Thanks for refreshing my memory.

  3. Cool place - I didn't know it existed until I read your article!