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National monument in southwest Minnesota offers more than just hiking, there's history here too

A place of cultural and spiritual importance, Pipestone National Monument has a storied history.

Water flows over the Sioux Quartzite cliffs at the Winnewissa Falls in the Pipestone National Monument in Pipestone, Minnesota on May 27, 2022.
Water flows over the Sioux Quartzite cliffs at the Winnewissa Falls in the Pipestone National Monument in Pipestone, Minnesota on May 27, 2022.
Tim Middagh / The Globe
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PIPESTONE, Minn. — Home to both trails that cut through the tallgrass prairie and layers of rocky outcroppings, Pipestone National Monument offers a beautiful designation and a rich and storied history to visitors.

Located on the edge of Pipestone in southwest Minnesota, the park has been a spot of cultural and spiritual significance for Indigenous people for generations.

At the Pipestone National Monument visitor center, students from an area school on a field trip ask questions of Pipestone carver Travis Erickson as he carves a traditional ceremonial pipe.
At the Pipestone National Monument visitor center, students from an area school on a field trip ask questions of Pipestone carver Travis Erickson as he carves a traditional ceremonial pipe.
Tim Middagh / The Globe

Long before the land was designated as a park in 1937, numerous Native American tribes were connected to the area for a sacred practice — the carving of pipes from the unique quarries found there.

“Native Americans have been coming to the site specifically for at least 3,000 years, just to quarry the Pipestone,” said park ranger Gabrielle Drapeau. “It’s a really important thought for our spirituality and culture here in this area.”

Students listen to the story of the Leaping Rock at the Pipestone National Monument in Pipestone, Minnesota on May 27, 2022.
Students listen to the story of the Leaping Rock at the Pipestone National Monument in Pipestone, Minnesota on May 27, 2022.
Tim Middagh / The Globe

The pipes carved from the Pipestone quarries are used for prayer, believed to carry messages to the heavens in the smoke. Today, over 23 tribal nations are affiliated with the Pipestone National Monument from across the country, and the traditions of quarrying and pipe carving are alive as ever.

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“Pipestone is a very unique site because we are one of the only national park sites that have people actively digging into the ground, whereas the Park Service usually works to preserve areas,” said Drapeau. “And we do that but we also are preserving the spirituality and culture of this place as well.”

Ferns grow in between the cracks in the Sioux Quartzite cliffs at the Pipestone National Monument on May 27, 2022.
Ferns grow in between the cracks in the Sioux Quartzite cliffs at the Pipestone National Monument on May 27, 2022.
Tim Middagh / The Globe

Members of federally-recognized tribes are able to apply for permits to quarry the catlinite found at Pipestone National Park, and for people wishing to learn more about the sacred practice, there are cultural demonstrations on pipe carving.

The learning opportunities don't end there. A museum on the premises contains exhibits recently renovated from their 1958 origins. In an update that took nearly seven years from start to finish, the museum was reopened in April 2020.

Students on a field trip walk the Circle trail at the Pipestone National Monument on May 27, 2022.
Students on a field trip walk the Circle trail at the Pipestone National Monument on May 27, 2022.
Tim Middagh / The Globe

“Then, just a couple weeks later, the building closed for COVID and so nobody was able to see our brand new exhibit,” Drapeau lamented, but now the doors are once again open, and visitors are encouraged to come in and learn about petroglyphs, admire pipestone craftsmanship, and view exhibits highlighting the cultural and spiritual significance of quarrying and the sacred pipe.

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While Pipestone National Monument offers a host of learning opportunities, it’s also home to the Circle Trail, a 3/4 -mile long paved path that takes hikers through the park. From the tallgrass prairie to the waterfall front and past the ancient quarries, Pipestone’s trail hosts a collection of beautiful views in nature.

Guided tours are available at the park during the summer season, ranging from 30 minutes to an hour. Visitors get the chance to hear stories about Pipestone's history and learn more about its cultural and natural resources from rangers while going through the park.

“They really do a great job of showing everything that we have here at the park,” said Drapeau.

White-tailed deer keep an eye on visitors at the Pipestone National Monument in Pipestone, Minnesota on May 27, 2022.
White-tailed deer keep an eye on visitors at the Pipestone National Monument in Pipestone, Minnesota on May 27, 2022.
Tim Middagh / The Globe

Emma McNamee joined The Globe team in October 2021 as a reporter covering Crime & Courts, Politics, and the City beats. Born and raised in Duluth, Minn., McNamee left her hometown to attend school in Chicago at Columbia College. She graduated in 2021 with a degree in Multimedia Journalism, with a concentration in News & Feature Writing and a minor in Creative Writing.
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