Back to Travel Back to Black Hills Home Back to Home
Pipestone National monument
Pipestone was an early center of commerce, for the whole continent, long before Europeans arrived. This is not merely a historical site; pipes are still being made here, and stone is still being mined.
This is the place, nearly in South Dakota, at the western edge of Minnesota. Pipestone is twenty or thirty miles up a state road. This is vacation country, and though the signs all say this is Minnesota, it is a much the west as it is the Midwest.

Pipestone National Monument. Though not yet developed into a major tourist area, there are campgrounds, shops, and the occasional tourist trap. Still, it is a bit isolated, for today's modern interstate bound tourist
Park headquarters

If you want to get yourself a genuine peace pipe, this would be the place to do so. While the pipes are not cheap, they are not as expensive as I had thought.
An Indian pipemaker, working at his trade. These craftsmen quarry their own stone, and then design, carve and finish the pipes, mostly by hand.
This is the start of the Circle trail, a sort of a loop around the traditional quarry areas. It is a pleasant enough walk, through a mixture of woods, and prairie, and gives the visitor a chance to see old abandoned diggings, as well as sites that are presently being worked.
This path could be anywhere in the Midwest, though such areas are more common east of the Mississippi, and is pretty representative of much of the area out there.
A stream meanders through the woods and open fields. It even creates a waterfall, over some of the exposed rock outcroppings.
An old quarry, worked, abandoned, and flooded for years, sits in the midst of wood and prairie.
This area is largely flat; but there are some high spots and low lying areas. Water, as is it's habit, works tirelessly to wear down the high areas, and fill in the low.
A deer watches, as I tramp through the trails. The decorated tree in the background is a part of an Indian ritual.
The river, along with the extensive outcroppings on the eastern edge of monument are great attractions; but the real centerpiece of the area is the line of quarries, both old and new.
Another look up the river, creek, or whatever it is. The rock outcrops, and waterfall can be seen in the background.
A large stone face, imaginatively named "The Old Stone Face" looks down on the visitor.
A look down, from the top of the outcroppings. The are below dips, and then slowly rises, to even out with the surrounding prairie. This low lying area is what exposed the rock and made quarrying possible.
A look back at the higher level of the prairie behind the waterfall.
People have been coming here for hundreds of years. Some of them left their signatures. One generations graffiti is another generations history.

A look out, from the top of the waterfall.
  Left and Above:
The waterfall at the east end of the monument.

The river, streaming out from the waterfall.
Rocks seem to abound here, and it would appear, to the casual visitor, that Pipestone is everywhere, and not at all uncommon; but this is misleading. The rock filling the park is quartzite, a very hard and difficult to work stone. The actual Pipestone is a layer only about eight inches thick, which lies between layers of this much harder rock.
The pathway wandering back out to the open fields on the western and central sections of the monument.
Cliffs and tumbled boulders line the eastern edge of the monument. The quartzite of which they are made is far too hard to have been used for pipes. though it resembles Pipestone in color, the actual prized Pipestone is about as soft as a human fingernail. This made it possible to work, with the stone tools, and simple techniques possessed by the early tribes. In addition to being soft enough to work, Pipestone would not rot, and did not burn, so it would add nothing to the flavor of the tobacco.
A last area of rock outcrops. Even though this is not Pipestone, rock hounds are not welcome. This is a national monument, so nothing may be removed. The Indians have a special permit, in recognition of centuries of tradition, which allows them to quarry for Pipestone.
Back to Starting out Forward to More of Pipestone