Located in Pipestone, Minnesota, the Pipestone National Monument is a beautiful national park that is full of historical and ecological import. The historical aspects of the attraction are unforgettable as visitors will be able to see the Three Maidens, Nicollet Rock, and the famous quarries which gave the monument its name. Visitors can also explore the ecological diversity of the region. Situated on a tallgrass prairie ecosystem, the Pipestone National Monument is home to a wide variety of mammalian, insect, avian, and aquatic species. Birdwatchers are bound to spot clay-colored sparrows, bobolinks, and western meadowlarks. Beautiful prairie flowers form the perfect backdrop for the white tailed deer that roam these lands from time to time. Due to its rich soil, much of the surrounding prairieland has been converted to farmland. However, the slivers of uncultivated land at the Pipestone National Monument give visitors a glimpse of what this area looked like thousands of years ago. Perfect for a nature hike, a picnic, or an educational tour, the Pipestone National Monument has something for everyone.
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As its name suggests, the Pipestone National Monument is named for the quarries that supplied Native American artisans with much-needed stone for the manufacture of pipes. Native American tribes used smoking to commemorate many important events. For this reason, the stone used to make the pipes was always highly sought after. The quarries at this monument date back 3,000 years and were used by many Native American tribes from the Plains region of North America. For millennia this site was considered sacred ground, as even warring tribes could still access it during times of conflict as long as they put their weapons aside while on the property. As the American frontier pushed westward during the 19th century, many members of Anglo colonial society began to collect Native American pipes and demand for these object grew proportionately. This is evident in the pipe designs from this period, with some carvers going as far as to depict white politicians and explorers on the pipes.
The 19th century also saw the removal of Native Americans from their ancestral homes, after which they were forced to live on reservations. During this period, many tribes gave up their access to the quarries at Pipestone. However, the Yankton Sioux stood in opposition to this trend, signing the Treaty of 1858, which maintained their unfettered access to the quarries. The same treaty stipulated that the Yankton had to live on reservations in South Dakota. With the arrival of white settlers to the area in the latter half of the 19th century, the treaty was violated and later contested. After years of court disputes, the Pipestone National Monument was created in 1937. Today, Native Americans of any federally recognized tribe can access and utilize the quarries at Pipestone.
Traditionally thought to be the physical manifestation of the site’s guardian spirits, the Three Maidens rock formation at the entrance to the Pipestone National Monument is a must-see attraction. Native American custom dictates that an offering must be given to the spirits prior to entering the park and some visitors choose to do so even to this day. Originally, the Three Maidens site was surrounded by 35 rocks containing 79 petroglyphs. Unfortunately, many of these were removed in the late 19th century after a portion of them was vandalized. Today a number of them can be seen in the visitors center.
One reason the Three Maidens rocks stand out at the Pipestone National Monument is that they were formed quite some distance away. These granite boulders travelled to their current location by way of ice sheets during the Pleistocene ice age. For this reason, they are referred to as glacial erratics. Native American lore is full of stories concerning these types of rock formations, which can be found in ample supply all across the Great Plains.
Joseph Nicollet was an explorer and topographer who played a pivotal role in mapping the Upper Mississippi area. His stay in the Pipestone National Monument area is commemorated on a rock that visitors can still see today along the Circle Trail. The rock displays Nicollet’s carving of his own initials. Adjacent to Nicollet Rock, visitors can see the Leaping Rock, which was made famous by one member of Nicollet’s expedition team, John C. Frémont. It is said that during the expedition Frémont leapt down onto the rock from a great height just to plant the American flag on Independence Day in 1838.
36 Reservation Ave, Pipestone, MN 56164, Phone: 507-825-5464