This admirable hill awaits the poet and the painter, who should visit it when the last rays of the setting sun are falling upon it.
~ Joseph N. Nicollet, explorer
The city of Pipestone, Minnesota is a town that sits on the border of South Dakota in southwestern Minnesota. It always felt like a far off place to me as a child growing up in a Minneapolis suburb. I’m not sure it’s much different now as family asked why I wanted to drive all the way out there; they had no idea that the Pipestone National Monument existed.
When I purchased my annual National Park pass I made it a point to comb through their website and become familiar with all of the places that I had the remotest of chances of visiting in the next year. Near the top of my places were the parks in Minnesota since I knew I’d make more than one visit home in that time. I wanted to be sure to get to the places that I hadn’t had the opportunity to visit as a child.
I took Highway 212 west from the Cities and followed the signs to Pipestone on my way back to Denver. I knew it’d be a long drive back, so I planned several stops along the way and looked for any others that I may be able to detour to as well. The Pipestone National Monument was a priority though. I was intrigued by the history I read online.
I arrived at the visitor’s center and quickly walked through their small museum. The highlight of is the stone carving that continues; a Native American woman worked as I stopped briefly to chat and admire her demonstration. What interested me most though was the quarry work that was being done outside according to a park ranger that greeted me upon arrival.
I grabbed a booklet that described the highlights of the paved trail that covered the grounds of the monument and made my way out in the beautiful Minnesota day. I was interested to see the area that so many different tribes held sacred. From growing up in the state I knew of “peace pipes,” as the whites called them, but I knew nothing about their history or meaning.
I gained a greater appreciation of this portion of American Indian history as I encountered two men working a quarry towards the end of my walk. The trail was quite peaceful and enjoyable as I read the booklet and spotted different prayer offerings in the area, but I never really got a feel for it until I witnessed these two men laboring. What they were doing was something special on a totally different level than I would’ve expected.
The two men hammered and dug in the pit as they tried to reach the own Catlinite stone, which slopes at a terrible angle into the ground. Long ago it was easy to mine and pick above the ground, but as it disappeared it was necessary to reach into the earth. They worked in shifts as their small dog looked on, yapping at me for intruding.
The men were generous with their time though and explained how they wished to fulfill a dream by working their small plot. It was a personal quest that they described as being on their life’s bucket list; this was an ancestral quest that the traveled from Alaska and Arizona to accomplish. I was not one to wish to interrupt so I thanked them for their time and headed back to the road.
As I drove south I thought about how they were trying to honor their ancestors by continuing the tradition at the Pipestone National Monument. They were also taking the time to educate people, like myself, and build bridges with those who were interested in learning more. What they were doing was impressive and filled me with admiration since not everyone would make the most of such an opportunity.