Pipestone National Monument

Trip Start Mar 02, 2011
Trip End Oct 14, 2011

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Where I stayed
Mendota Heights Motel

Flag of United States  , Minnesota
Sunday, September 11, 2011

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I left my hotel in Murdo and drove a few hours past miles and miles of corn and soybean fields and grazing cattle to Pipestone National Monument. The monument is a site where Native Americans have been mining pipestone for centuries and that they consider sacred. Pipestone is a soft, easily worked stone that they found was good for making pipes. While the U.S. kicked the Native Americans out of the rest of Minnesota the pipestone quarries were important enough to them that some of their chief went to Washington to insist on access to the quarries, a right that they received in a treaty in 1858. Like most of the treaties we made with the Native Americans, we didn't stick to it and encroachment on their land started almost immediately. By 1928 the federal government had gained control of the site.  Some people fought to make it a National Monument and when legislation giving the area that status passed Congress in 1937 the law also returned the right to access the quarries to the Native Americans. 

The original monument was only 115 acres.  Over time the monument has been expanded and together with an adjacent wildlife refuge more than 400 acres of the 640 that had been designated as a reserved area in the 1858 treaty have become public land.  Development of the monument was slow.  The Visitor Center was not built until 1958 and the current building was not completed until 1971.

I got there late in the afternoon.  I watched the movie at the Visitor Center and  and quickly toured the exhibits.  I then walked the lone hiking trail in the park.  The landscape at the monument was originally tall-grass prairie but because of changes in the landscape and fire suppression in recent decades there are now many trees.  Over the past couple decades there has been an effort to return a portion of the park to something resembling its original state although there are now many invasive species.  Only about 1% of the original tall-grass prairies that once covered Minnesota remain.  The hiking trail goes past the pipestone quarries where you can watch the stone being chiseled using hand tools.

After the hike I drove to Minneapolis and got a room.

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