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  • Writer's pictureRuby's Winding Road

Beautiful and Sacred Pipestone

While waiting out the rain in Forest City, Iowa, we plotted a change to our travel itinerary and decided to make an unexpected zig to southeastern Minnesota to visit the SPAM Museum in Austin. It turned out to be a fun visit. Then we made a zag southwest to Pipestone, Minnesota to visit a stone quarry that is one of our nation's monuments. Wait. An active quarry site that doubles as a national monument? Yup. We needed to find out more and we're glad we did.

Native American pipes cared from red pipestone
Native American pipes carved from red pipestone

Pipestone National Monument is a beautiful and sacred site protected for the quality of red stone found only here. The stone, called pipestone, is used in pipe making by Native Americans. The pipestone is quarried by hand and carved into pipes used by Native Americans in prayer and sacred ceremonies. There are currently 56 active quarry sites at Pipestone National Monument.

Visitors to the 301-acre Pipestone National Monument arrive at a brick and stone Visitor Center that quietly blends into its surroundings. Outdoor observation sites near the parking lot highlight serene prairie views. We stood for a while and listened to the sound of the wind rustling through the tall green and amber prairie grasses. Yellow and purple wildflowers brightened the view. To take a closer look is to observe evidence of quarry rubble from as much as three-thousand years ago among the terrain. Amazing.

Inside the Visitor Center is a free museum with a video presentation about Pipestone National Monument and exhibits explaining the reasons Native American tribes believe the area to be sacred. Two working exhibits in the museum showcased local Native American artists working with the pipestone. While we were visiting, one artist was carving the beautiful red stone into the shape of a turtle to be used for jewelry. Another artist was cutting the stone for use as a pipe. A limited number of pipes and jewelry pieces created on site were available for purchase in the park store.

Once venturing outside the Visitor Center, guests can walk a paved path to view work in the quarry areas. Pipestone National Monument has a paved trail system that's about 1.5 miles long. Portions of the trail go past active quarry areas. It's there you can view work being done to retrieve the red stone. Some of the people in the quarries will greet you and answer questions. You can watch as they use hand tools like sledgehammers to break through thick, hard layers of Quartzite that must be removed before exposing the pipestone. The quarries can be at least 15-feet deep. Quarry work can only be done by permit and to receive one you must be a member of a federally-recognized tribe. We learned there is a wait to obtain an annual permit and some wait as long as 10 years.

In addition to the quarries, the trails provide views of hundreds of plant species and native wildlife. We don't know about you, but we find prairies incredibly pretty. If you take the time to look around, you'll discover so many pretty flowers, trees and plants, as well as a few critters. The paved paths are nice, but expect some steps and rocky areas. There is also a small waterfall that hikers can climb up and around via stone steps.

For the little kiddos in your life, there is a Junior Ranger Program at Pipestone National Monument. The Junior Ranger Program gives children an opportunity to complete an activity book and earn a Junior Ranger Badge. It's fun, easy and informative. We participated in Junior Ranger Programs at other National Park Service locations with our daughter when she was small. It was pretty neat. She's all grown up now, but still hangs onto her Junior Ranger Badges from childhood. Ahh, good times. You can learn more about the program at the National Park Service website at

If you travel with your dog like we do, you'll be glad to know they're allowed in the park as long as they remain leashed. Pets are not allowed in the Visitor Center, but can accompany you on trails. Our pup had a great time walking, sniffing and climbing.

We spent about two hours at Pipestone National Monument viewing the Visitor Center and walking the trails. No camping is available inside the park, so we stayed at a family campground just across the road from the park entrance. As far as convenience goes, it was great. The campground offered full RV hookups, a pool and an office/store. The campground was abuzz with families having fun tossing the football, playing catch and competing at corn hole. There wasn't much elbow room between sites so you might involuntarily become a part of your neighbor's game of catch. We stayed for one night and were up early the next morning so we could revisit Pipestone National Monument before leaving town. Staying right across the road made that plan very convenient.

Pipestone National Monument is open year-round, but hours can vary depending on the season. Check the National Park Service website at for details before you go. The Pipestone Chamber of Commerce can provide information about places to stay, eat and visit while in town.

Thanks for reading about our visit to Pipestone National Monument. If you like our blog post, please tap the heart icon at the bottom of the page before you leave. Subscribe for free to so you never miss a post. We'll be posting again soon about places we have recently visited. Stay tuned.

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