Ancient tradition draws visitors to Pipestone National Monument amid a peaceful sprawl of Minnesota tallgrass prairie. Here, 20 feet below the indigenous pink quartzite—one of the hardest rocks on the planet—lies layers of softer red pipestone. Native Americans believe this pipestone holds the blood of their ancestors and have been carving sacred pipes from it since the 1650s.
During the summer, visitors can find local carvers filing, sanding and shaping the soft red rock into pipes with traditional themes like bison, turtles, horses or eagles. A gift shop includes an entire wall of handmade pipes for sale; there’s also a display of petroglyphs found in the park dating from 300 B.C. to 1700 A.D. A short movie titled Pipestone: An Unbroken Legacy details the rock’s history and its spiritual significance (smoke from the pipes is thought to carry prayers to the Creator).
This national park property includes more than 50 pipestone quarries, all hand-dug by members of recognized Native American tribes. It can take years for a family to gain a permit and dig out layers of quartzite to reach the pipestone. A walk along the three-quarter-mile Circle Trail behind the visitors center passes one of the smaller quarries. Park entrance fee is $3 per person age 16 and up.