Smoking pipes is central to many American Indian ceremonial practices. So, naturally, the Indians chose special materials to craft their sacred pipes.
Pipestone National Monument preserves one of the quarries where American Indians extracted their pipe-making material.
A little over a billion years ago, this area was at the bottom of an ancient ocean. The clay and sand on the ocean floor became layered with other sediment and compressed by the weight of the water above.
Over millennia, the sand hardened to quartzite. The clay, mixed with red bits of oxidized iron, became pipestone.
American Indians still return here to quarry pipestone using the same tools and methods used centuries ago. Pipestone is soft, but extracting it requires several days of backbreaking work.
Pipestone National Monument covers 283 acres of tallgrass prairie that surround the quarries. You can walk a Circle Trail through the park to see the quarries, wander through the native plants and grasses, and snap a photo of Winnewissa Falls.
In summer, American Indians host pipe carving demonstrations at the Upper Midwest Indian Cultural Center.