Wednesday, July 11, 2018

What is Pipestone?

We're camped in the town of Pipestone, Minnesota. What a curious name for a town! But we are here to visit the national monument by the same name, and to get more information on the origin of that name. We had beautiful weather for a visit to Pipestone National Monument. Situated on the tall grass prairie, it was filled with pretty wildflowers (and we know you're pretty excited to hear those flowers will show up throughout the blog.)

What makes this pretty prairie unique, is what is hidden underground. We quickly found that pipestone is the compressed red clay that Native Americans have used to form the pipes they have smoked for many years. We saw plenty of finished pipes in the gift shop, all signed by the artist that fashioned them.

The pipes come in different sizes an shapes, and of course different prices.

The national monument even had people working on pipes at the workshop inside the visitor center. This guy is applying the final layer of melted bees wax that brings out the rich red color to the finished product.

He starts with flat pieces of pipestone, quarried here at the national monument. As you can tell from the picture, it starts as a light pink stone before all the polishing and waxing. These pieces usually come out in sheets 1-2 inches in thickness. A regular hack saw is used to cut L-shaped pieces of stone that will be sanded into the more rounded pipes.

Outside, a 3/4-mile paved trail takes visitors around the grounds of the national monument. Quarries where Native Americans are allowed to dig for pipestone are right along the trail.

Now filled with water from the recent rains, it might be a while before quarrying can begin again. The thin layers of the compressed clay are hidden between thick layers of very hard quartzite. This hard outer shell must be removed using hand tools like chisels.

This trail would normally be no problem for hikers like Mark and Denisa. But with a sprained ankle, seeing the whole thing would have been impossible. We found out they have a wheelchair that we could borrow, and suddenly the impossible was possible.

As we roll across the prairie, it seems a good time to insert pictures of the lovely wildflowers we are seeing. This is a new one for us, and we were glad to see an informational sign that identified it as Leadplant.

When we look closely, we see that the brilliant purple and orange color actually comes from hundreds of tiny flowers.

Likewise, the common milkweed makes a pretty bloom, but . . .

it is even more beautiful to see the tiny flowers that make up that bigger bloom. We have wandered into more of God's wonders today.

It was good to have an expert wheelchair pilot for Denisa's first-ever ride. She has to say that she would much rather walk the trail herself, but she's guessing that would be true of anyone having to use a wheelchair. Just these few days of walking with a cane and using a wheelchair has given some first-hand empathy to those that struggle with mobility.

We are approaching the red quartzite portion of the trail. Even though these pretty pink rock walls are the same color as the coveted pipestone, they are actually the very hard rock that makes getting to the more malleable pipestone so difficult.

The ranger warned that this trail was not ADA compliant. After seeing how narrow the trail was in spots, we would have to agree.

We were warned that the usual loop trail was not possible. With eleven inches of recent rain, water has been flowing over the bridge in this area, forcing them to close the trail here. You won't be surprised to hear that Mark jumped the fence to check out the bridge situation. You can barely see him peeking through the foliage in the middle of the picture--on the other side of the closed gate.

He reported that the bridge was now clear of water and ready for traffic.

He also got a picture of Winnewissa Falls, since Denisa couldn't see it from her wheel chair on the other side of the closed gate.

Mark could also climb to the top of the ridge to get views of "The Oracle." That's a fancy name for the profile of a face in the red rock in the center of the picture below.

For those not able to see it easily, there is a viewing hole that circles the face from afar.

It's easier to know you have found the right view, when you see the big nose of the oracle.

Because of the bridge closure, we had to go back through the narrow and hilly section of the trail towards the visitor center. Mark is now working up a sweat and burning lots of calories, while Denisa is sitting. If our roles had been reversed, Denisa is sure she wouldn't have been able to navigate Mark in a wheel chair over this rough terrain that is steep at times.

The flower views were lovely, and we saw more interesting blooms. This is Crown Vetch along the trail.

Even though we're getting past rose season, we found this delicate wild rose right beside the trail as well.

Besides learning about pipestone, we also had a nice hike through the tall grass prairie today. Just like others we have found across this great country, Pipestone National Monument is a worthwhile stop. For us it was also a good introduction to a new state in our motor home travels. As we travel up the road, we'll be looking for more things we can see and learn about Minnesota. For now we'll leave with a final new wildflower for us. This is Blue Vervain.

Again, those flower spikes are made up of hundreds of perfectly formed individual flowers. What an amazing world we are blessed to wander!

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