Pipestone National Monument

The distinctive red Sioux Quartzite cliffs of Pipestone National Monument. 

Since I was driving through southwestern Minnesota anyways, I thought I'd take the chance to stop at one of the state's two national monuments. Pipestone National Monument is series of pipestone quarries, both historical and in current use. Minnesota Pipestone, which is the second softest rock in the world, must be mined out from under layers of Sioux Quartzite, which happens to be the second hardest rock in the world. Even today, only traditional hand tools are used in the quarries meaning it takes a long time to even reach the rock, which had long been used by the American Indians to make pipes. 

Pipestone National Monument has some of the last virgin tallgrass prairie in Minnesota 

The monument museum includes a workshop where Native American craftsmen demonstrate how they carve the stone into pipes. The stone is so soft that they can often just use a knife or even wooden tools to hollow out the bowl. The craftsmen were getting pretty creative with their pipes. Some carve elaborate eagles or bison; one fashioned his into a model of the U.S.S Enterprise.  

The reason to visit the site is for the short trail that mazes its way through a series of Sioux Quartzite cliffs. The red and pink outcroppings jut straight up from the flat prairie, providing an important landmark in the grassy sea. I was also able to visit some active quarries where registered members of local tribes still come to mine the sacred Catlinite. But enough description - just check out the pictures and make sure to make a stop there when you're in the area (actually it's good road trip practice to stop at any National Park or National Monument that you pass by).