National Monuments: Pipestone & Grand Portage

By Explore Minnesota

Pipestone National Monument

Two sites in Minnesota are designated as National Monuments, under protection of the U.S. Park Service, for their cultural and historical significance. Located in opposite corners of the state, each provides a glimpse into an interesting chapter of our country's past and into our American Indian heritage.

The Winnewisa Falls are part of the scenery at the stone quarries of Pipestone National Monument.

Pipestone quarry pitIn far southwestern, rural Minnesota, the town of Pipestone derives its name from an area on its outskirts that has been a sacred site to American Indians for centuries. Since the 1600s, generations of Plains Indians have traveled here to chisel out soft, red stone to be fashioned into ceremonial pipes. Pipestone National Monument was established 70 years ago to protect the site and provide American Indians of all tribes access to the pipestone quarries.

Today, visitors can take a three-quarter mile walk through the quarries, where they are likely to see someone working to carve out pieces of stone. At the visitors center, there are daily demonstrations (May-October) of pipe making by American Indian artisans using stone from the quarries. Exhibits in the center explain the history of the site and the significance of pipes to Indian culture. Included is a display of Indian petroglyphs, images carved into stone centuries ago.

This peaceful site also holds a remnant of the tallgrass prairie, which once blanketed these western plains. The Pipestone Creek flows through the monument, where the Winnewisa Falls drops over a quartzite cliff.

Time your visit for late July, and take in the Keepers Traditional Powwow in the town of Pipestone and enjoy traditional Indian dancing and drumming, arts and crafts, and buffalo burgers.

Grand Portage National Monument

Grand Portage National Monument, located off Hwy. 61 near the Canadian border, features a reconstruction of the fur trading post that operated here in the late 1700s.

Grand Portage.jpgSitting at the northeast tip of Minnesota, this historic site features a reconstructed North West Company fur trading post, which operated here from 1778 to 1802. Grand Portage refers to the long trail that the traders used to bypass the nearby waterfalls along the Pigeon River. The fur traders, called by the French word voyageurs, journeyed by canoe on the rivers and lakes in the Canadian wilderness. These voyageurs traded and interacted with the Ojibwe Indians who lived in northeastern Minnesota.

This National Monument was established in 1958 to preserve and interpret the site's fur trade and Ojibwe history and culture. Today, visitors can stroll through a stockade and several log buildings, where costumed staff perform daily activities of the post from late 1700s, from baking to building a birch-bark canoe, and demonstrate loading and firing the flintlock guns of that era.

In 2007, a large Heritage Center opened with historical exhibits, archeological displays, films related to the site, and work by local artists. The lobby features a large mural painted by the Ojibwe artist Carl Gawboy, and a birch-bark canoe hangs from the ceiling. The building perches on a hillside, with a panoramic view of Grand Portage Bay.