Pipestone National Monument
Pipestone National Monument was established by an act of Congress on August 25, 1937 for two purposes: to preserve the historically significant site of Native American quarries and to restore quarrying rights to the Native American tribes which had camped, quarried, and traded there for centuries.
Pipestone National Monument consists of about 280 acres of tallgrass prairie with trails, quarries, waterfall, and an interpretive center.
The monument sits on a geological feature known locally as Buffalo Ridge, or geologically as the Coteau des Prairies, a plateau approximately 200 miles long by 100 miles wide, elevated 100-200 feet above the surrounding prairie.
Flora and fauna
There are over 400 native plant species growing at the Monument, and includes big bluestem, little bluestem, buffalograss, sideoats gramma, prairie cordgrass, indiangrass and switchgrass. Unfortunately, exotic species such as Kentucky bluegrass and smooth brome also are present.
Pipestone's remnant tallgrass prairies host many plants and animals that once flourished throughout the midwest. Over five hundred plant species, twenty-five fish species, forty-five macroinvertebrate species, eight reptiles and amphibians, twenty five mammal species, fifty-five families of insects (over nine hundred specimens have been collected), and approximately one hundred bird species are currently found at the Monument. Two species listed under the Endangered Species Act are found at Pipestone National Monument: the Topeka shiner (fish) and the Western Prairie Fringed Orchid (plant).
Many people are surprised to encounter cactus in Minnesota, but the Prickly Pear Cactus is present at Pipestone National Monument, as it is in several other locations in Southwestern Minnesota. Other areas where one might find cactus in Minnesota include Blue Devil Valley State Park and Blue Mounds State Park. The cacti can be difficult to see in the thick grass, although under ideal conditions they have been known to reach up to 36 inches in height.
With an altitude of 1,600 feet, the area is high plains. Summer high temperatures average in the 80’s and exceed 100 occasionally. Winters are cold and windy with overnight low temperatures typically around 0-10 degrees in January. Annual precipitation totals are around 20-25 inches, enough to support tall prairie grasses and some trees.
Pipestone National Monument is just north of the town of Pipestone, Minnesota which is in southwestern Minnesota, at the meeting of Minnesota Highways 23 and 30 and US Route 75. It is 23 miles north of Interstate Highway 90.
Sioux Falls Regional Airport (Joe Foss Field) is about 50 miles southeast, in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Flights are offered to Minneapolis, Chicago, Denver, Cincinnati, Salt Lake City, Atlanta and Las Vegas.
The setting of Pipestone National Monument is a largely agricultural landscape. Many large farms and some ranches are to be seen for hundreds of miles around. About 20 miles south on US Highway 75 is Blue Mounds State Park, with several thousand acres of preserved prairie grass and a resident bison herd. About 30 miles to the northeast on Minnesota State Highway 23 is Camden State Park, with facilities for picnics, camping, hiking, and outdoor recreation on the Redwood River.
The biggest safety risks at Pipestone National Monument are probably the short cliff and waterfall over which visitors can hike and climb.