2017 Aug 9 – Brookings, SD to Mitchell, SD

Monday was History day, Tuesday was Literature, and Wednesday was Science/geology.

We drove east from Brookings, South Dakota into Minnesota through the Hole-in-the-Mountain at Lake Benton; which you would think would be a rocky pass or something.  Instead it is a break in the escarpment and basically is a pretty little valley. We headed south to Pipestone.  A quick stop at the replicated fort to find a geocache and then across the road to find another cache in a beautiful park called Hiawatha Park after the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem.  The community did a theater production of the epic poem in the outdoor amphitheater in the park for 60 years.  The last production was 2008.

                    Nice fake rock for a cache container.

At the edge of Hiawatha Park are the Three Maidens, a sacred site to the Dakota Sioux. We continued down the road to the Pipestone National Monument which preserves an area of ancient quarries sacred to the Dakota Sioux and other nations.  The Pipestone National Monument quarries are the source of Catlinite, a soft, porous rock that is most commonly used to carve a pipe.  The rock is carved into other objects and carvings – especially today for sale in the gallery – but it is called pipestone by the Sioux because it is used for pipes.  Pipes are very important in the culture and spiritual life of the First Nations peoples. When the treaty was being signed to get the Sioux lands for homesteaders the chief insisted that a clause be entered that gave the Indians the right to quarry for the pipestone for  ‘as long as they desire.’  The treaty was broken, of course, and access to the quarries, which was always a long journey, became almost impossible with the need to circumnavigate homestead farms and ranches.  The quarries lay dormant for many years.  But they are open today and used each year by the various people and tribes that have permits.  Still today all the work is done by hand in the blistering heat, with the mosquitoes, and the back-breaking labour.We spent quite a bit of time looking at the exhibits and gallery and watching the film before heading out on the one mile loop trail. When we were finished at the Visitor’s Center we headed off to see the quarries and Sioux Quartzite cliffs that cover the precious pipestone with 10-100′ of the second hardest stone and, to this day, is hammered out with wedges and chisels by hand.

Just outside the building there was a sample quarry to show how the pipestone is extracted. All along the trail there were identification signs for all the grasses and plants in the prairie.  Many plants have been introduced to the Tall Grass Prairie since the settlers came west but the National Park Service tries to maintain the 160 acres at Pipestone as it was in the days of the Indian and buffalo.  (At the bottom of this blog are photos of all the different plants we saw.) The path led you past the Tall Grass Prairie to the base of the Sioux Quartzite cliffs and past some special formations as well as Winniwissa waterfall. The Oracle – believed to be the guardian of the quarries to ensure all Indian nations who come to get the pipestone work in peace.  Often prayer offerings of grain or ribbons will be left at the base of this rock formation to ask for blessings on the work and the pipestone. The Winniwissa Falls were not very tall, only about 20′, but they were pretty.Old Stone Face is another wind and water eroded formation in the Quartzite cliff.

Leaping Rock was a special place where a young man would prove his bravery by leaping the span between the two outcroppings and plant an arrow on Leaping Rock.  It would also sometimes be used, at the woman’s request, to settle ‘who got the girl’ between two suitors.At Leaping Rock is also Signature Rock where several homesteading pioneers and an exploration team carved their names in the rock. There was natural staircase back down to the main path. From here it was a nice walk along the creek shore, past a little lake and back to the Visitor’s Center.

We had lunch at the back of Poppy and then walked the South Quarry trail to see some of the active and abandoned quarry sites. The sides, and several of the caved-in quarries, were heaped with the heavy, hard Sioux Quartzite that has to be removed to get to the pipestone. Years ago the Sioux Quartzite was used as building material and many of the older buildings in the town of Pipestone are made from the pinkish tinged rock.

While John was signing the log on a cache we located along the roadside we created a lot of curiosity among a nearby herd of cattle.  The bull was a pretty big fellow. Both sides of the road for several days now have been nothing but crops of corn, or soybean as far as the eye can see.John had to do some pretty deep grass wading to the find cache hidden on a post here. South of Jasper, Minnesota we re-entered South Dakota and drove the short distance to Garretson to see Devil’s Gulch.  Rumor has it that the outlaw Jesse James spurred his horse to leap across the gulch to evade a posse after a bank robbery and hide in the gullies and caves.  If it is a true story that was one really good horse!

The span of the gulch is only about 20′ but the horse would be leaping, at a gallop, from hard, uneven rock onto hard, uneven rock immediately followed by a steep slope into woodland on the other side.  Could be done I guess, but I wouldn’t try it.

The water below appears completely calm but the information said that there are strong currents underwater and that the river is bottomless.  Apparently some fellows dropped a 600′ plumb line in the water and never touched bottom.

We wandered several of the trails along the top of the gulch and the waterline, located the thin waterfall that comes right out of the rock, and found three geocaches. These tiny yellow ants had holes all over this section of the path.  We walked in the grass and left them alone.

Also in Garretson is Split Creek Park.  A very wide creek that has a beautiful waterfall cascade. This young lady was having a nice float in the creek above the falls. We drove into Mitchell, SD at 7 pm, had dinner, and checked into our hotel after 8.  By the time I had checked through all of my photos and loaded a geocache list on to my phone for the next day it was after 11 and bedtime.  We did have a really good and interesting day.

Here are the photos of all the prairie flowers and grasses – not the Latin names though.

     Butter and Eggs                                               Prairie Cornflower                          Blazing Star                                                       Leadplant                    Stiff Goldenrod                                    Starry Campion                 Silverleaf Scurf-pea                                    Big Bluestem               Canada Goldenrod                                           Prairie Sage                      Crown Vetch                                                             Catnip                   Canada Wild Rye                                                      Sunflower                       Daisy Fleabane                                            Yellow Foxtail                Western Snowberry                                           Blue Vervain                       Reed Canary Grass                               Black-Eyed Susan Common Milkweed (with seed pods)                        Thimbleweed                         Curly Dock                      This pretty little one was never named

And that is all folks.  At last.



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