|Pipestone National Monument|
Pipestone National Monument is located in the region commonly known as the Coteau des Prairies (the Highland of the Prairies). Established by Congress in 1937 to protect the historic red pipestone (catlinite) quarries, this site offers an opportunity to explore American Indian culture and the nat...
Split Rock Creek State Park
|Description: Three major ice movements during the last glacial period about 10,000 years ago formed the terrain of this region. Glaciations created a plateau rising from the prairie flatlands of southwestern Minnesota and parts of South Dakota and Iowa. During the Pleistocene, two lobes of a glacier appear to have parted around the pre-existing plateau, further deepening the flanking lowlands.
This flatiron-shaped landform was named Coteau des Prairies ("highlands of the prairie") by early French explorers. The highland had numerous small glacial lakes and creeks and in Minnesota, was drained by what would become the Cottonwood River.
Retreating glaciers also deposited a layer of sand, gravel, rocks and clay called till. In some places, the till is several hundred feet thick. Under the soil lies pink Sioux Quartzite bedrock, the second hardest rock in the world. Underlying the quartz is the second softest rock in the world, red catlinite, which is also called pipestone.
For centuries, Native Americans quarried chunks of pipestone to carve their ceremonial peace pipes. While the Dakota resided here, other tribes traveled hundreds of miles to this area to obtain the valued stone. Just north of this site is the famous Pipestone quarry, where only enrolled Native Americans are allowed to dig for catlinite, thus protecting it from over-mining.
As European explorers and settlers arrived in southwestern Minnesota, the Indians were pushed farther west. While rock outcrops and shallow soil prevented much of the land from being plowed, grazing by domestic livestock diminished the native grasses and wildflowers.
In modern times, a dam on Split Rock Creek, completed in 1938 by the Works Progress Administration (WPA), created Split Rock Lake. Sioux Quartzite was used in the building of the dam as well as the nearby highway bridge, which is listed on National Register of Historic Bridges. The lake became the largest body of water in Pipestone County.
The creation of the lake further popularized this recreational site, providing enjoyable outings for residents and vacationers traveling through the area. The park was then developed to provide water-based recreation for an area of the state that has few lakes.
Before becoming a member of the Minnesota State Park system, the 238-acre parkland was a treeless prairie. Today, elm and ash shade trees, planted shortly after construction of the dam, make a picnicking and camping especially attractive.
A glimpse of the native prairie settlers saw 150 years ago may still be seen at Split Rock Creek State Park. A small remnant, a hillside never furrowed by a plow, retains many species of wildflowers and grasses found in few other places today—mayflower or pasque flower, the pinkish purple blazing star and prairie smoke are examples. To observe fragile prairie flowers in bloom, visit in late spring to see puccoon and prairie smoke; in summer, look for wood lilies and prairie phlox; and in late summer, for blazing stars, asters, goldenrods and sunflowers. Throughout the seasons, the prairie changes its color and appearance as each flower follows its own life plan. A prairie like this once covered much of this part of the state.
Wildlife to Watch: This park is a birding “island” in a sea of agriculture. Because Split Rock Lake is the only sizable body of water in Pipestone County, it is a haven for waterfowl and other aquatic birds. Birdwatchers have observed almost every species of waterfowl found in the Midwest.
Spring or fall is the best time to search for ducks, geese, pelicans and swans, which use the area as a rest stop on their flights north or south. In summer, look for Canada geese, American coots and wood ducks with their broods, spotted sandpipers near the shoreline and great blue herons stalking fish.
The cattail marsh at the north end of the lake is a good place to view marsh wrens. Upland sandpipers, western meadowlarks, bobolinks, eastern bluebirds and numerous species of sparrow have been found nesting in the grassland and agricultural land to the south and west of the lake. You might also spot a colorful male ring-necked pheasant or a hen and chicks running through the fields too. And, listen for the soft coo of mourning doves as the day comes alive.
Explore the woodlands, which are scarce in this landscape, for many migrant species such as sparrows, warblers and flycatchers. A quiet walk might yield the tapping of northern flickers and downy and hairy woodpeckers. Scan for cedar waxwings, American goldfinches, Baltimore orioles, robins, white-breasted nuthatches, black-capped chickadees, warbling vireos, gray catbirds, yellow warblers, indigo buntings and rose-breasted grosbeaks that make the forest come alive. Red-tailed hawks and American kestrels hunt from on high—listen for the distinctive call of the latter. Look for swallows—tree, northern rough-winged, cliff and barn—swooping through the air in pursuit of insects.
Lake and prairie animals inhabit the park. Beavers may be seen swimming along the lakeshore. The southern, wooded part of the park is home to white-tailed deer, fox squirrels, raccoons, gophers and other woodland animals. Look for beautiful butterflies, dragon and damselflies and interesting insects that flourish among the wildflowers and grasses.
Special Tips: Along the west side of the road leading to the campground is the patch of remnant native prairie. Late summer offers visitors a panorama of prairie colors among the wildflowers and grasses. Spring or fall is the best time to observe migrating birds.
Trails, including a half-mile handicapped-accessible, 2.5 miles of self-guided and 4.5 miles of hiking paths, provide many opportunities for wildlife watching.
The park's visitor center features interpretive exhibits.
Best time to contact someone in the park: Memorial Day through Labor Day is 10 a.m.-2 p.m.; off-season hours will vary. If no one is available, leave a message or contact Blue Mounds State Park at 507-283-1307.
Land Manager Contact:
Split Rock Creek State Park
336 50th Avenue
Jasper MN 56144
Other Activities: Summer season rentals: boat, paddleboat and canoe
Winter: Snowshoeing is permitted anywhere in the park. Cross-country skiing is available in the park, but trails are not groomed. Sliding hill and warming house are located adjacent to boat landing.
Just outside the park, outcrops of quartz bedrock are visible. Near Jasper, 3.5 miles to the south, Sioux Quartzite is still quarried. Seven miles north of the park is the famous Pipestone National Monument.
Ownership: MN DNR
Size: 1303 acres
Closest Town: Jasper
Best Seasons for Wildlife Viewing: