PART THREE – JEFFERS PETROGLYPHS
Jeffers Petroglyphs is a Minnesota Historical Site about one and a half hours east of Pipestone. The rock here is also Sioux Quartzite and the area is called Red Rock Ridge which is about 250 yards wide and up to 50 feet high. It is part of a ridge that extends 23 miles across Cottonwood County.
As we approach the Visitor Center we are welcomed by a sign that says “Landscaped by Mother Earth”. The area is 160 acres of prairie, 33 acres are native and 127 were reconstructed. The Prairie Bush Clover is a federally-designated threatened species that thrives at the site. There are about 300 species of prairie plants. Our guide pulled up some wild garlic and mint for us to smell. Really lovely.
On the rock face there are over 5,000 carvings, some as old as 7,000 years. It is a spiritual place where Native Americans came, and still come, to offer prayers and honor Grandmother Earth. It is still used for prayers and religious ceremonies throughout the year.
The earliest carvings show bison and atlatls. The atlatls were something that helped spear or dart throwers by giving the dart leverage to send it farther. These would have been long before the bow and arrow became common 1,200 years ago. At the Visitor Center you can try your hand at throwing an atlatl at a target. We watched as several people struggled and nobody came close to the target.
The Center offers tours at 10:30 am, 11:30 am, 1, 2, 3, and 4 PM. We made it in time for the 1 pm. It was over 90 degrees and not a piece of shade in sight. The guide pointed out eight different sections of rock highlighting the drawings from different eras. We started with the bison 7,000 years ago and worked our way up to more recent ones from 250 years ago.
In order for us to be able to see the drawings the guide sprayed water on the area she was highlighting. It was so bright and they are so faint they were hard to see otherwise. We saw thunderbirds, turtles, stick figures of people doing various things including dancing, other animals such as deer and moose. We also saw fossilized sand ripples that became rock 1.6 million years ago and scars left by the glacier that passed through 14,000 years ago. It is hard to imagine how old that is.
In 1966 the Minnesota Historical Society purchased the area from Mr. Jeffers in order to protect the sacred site. They are studying the drawings and dating them and provide very interesting and informative tours. They work with elders and members of the Dakota, Ioway, Cheyenne and Ojibwe tribes to help them understand the drawings and the spiritual significance of the place.
A 1.2 mile trail winds through the prairie at the back of the rock so we worked our way back to the Visitor Center on this uneven path. It was so hot and humid I was not sure I was going to make it but we forged through and it really was beautiful with wild flowers and purple clover dotting the landscape.
Back at the Center after drinking copious amounts of water, we wandered through the small gift shop and I even bought a t-shirt. They had some nice ones.
It was great fun driving the small roads in south Minnesota. We passed through Florence, Delhi, and Darfur. We were seeing the world. We started to see more lakes as we turned north and one that really caught our eye was a large and beautiful lake called Lake Elysian. In Greek mythology, Elysian is the final resting place of the souls of the virtuous and heroic. Somehow it was the perfect ending to our trip.