The park touts 13 miles of trails, but three of them are parallel. There's even a few places where I'm sure I could play catch with someone on the other trail. I chose the middle route, the Upper Cliffline Route. The view was nice.
Upper Cliffline Route
The biggest surprise was that I spotted two birds I had never seen before, and one I had seen only once before. Grassland birds are tough to ID because the grass obscures them so well, but the dickcissels were calling regularly. I thought "Dick-ciss-el" was an easy way to remember the call, but it sounds more like "rap-rap-rap." I also saw the grasshopper sparrow, which I identified because I heard a sound I did not recognize. Researchers from the University of Nebraska have been searching daily for grasshopper sparrows within Pipestone National Monument and have only seen two (and caught them both!). I also saw bobolinks, which were great to see, too!
As I continued down the trail, I came to a cliff face. According to the sign, it used to be a quarry for the quartzite. It was an striking feature that came seemingly out of nowhere. Some optimistic hikers had built a peace sign and a smiley-face out of loose rock at the bottom of the cliff.
The historic quartzite quarry
Upon reaching a point near the end of the trail, I found a sign introducing the "Rock Alignment." The sign said that it was not known whether the line of rocks was historic or an archaeological relic, and stated that parts were built using different techniques, possibly at different times. I wandered down the trail, which got abruptly thinner and brushier - not well-maintained - for quite a while before I found the rocks down in the forest.
The Rock Alignment
As I looked at the rock alignment, I immediately recalled two archaeological sites I have visited in the Northern Rocky Mountains. One was a low-lying wall of green siltite imported from elsewhere in the mountains located about half a mile west of the Many Glacier Hotel at Glacier National Park. The wall, I was told by University of Alberta - Calgary archaeology professor Brian Reeve, was used for driving animals like sheep toward a killing zone. I also thought of Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump in Alberta, where bison were driven off a cliff using a variety of land managment practices and a "funneling" landform, though I do not recall whether rock walls were employed there. In either case, this rock wall was located in a funnel shape toward a cliff. There is no reason for a settler to go about building a tiny wall there, as the sign suggested might have been the case. Before it toppled over with the wind and time, the wall would have been just tall enough to crouch behind and attack or drive bison off the steep side of the bluff. I don't want to sound arrogant, but the Rock Alignment's purpose seemed clear.
If all that intuition were not enough, in 2003, on a University of Wisconsin field trip to Wyoming, we bumped into Jim Brandenburg on the way back to Wisconsin. He took us out near his family's farm at the base of the Blue Mound and told us that when he was a kid, they found bison bones and teeth along the base of the cliff. It all fits together.
I walked the whole Bur Oak Loop, on which the Rock Alignment was located, and ended up at a visitor center that used to be someone's house. It would have been an awesome house, but maybe it's better that everyone gets to enjoy it as a visitor center. I took a break since I was absolutely dripping with sweat and watched the nighthawks zooming around overhead. One repeatedly swooped overhead in a high-speed dive, its wings making a distinctive "whoooov!" sound as it zipped by at high speed. Checking my reference book, the males are apparently the only ones that exhibit this behavior, and its purpose is unknown because it is not clear to whom the dive and the noise are being directed. Based on my observations, the nighthawk will fly around beating its wings a few big beats followed by a few quick flutters, calling, slowly ascending until an appropriate height is reached, then it will sweep its wings back, break, and dive straight down, sometimes pulling out close to the terrain, all the while making a noise like an Indy car passing by.
My plant intuition served me well on the return trip down the Mound Trail, which parallels the bison paddock fence. I was glad I chose the route because it was where I got the best look at the shy grasshopper sparrow and I saw a couple of interesting flowers. I saw one and thought it looked like larkspur. I saw another flower and thought it looked like a penstemon. I checked the flower book when I got back and I felt pretty proud of myself - they were a prairie larkspur and a pale beard-tongue (penstemon). Even though the flowers are different, all those laps around the Beaver Pond in Glacier paid off as I seem to know a lot of prairie flowers I didn't know I knew!
The sun was getting higher in the sky, heating up all the moisture. I could see strange-looking, ominous clouds gathering in the west. I headed back to the car, thinking that with the baking sun cooking my skin that it had to be at least 11:00 in the morning. It was just past 9:00. I felt like a big wimp, heat-wise.
The walk was nice, and I got to try out my new uniform backcountry hiking boots, which I really like. I have been hiking boot-less since I left my old pair in Tanzania, hoping someone there would get use out of them.
Work has proceeded swimmingly on Pipestone National Monument's parade float. I spent part of my days this week painting the sign, which we engineered to fit into the bindings for the standard railings for the electric truck. One of the maintenance guys took care of the cutting and the carpentry and he's been phenomenally upbeat about the process. Now we just need a banner for the sides. I'm kind of excited to drive it in the parade on Saturday. Until then, I'm keeping the design a secret.