Bird’s Eye View of a Wildfowl State – The Pipestone Quarry

The stream I was following topples over the quarry edge in a pretty cataract, and it zigzags manically in amongst the quarry workings.  The removal of the rock appears piecemeal, of course.  The rock has all been hand dug over the centuries by individuals and small groups. Modern equipment could have systematically dug out the overburden easily and sliced off the layer of pipestone in an even manner, but that is not allowed.  Various treaties and agreements allow Indians to obtain permits and come and take small amounts of pipestone for pipes, ornaments, jewellery and souvenirs.  The result are intricate and artisanal facets to the stone.  In a couple of places stacks of quartzite have been left standing away from the main face. One is called the Leaping Rock – the challenge is not the distance from the cliff edge to the stack, more to ensure you manage to check the momentum used to jump the gap so you don’t go shooting off the far side and smash yourself to death on the ground below.

The pathway runs along the bottom of the man made escarpment for a while then steps up in amongst the workings.  Some rocks when carved have given the appearance of various characters and animals, and are now preserved.  From a particular angle, one face has the appearance of an old woman, not a natural impression but more like the carvings you might see on totem poles.  When you first see the excavations by the waterfall they appear modest, but the quarry face goes on for nearly a quarter of a mile, and all the way along you see the rubble, cut blocks and the remaining exposed solid rock showing the excavations are of monumental proportions.  All those hands, all those years, all those generations.  There was some ingenuity in the excavation.  To constantly chip away at the quartzite would take months just to get a small piece of pipestone out.  The technique most commonly used was to exploit the natural cracks in the quartzite at the top of the hill; bash down long metal pegs to weaken the joins and using crowbars to lever chunks of rock off, that would tumble down away from the face.  There they would be broken up into rubble to be transported away from the face onto the big piles I had seen earlier.

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At the quarry face – the pink pipestone clearly visible