Last week I spent two days at Jeffers Petroglyphs in southwestern Minnesota. It’s a historic site within the Minnesota Historical Society network, and I was there for meetings. Since I work for the Minnesota Historical Society, I don’t normally talk about it. This time I’m making an exception.
I had never visited before. I’ve intended to go for years, but it never worked out. I’d heard that they were amazing, but I still was unprepared for how powerful it was to be there. Before we went out to the site itself, the manager, Tom Sanders, spoke about the carvings, recently uncovered glyphs, what they were doing to protect them from fungus that naturally grows on the rock, and about the role of this place in the lives of so many different people for thousands of years.
I admit I don’t know much ancient Minnesota history. I had no idea Cheyenne and Arapaho had been in this part of the country, in addition to Iowa, Dakota, and others more typically associated with the upper midwest.
I don’t have the words to describe the place or my reactions. Photos don’t do it justice. But I recommend visiting. It’s not somewhere most people are likely to accidentally drive past, but it is definitely worth being a destination.
More than anything, I was struck by the deep sense of place present when standing by the petroglyphs. It felt like time was a spiral, reaching back and stretching forward.
There are so many articles and tweets and blog posts about digital engagement. In a way, looking at this site as a place of engagement struck me the most. People had been coming here, to these rock outcroppings, to engage with each other for thousands of years. Some used it to share stories, for some it was part of a sacred experience. The most recent carvings are likely at least 150 years old, continuing to share in a place of active engagement where the oldest glyphs are conservatively 7000 years old.
And now I’m also sharing the engagement of this site. I don’t mean that I have any connection to the actual carvings or the spiritual significance of the petroglyphs. But here I am, in one of our modern ways of sharing, hoping to engage a few people to consider making the trip.
Let me know if you do.