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A taste of Native American culture

JEFFERS -- For centuries the Native Americans left hand-carved images -- petroglyphs -- embedded within the large Sioux quartzite. The petroglyphs illustrate a wide variety of images such as humans, deer, elk, buffalo, turtles, thunderbirds and arrowheads, which help to explain the historical events, parables and prayers of the Native American people.

For families looking to get a taste of the Native American culture, a day trip to the Jeffers Petroglyphs provides an ideal getaway for children and adults of all ages. With daily programs featured in the visitors' center and guided tours offered throughout the course of the day, there are activities available to each age group within the family.

"We have a wide variety of hands-on activities for children and adults," explained Pam Jensen, a site supervisor at the Jeffers Petroglyphs Visitor Center.

"A 2 p.m. program and a 3 p.m. guided tour are available daily throughout the summer months, which families really seem to enjoy. They learn a great deal of history within a few hours, which is really neat."

The earliest carving can be dated back from 7,000 to 9,000 years ago, with the most recent carvings dating from 150 to 250 years ago. The petroglyphs represent the different Native American cultures and how they originated throughout history.

"This is a sacred place, where Native American descendants still come to worship," said Jensen. "We have over 2,000 carvings featured throughout the petroglyphs site."

Jensen advises visitors to come during the evening to get the best view of the petroglyphs, as the late daylight angles help define the carvings etched in the rough quartzite. Interpreters are also available to help describe the meanings behind the petroglyphs.

"Kids really enjoy learning the different meanings behind the petroglyphs," explained Jensen. "And it's a great environmental area for kids, also. With two walking trails through the prairie grasses and petroglyphs, it's really just a nice area for families to visit."

The Minnesota Historical Society purchased the petroglyphs site in 1966. The site was later added to the National Register of Historical Places in 1970, and in 1998, a new visitors' center was established with interpretive signs along the trails to help depict the meanings behind the petroglyphs.

"The petroglyphs are really something that's very unique to this area," said Jensen. "It's something people don't normally get to see, and they're such a unique part of history. It's just an incredible sight to see."