Geology with a gruesome tale in NW Iowa

Where is Gitchie Manitou?

Technically it is the farthest northwest you can be in the state of Iowa.  It borders the Big Sioux River and it is just a couple of miles east of Sioux Falls, South Dakota.   The trip from Des Moines is about a four-hour drive.   


Parking area for Gitchie Manitou Park: Adams Ave, Larchwood, IA 51241

Quarry: Google Maps location

Graffiti Building: Google Maps location

The quarry at Gitchie Manitou State Preserve.
YouTube video
A winter walk through Gitchie Manitou State Preserve.

What’s the history of Gitchie Manitou?

The state of Iowa originally purchased the land to operate a quarry, but then turned it into a state park for a short time, before relabeling it as a preserve.   The name “Gitchie Manitou” is derived from the Anishinaabe Indian tradition, meaning “Great Spirit”.

Giant quartzite outcroppings at Gitchie Manitou State Preserve.

Geology of Gitchie Manitou

Scattered around the park are large pink rocks that stick out of the ground.  These are outcroppings of bedrock that are 1.6 billion years old.  It’s a Sioux Quartzite from the Precambrian era, which are the oldest outcropping you can find in the entire state of Iowa.

Aerial view of the quarry.

During the winter, the water that fills the quarry will freeze over and provide you with an opportunity to easily maneuver around all sides of the quarry.  When the Big Sioux River also freezes, you’ll also typically see side by sides and ATVs out racing on the frozen riverway. 

Besides the quarry, the other interesting feature at the park is an old abandoned stone building that is now completely covered in graffiti.   I’ve heard several stories about the origin of the building, including that it was a post office, which I really doubt.  I’ve also heard that it was built by the Civilian Corp back in the 1930’s, which is probably more realistic.   The graffiti on the building is actually relatively new, I’ve heard that it didn’t appear until after the book “Gitchie Girl” was released.  

Racing on the frozen Big Sioux River that is adjecent to the preserve.

Gitchie Girl –  the gruesome tale 

Gitchie Manitou is the location of one of Iowa’s most gruesome homicides.    In 1973, four teenagers were murdered and one was raped.  The three brothers involved were convicted and sentenced to life in prison.  The crazy part was that one of the brothers convicted was already in prison.  Huh, how did that happen?   Although he was already in prison, he was on a work-release program.  One of his brothers called the jail, pretending to be his boss, and requested that he be released to work overtime.   

The young girl, thirteen at the time, was the only survivor and her testimony and recall of the events helped put the three brothers away for life.  For more on the story, I recommend getting a copy of the book Gitchie Girl , which tells the complete story.  

YouTube video
Drone view of the abandoned graffitti building at the state preserve.

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  1. This is an accurate summary of Gitchie Manitou. The block structure with graffiti was originally a sheltered picnic area with places to build a fire to cook food. The structure fell into disrepair after it was closed as a park and turned into a preserve.—Phil and Sandy Hamman, co-authors of Gitchie Girl and Gitchie Girl Uncovered