wildlife To spot even half the animals and a fraction of the plants in the Glacial Lakes region would take an energetic nature lover months of waiting and searching, watching and listening. For those without all time, Sica Hollow State Park, Sand Lake and Waubay National Wildlife Refuges, and Samuel H. Ordway, Jr. Memorial Prairie are perfect places to explore. They are no more than an hour and a half's drive away from each other. They cost nothing to visit. They are the region's best examples of the types of environments they preserve.

And together they present an excellent overall view of the region's diversity.


Sica Hollow

Sica Hollow is a deep ravine that slices into the Prairie Coteau 15 miles northwest of Sisseton. Sugar maple and basswood trees share the 850-acre Hollow's north-facing slopes, the farthest west sugar maples occur, as though an island of eastern woodland was transplanted in South Dakota. Oak, elm, ash, and other deciduous trees grow naturally together on south-facing slopes and creek banks.

Beneath the tree canopies, in an undergrowth of shrubs, small woodland animals like chipmunks and deer mice lick sweet sap from broken ends of boxelder branches and hide beneath the spiny branches of the prickly ash.  Delicate sylvan wildflowers spread over the forest floor: touch-me-nots with ripe seed pods that explode at your fingertips, Dutchman's breeches with creamy-white "pants legs" pointing skyward, wood lilies, aster, gayfeathers, pasqueflowers, goldenrod, jack-in-the-pulpit.

A three-mile-long road winds through the Hollow and up its north side, but a 45-minute walk along the Trail of Spirits, a National Recreational Trail, puts you closer to the smell of wild ginger and improves your chances of spotting a whitetail deer or wild turkey.


Sand Lake and Waubay National Wildlife Refuges

Sand Lake and Waubay National Wildlife Refuges support a vastly different sort of environment.  Within each of the refuges, moreover, are a variety of habitats, including marshes and lakes, woodlands, grasslands, and croplands.  All harbor their own distinct collection of plants and animals.  On 21,451-acre Sand Lake, 27 miles northeast of Aberdeen, pairs of western grebes rise to their feet on the open water, race side by side with breasts thrust forward and long necks arched snakelike, then dive beneath the surface as one.   Fox squirrels chatter from the safety of woodland trees, hawks patrol the grasslands in search of field mice, pheasants and deer feed in the corn fields. White pelicans in colonies on small, bare islands and hundreds of thousands of geese-including the once-rate giant Canada goose for which Sand Lake was established-pause in their migration to rest, feed, and nest in the refuge.


Waubay, 55 miles to the southeast provides another haven-covering 4,650 acres-both for geese and for birds like the grebe. It is the only refuge in the country, in fact, where all five common members of the grebe family can found. One pair of rare red-necked grebes has returned to breed at the same place on the refuge each May 1 for the past 15 years.   Goldeneye ducks nest here too, and for both the grebe and goldeneye, Waubay is the southernmost breeding spot on record.

Observation towers at both Sand Lake and Waubay offer panoramic views of the scenery and wildlife. For closer looks, there are forty miles of roads in Sand Lake, ten miles of road in Waubay, and plenty of room to roam on foot in both.


Ordway Prairie

Hiking is a must at Ordway Prairie, 35 miles west of the Sand Lake Refuge. Three trails venture out into the 7600-acre preserve owned and managed by The Nature Conservancy. The longest of the trails makes a 3.4-mile secluded loop from the trailhead, southwest to hilltop views of distant buffalo, then back to the trailhead again.

In two to three hours of walking at Ordway you can get a feel for the native prairie that pioneers like author Laura Ingalls Wilder ("the prairie, the whole vast prairie, and the great sky and the wind were clear and free...") and painter Harvey Dunn ("The Prairie is My Garden") saw from their back doors. Waxy blue western wheatgrass, V-shaped patches of hair on switchgrass, and patches of six-foot-tall big bluestem wave over pale-pink wild roses. Purple-coneflowers and red and yellow blanket flowers color the hills, while the lowlands brighten with yellow silverweed and orange ragwort. Waterfowl and shorebirds nest in the wetlands, leaving the uplands to prairie grouse, coyotes, jackrabbits and other animals.

Time grows unimportant in places like these.