When Carla Sanderson looks out the front door of her lodge, she sees rustling cattail sloughs and rolling prairie grasslands. All she can hear is “the sound of geese and ducks—pure nature. No sounds of traffic noise.”
A visitor can be totally enveloped by the sights and sounds of nature in the heart of the Glacial Lakes of South Dakota at Hidden Hill Lodge.
Up north, at the Coteau des Prairies Lodge in Havana, N.D., visitors are treated to breathtaking views. To the north of the lodge is the sweeping prairie, where the buffalo once roamed. The prairie rises and falls to the east and west, into the start of the Coteau des Prairies hill range. Southward are wooded ravines and native prairie grass pastures. Olivia Stenwold, the lodge manager, describes it as a peaceful place. All year long, the location offers vignettes of quiet beauty—the smell of prairie flowers in spring, spectacular sunrises and sunsets in summer, and the colorful grain harvest in autumn.
For visitors to these lodges from outside the Dakotas, the natural beauty that residents might take for granted is fresh and new. Visitors from much busier places can regain serenity through solitude on Dakota prairies.
“Not all people in this country have the everyday luxury of the beauty that we enjoy in this area,” Sanderson says.
“It is easy to forget just how many great things we are surrounded by in the Midwest,” Stenwold says. “We do not have mountains or oceans, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have things that are just as magnificent.”
Visitors from all over the United States and several other countries have visited these lodges and gained an appreciation for the Midwest’s serene beauty. Hunters and fishers from all over the world see the Dakotas as paradise, and the lodges offer ways for these sportsmen to interact closely with wildlife. Hidden Hill Lodge offers guided pheasant hunts, and Tewaukon National Wildlife Refuge gives the Coteau des Prairies Lodge abundant waterfowl and other wildlife for fishermen. Hayrides, sleigh rides, and skeet shooting are some other fun activities to unwind with at the Hidden Hill Lodge.
The Coteau des Prairies Lodge serves as a venue for creative retreats, weddings, and business receptions. The surroundings give events a special factor that an indoor city venue might not. Business retreats become more relaxed on the prairies; the scenery can stimulate creativity in an outdoor quilting group. Not everyone gets the chance to marry surrounded by blooming wildflowers under an expansive blue sky.
These lodges can become models for other places looking to benefit from their natural beauty, literally and figuratively “living off the land.”
“Communities need to think outside the box,” says Sanderson. “We need to appreciate the natural beauty that we have.”
She adds that flexibility is also important. Many in the Sisseton area have found ways to invest in nature’s course as water levels have risen. Fishing has become a promising tourist industry there. These residents, like the rest of the people of the Dakotas, live close to nature.
“We are the ‘real America,’ and our way of life still has bits and pieces of what life was like when the first generations of settlers came,” Stenwold adds.
She tries to educate visitors about the history of the area, with decorations inside the lodge reminding visitors of the early pioneer farming years. Genuine old farm machinery was incorporated in several places while building. Visitors can not only learn about the magnificent natural world, but also about how people have long interacted with it.
As one of the co-owners of Hidden Hill Lodge, Carla Sanderson finds great fulfillment showing others her love of living close to nature.
“We are living our dream, and through a lot of faith and prayers we have taken the leap to pursue this adventure and enjoy sharing it with others,” she says.