Category Archives: Geography

Adventure at the Outdoor Campus East in Sioux Falls, South Dakota

I took the boys to the South Dakota Game, Fish and Park’s Outdoor Campus East not too  long ago. We were all looking for a little fresh air and something to do on the weekend. The Outdoor Campus East is FREE, which makes this location an highly recommended spot in Sioux Falls, SD for families who don’t want to blow a wad of cash on a weekend activity.

There are multiple parts to the Outdoor Campus East. There are both indoor and outdoor activities. We started with the indoor learning center, called the Outdoor Skills and Nature Center, complete with a walk-through fish for kids to go through and learn about the innards of a fish that they might then go outside and learn to catch at the Campus’ pond.


I suppose this display is to help kids develop motor skills? I took a photo to send to my hunting friends so they can see what they can do with their extra antlers. 🙂


“The Outdoor Campus’ mission is to provide education about outdoor skills, wildlife, conservation and management practices of South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks to all ages in order to preserve our outdoor heritage.

Here Thing2 observes a wetland display complete with muskrat hut. The indoor museum has displays of many natural habitats of South Dakota – prairie, woodland, agricultural, and backyard. This is located in a stunning 3,000 gallon water tank display. Native fishes inhabit the tank: Bluegill, Walleye, Northern Pike, and so on.


There is a whole camping set up complete with tent, pretend campfire, canoe, and fishing gear. Kids can get a feel for what a camping trip might feel like (minus the bugs).


Here is a stream to run along.


There are a number of educational information boards around, all placed at a height that kids could see.


Here you can see some cool cats hanging out.


This display board features pelts from a number of native South Dakota species. Visitors can touch and feel each pelt as they try to guess which animal each pelt belongs to. Thing2 lifts a pelt flap to discover the answer underneath. I love activities that lead people to compare and contrast similar things so that a person has to use their ability to notice sometime subtle differences in order to arrive at the right answer. This is more engaging than straight Q and A format.


Hands on learning! Thing1 turns over a large shelf fungus that has been preserved for all to enjoy. Objects on display at the Campus are a YES in terms of touching. This is what kids need!


Thing2 isn’t so sure about this skull.


Of course, one of the best features of the Outdoor Campus East is…the Outdoors!! Here the boys run through the butterfly garden. We saw a number of Monarch butterflies this day.


Again, everything here is a YES. Kids are encouraged to experience the outdoors in any way possible. Super-active kids, like my Thing1, can find plenty of ways to learn while running around and climbing on things.


And less-active (at least in the “doesn’t act like shot out of a cannon”) kids, like my Thing2, can enjoy things at their pace, too.


Thing2 gets framed.


I’m not sure that this is what the Campus intended, but here we are….


Isn’t this a great idea? We could do this in our back yard at home.


Boys and their forts.


I was glad to see that the Campus was actually directing their signage at the real perpetrators here! And they provide a way to clean up, too. Very user-friendly, and very conscious of the fact that Fido is a part of the family, too.


My husband always comments on the fact that I take photos of signage. He understood, finally, when I explained to him that I learned long ago to snap a digital photo of the map whenever I go hiking. This way I always have the map with me. Take note, readers – this is a really good idea for many reason, first of which is, of course, the whole idea of not getting lost. Along this line of thinking, look behind you periodically when you hike because that is what the landscape is going to look like when you hike back. And take photos of different landmarks along the way.


The Outdoor Campus East was holding a family fishing day at the pond this day. We didn’t participate in this, but the boys enjoyed watching for a little while. The Campus also offers archery, gun safety sporting days, seasonal hikes with interpreters, classes for kids, and many other educational and fun experiences, many of which are FREE.


I encouraged Thing1 to get his big energy out now so that he could be a little quieter when we got to the woods. We were all hoping to see some wildlife along the trail.


Seems like a rare moment these days, but a blissful one to be sure. 🙂


In another rare moment, Thing1 stands still. You can see from his right leg and his lean, though, that he is about to take off.


The boys said, “Mama, show us some animals!” And not two seconds later, I present what I like to call A RABBIT.


“Show us something bigger, Mama!” And here I present THE ELUSIVE DOE.


She is a pretty little girl.


She put up with us oogling at her for a little while then hopped off into the woods. She didn’t bolt, though.


Best buddies.


I love little surprises like this one. Note the Norwegian flag over the door.


I learned from Take Along Guide Rabbits, Squirrels and Chipmunks by Mel Boring that this little guy is a Thirteen-Lined Ground Squirrel. Beautiful markings!


We went back into the museum after we hiked. Everyone needed a drink of water from the fountains located near the restrooms.


As a book and nature nut, I appreciated the great library that is kept at the Outdoor Campus East. There were hundreds of titles about nature, education, ID-ing, regional habitats, and many other topics.

Thing2 loves turtles. [Favorite turtle story: Thing2 runs up to me from the tv and announces loudly, “Mama, there are these turtle guys on tv AND THEY FIGHT BAD GUYS! I didn’t know that turtles fight bad guys!” Can anyone guess what cartoon he saw?] Here a turtle poses behind Thing2’s shoulder.


Thing1 gets real close to a native snake.


Thing1 sports some hunting shades. Looks a little like Bono, I think.


One last ride before we hop in the car for the drive home.


The Outdoor Campus East in Sioux Falls, SD is open Monday – Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturdays 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Sundays 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. (closed on state holidays).
Admission is FREE!!

Go! Do!!

Emily, Doer of Stuff

P.S. If you’d like to see my recent post with all of my nature photos from this trip, click here and enjoy!


Bramble Park Zoo, Watertown, SD

Bramble Park Zoo’s current advertising campaign encourages folks to “Come Closer”. This is what my family likes most about this small zoo – a visitor can get really close to the animals and have a real experience with them. None of my photos here were taken with a Zoom lens, by the way.

Featuring many native plant species as well as over 800 animals, this 15-acre park is an ideal place for families to visit in one day or less. The Bramble Park Zoo had its 100 Year Anniversary in 2012, and the collection has been housed at its present location since 1940.

It was a little chilly when we most recently visited this Zoo, but the boys were up for some fresh air and some running around.



I love the fact that I can get up close to the animals here. While all of the enclosures are designed with safety in mind, a visitor can really see what is going on in each exhibit.

Here is a reindeer (a.k.a. caribou). We were feeding corn kernels to some ducks that were hanging out with the reindeer inside their area when this guy came over to see what was going on. Turned out that he wanted some corn, too. He reminded me so much of my old collie dog, Bentley, who would patiently wait for a hand out – not exactly begging, but it was hard not to notice him standing there all the same. We tossed this guy some treats.


These little foxes are usually not seen in their enclosure. They have been hiding or sleeping other times when I’ve been to this Zoo. Here they are! The fox on the left kept trying to poke and nip at the fox on the right who was trying to sleep in a sunspot.


Here is another guy who is trying to nap in a sun spot. This is a new bear enclosure. Honestly, he looks pretty comfortable. I also took a shot of a bear statue that was nearby. There are some very nice works of art throughout the Zoo and this is one of them.

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Now, because I had my boys with me and we were running zig zag all over the Zoo, I didn’t write down what this guy is. He is either a very small wolf or a very well-fed Coyote. My guess is the later. Keep in mind, coyotes in the wild are rarely so plump and well cared for.


There are many interactive learning areas near related animal enclosures. Here Thing1 compares his own wing span against those of other bird species. He also hangs out in a rather large nest.

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My family’s favorite area of any Zoo is the Big Cat area, and Bramble Park Zoo does not disappoint!

Sleepy kitties? Well, not so much. The white tiger was resting peacefully until he heard a bird fluttering around the outside of his cage. When it landed close on some brush, this little kitty-guy suddenly leaped to catch the bird – leaped higher than my 5’7″ height, in fact! I have to say, watching the tiger…be a tiger…was truly awesome.

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And then there was this snow leopard. Have you ever seen one of these cats before? Usually not, I suspect. They are very shy about being seen, even in Zoos where they are used to people milling about. This guy was right up front and center, and “played” with us a little bit. Thing2 ran alongside the snow leopard’s enclosure and the snow leopard ran right along side of him. Back and forth they went. And yeah, maybe Snow Leopard was thinking that Thing2 was lunch, but I don’t think that his body language said this. My best guess is that he was being playful at the time.


After running with Thing2, this snow leopard hopped up to about my height. I made cat purring sounds to him and he started rubbing his face on the enclosure mesh and purring back – just like a house cat. He was a lot of fun. This moment was really special for me because I used to walk past snow leopards every day when I worked at the Conservation and Research Center in Front Royal, Virginia (a part of the National Zoo, Washington, D.C.) and all I ever wanted was to see a snow leopard! This guy was wonderful.

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The Zoo offers an indoor Discovery Center experience as well, which includes the Terry Redlin Environmental Center (completed in February of 2010), which highlights the unique geography of northeastern South Dakota. Redlin, a native of Watertown, SD and a highly regarded wildlife artist, and helped support the newest center at the Park. [You can also stop by then Redlin Art Center, also located in Watertown, S.D. just off I-29.]

Thing2 loves elephants and zebras and thought that these “models” were great. I didn’t mention to him that they were…real. Also, am I the only one who is weirded out by the fact that this elephant doesn’t have a body?

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The Bramble Park Zoo is open during the Winter from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and during the Summer from10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Admission is cheap! 2 years and younger are FREE, 3 to 12 years are $5 +tax, and 13+ are $7 +tax. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

Emily, Doer of Stuff

Palisades State Park, South Dakota

This past Saturday my family went on a weekend adventure to Palisades State Park in southeastern South Dakota. The weather was perfect and Fall was displayed in all her glory.


Located on the Coteau des Prairies, Palisades State Park includes Split Rock Creek, which has eroded and cut down the Sioux Quartzite for the past 1.2 billion years.


Lewis and Clark?


This formation is one of the few places that contains catlinite, also called “pipestone”, which the local Native Americans have used to fashion “peace” pipes out of for centuries.


I’m pretty sure that I hate the word “selfie”, but here I am, hiking through the woods.



Here Thing1 re-enacts Jesse James’ infamous leap from Devil’s Gulch Peak to Palisades State Park, minus the horse, obviously.


This steel truss bridge, built in 1908, is on the Register of National Historic Structures.


There is a little playground set near the parking lot for the park.


As my son would say, Palisades State Park is 157 acres of AWESOME. You can camp, rock climb, canoe, picnic, fishing, and much more to do here. We only hiked for the afternoon, but there are four trails to choose from, each winding through some incredible rock formations.

Day passes start at either $4 per person, or $6 per carload. Camping prices can be found here. Prices vary depending on what you want to do – tent it, stay in a cabin, or sleep in the Lodge.

Highly recommended!

Emily, Doer of Stuff


Geography Awareness Week

I am a Geographer.

In fact, I am currently serving as the Geographer In Residence for the Children’s Museum of South Dakota, but that is another wonderful geo-related story that I will have to tell later on. 🙂

Do you know what Geography is? So many people have it in their heads that Geography is all about memorizing states and capitals, or being able to name all of the major rivers in South America. (Editor’s Note: By the way, the Amazon River is not the longest river in the world – that’s the Nile River in Egypt. The Amazon, however, does carry the most water by volume of all rivers in the world)

Geography includes the people, the land, and how the two are related spatially, and how the two interrelate with one another. Geography teaches people critical thinking skills and allows people to make educated decisions based on their analysis of the world around them.

As a Geographer, I go to conferences where I can learn more about the field and how to share my passion with educators and students that I encounter with my work. This time I attended the National Council on Geographic Education [NCGE] meeting in Denver, Colorado.


I went a day early to attend a day-long training regarding Geography Awareness Week (November 17 – 23, 2013). This year’s theme is “Geography and The New Age of Exploration” which goes right along with celebrating National Geographic’s 125th Anniversary. What other group of modern-day explorers are as notable as those associated with National Geographic? We are getting away from specific themes, like last year’s “Interdependence”, and others from the past like water, individual continents, and so on. We are getting back to the real nuts and bolts of what Geography is at its essence.

As the Operations Manager for the South Dakota Geographic Alliance, I put together as much as I can to celebrate Geography Awareness Week. I work with grad students from South Dakota State University’s Geography Department who go into local classrooms to teach kids about Geography, I meet with elementary school kids and do some fun stuff in their classrooms, and I try to bring in a notable guest speaker to SDSU to speak to the public. Each year I try to add something different from the year before, and I’m currently in the process of putting this program together so that there are a number of Geography-related offerings in South Dakota that week.

[GAW 2011: SDSU Geography students created the “Wheel of Geography” trivia game and set up in the Student Union to quiz their fellow students.]


There are a ton of Geography Awareness Week resources online that are free and easily incorporated into the classroom. I used the “Global Closet Calculator” interactive game in classrooms over the past year – a game that has students look at the tags in the back of their shirts and other clothing items to teach them where their clothing comes from. There were some surprising reactions in the classroom – many kids had no idea that their clothing doesn’t come from the United States – after all, their clothes come from the mall, or Walmart, right? This program maps out the class’ clothing right there in the classroom. I had some classes that didn’t have a single garment from the U.S. I have used this game with 2nd and 3rd graders, and they really get into this exercise.

There is also a great link called “10 Ways to Give Your Students the World”. This page features all kinds of links and ideas that will help educators bring more Geography into the lives of their students. This page asks the educator if they are giving their students enough to live in our increasingly global world, and encourages us to tap into our student’s natural curiosity about the world in which they live. There are suggestions like having a Geography Family Fun night at your school, or creating a Geo-Club for students. There is a lot to think about on this page.

Then there is the Mission Explore website where the theme is “It’s an Adventure…But Not As You Know It”. This site is full of missions that are great for students, classrooms, and families, and are all about exploration. Pick a mission, go explore, and collect points to unlock rewards. This website is AWESOME!! If this won’t interest your students, I don’t know what will.

These are just some of the ideas that we talked about. The beauty of Geography Awareness Week is that each state, group, school, classroom, WHOEVER, can do whatever they want. Exploration is all about discovering new things about the world in which we live. National Geographic and others provide a ton of tools to help you learn more about Geography. Go. Explore. DO STUFF.


Doer of Stuff