Category Archives: Nature

Earth Expeditions: Belize

I traveled to Belize this summer as part of Project Dragonfly’s Earth Expeditions graduate program (part of Miami University’s Global Field Program), where I’ll be completing a degree in Conservation Biology over the next couple of years. My mind was open to any kind of experience as I went; all I knew I had read in books prior to leaving. I’d never traveled to Central America before.

Flying in over Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula made me realize that I was almost there. The trip didn’t seem real to me until this point.

It hit me very early on that I didn’t know if I was in the rain forest or not. I later learned that my idea of a rainforest was a “cloud forest”, which is located in much higher elevations than where we were staying at the Tropical Education Center in central Belize.

My classmates and I took an evening tour of the Belize Zoo on the first night. My preconception was that I would need to be wary of snakes, bugs, and other biting creatures. This wasn’t an issue at all. A little bug spray was enough to keep insects at bay, and I learned that the local snake population really wants nothing to do with me and would more than likely take off at the sound of my approach.

It turns out that my trip to Belize was as more about personal learning and growth than about content learning. While I learned facts about jaguarundis, black howler monkeys, termites, and iguanas, my real learning experience occurred as my understanding of Belize’s natural elements grew to an appreciation, and then to a deep connection. Part of what made this connection real for me was my experiences at the Belize Zoo.

The Belize Zoo tries very hard to allow its guests, primarily Belizians, to come to know their own national animals in a personal way. Unlike American zoos, where patrons have to observe animals from a safe distance, the Belize Zoo offers its collection to people with little obstruction. One might argue that this isn’t safe (sometimes I wonder if we Americans are actually too protected from ourselves), but I really love the way I was able to see Junior Buddy, a jaguar, exist in his enclosure.


To say that Junior is a beautiful creature is certainly an understatement.

I pushed my limits during a night hike, because I wasn’t going to let my discomfort keep me from seeing everything I could see in Belize. I have a deep dislike of walking into spider webs, for example. And all of the glowing eyes at night probably had fangs behind them. But I realized that this experience would help define my trip to Belize. If I hadn’t gone on this hike, I wouldn’t have seen a Pygmy Owl dive down and catch a mouse right in front of my group.

In his book The Value of Life, Stephen Kellert argues that there is an actual biological connection between humans and nature (Kellert 1997). Author Richard Louv (Last Child In the Woods, The Nature Principle, Vitamin N) expresses concern about kids not getting outside enough, that they are actually lacking some part of their human development because they are remaining separate from nature. My personal reading experience concerning a person’s connection to nature comes from a less scientific place – nature writers like Aldo Leopold, Sigurd F. Olson, John Muir, and others. There is a similar idea between all of these authors: humans and nature are a natural combination.

The question now is, how do I bring my experiences from Belize home and share my deep connection to nature with other people?

What do you think? Questions, comments, joys and concerns?

Doer of Stuff


Kellert, S. (1997) The value of life: biological diversity and human society. New York: Island Press.


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!