Great Plains Zoo & Our First Abandoned Campsite with a Twist

Great Plains Zoo

The Great Plains Zoo is in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, a place we never expected to visit!

Traveling to the Great Plains Zoo from Tenn will take us a couple of days. While we hate to leave our platform campsite at Edgar Evans State Park, we are excited to see a new state park in Illinois.

I am not sure how Dale keeps getting the prime spot in each campground, but he scores again! Our site at Eldon Hazlet (site #10) is directly on the lake. And we see a groundhog munching on some grass. Life is good!

There is only one other campsite nearby and 3 women are camping out of their cars. They seem nice enough until they start drinking and swearing so foully it would make a sailor blush. Our solution? Turn on our magic fan (it really is called a magic fan), drown them out and enjoy our view. We are learning!


great palins zoo

Our view from our campsite at Eldon Hazlet Stat Park. Dale keeps picking winning spots!

But back to the groundhog

great plains zoo

Groundhogs are one of the few animals that get Hepatitis B. And why is that Important? Photo: Jayme Frye/Flickr

I have always thought groundhogs are really cool animals but I never knew too much about them. It turns out they are pretty important.

By digging tunnels for their burrows, they help aerate the soil. Plus they help mix nutrients into the earth. And tons of other animals use their burrows for shelters: chipmunks, foxes, opossums. The list goes on & on.

But they are also one of the few animals who can contract Hepatitis B. So why is that important? Scientists have been able to study how the disease spreads between the groundhogs and devise medicines to help fight the disease. So I now have a new appreciation for these furry little critters!

And to learn how they helped discover several archaeological digs read Groundhogs: Celebrating the Benefits of a Hungry Troublemaker. A fascinating look at these amazing animals. 

A Hipcamp run amuck

Our spot at Waubonsie State Park in Iowa. A little congested but we are so happy to have the spot!

Our next stop is a Hipcamp in Iowa. We have had great luck with Hipcamp, an app featuring out-of-the-way places owned by individuals. But not this time!

We pull into an overgrown field with a bunch of broken-down campers that are on a severe incline. We have been driving 9 hours and we are tired but we make the decision to find another spot. As luck would have it, there is a state park 5 miles away.

Of course, it is Friday night so Waubonsie State Park is completely full. Dale is undeterred. He finds the camp host and they suggest a county park down the road. It is now 7 pm and we are both getting cranky. As we are turning around to leave,  the host comes running over. “Someone just pulled out & you can have their spot!” Score!

It is probably the most congested park we have been in but we are so grateful to have a spot. And as we walk around, we see another groundhog. And now we know way more about them!

An amazing ridge hike 

Eldon Hazlet State Park

An amazing view from the top of the ridge on our morning hike.

The next morning I ask one of the rangers how difficult the ridge hike is and how long. His response? I saw a 5-year-old with a naked barbie and clogs do it so you should be ok. As we start out on the hike, I can not get that visual out of my head as we ascend the ridge.

And what a sight to behold. It feels like we are looking out over the entire state of Iowa.  We would never have experienced such a magnificent hike at the Hipcamp so our strategy of moving paid off.

The Omaha Zoo

The next stop is the Omaha Zoo. It is consistently rated one of the top zoos in the country. I have to admit, we didn’t give it a chance. It was hot  (94) and very crowded with almost no one wearing masks. After about 30 minutes, we left.

It was strange, though, a number of the exhibits were funded by Suzanne & Walter Scott. Walter was Warren Buffet’s business partner and had just died the day before our visit. 

Time to move on and get on the road to The Great Plains Zoo where they have red wolves! The best thing we saw at the Omaha Zoo? A monarch butterfly just outside the entrance.

We wonder if this is a monarch on its migration. If so, it will fly over 3,000 miles to overwinter in Mexico. imagine, this tiny little butterfly traveling all that distance. Truly a miracle of nature.

Our first KOA campground

Great Plains Zoo

Gibbs enjoys the dog park at our KOA campground, complete with a red fire hydrant.

I am leary of staying in a KOA campground since I have always heard they are packed like sardines. But it is the best option for us as we make our way to The Great Plains Zoo.

Our site at the Sioux City KOA is right off the interstate. And they have a laundry (yea!), propane, a dog park and freshly made pizza. Plus it’s not full so we get a site at the back, away from the noisy interstate. KOA’s are not that bad, after all!

Besides finally getting to wash some clothes, Gibbs gets a much-needed play break. He can’t really run around in the RV and walks aren’t playing. So we go over to the dog park, complete with a red fire hydrant. And he runs & runs, in big circles having a ball!

It brings back memories of collecting china animals as a kid. As soon as I got my allowance I would go to the local drugstore and buy an animal.  My favorite set was 3 dogs and a red fire hydrant!

The Great Plains Zoo & Delbridge Museum of Natural History 

greta plains zoo

We learn about the American red wolf program from Angie and Matt.

As you walk into the zoo, you enter a building with life-sized stuffed African animals. A little weird and very unexpected.

But as Matt Eschenbrenner, the Director of Animal Care & Conservation, explains a local donor shot all of the animals back in the 30’s when it was legal. He then gifted the animals to the zoo, to be used for education. They definitely get your attention.

But we came to see the red wolves and off we go to visit their habitat with Matt & Angie Bloomer, the head red wolf keeper. Great Plains Zoo has an older pair of wolves who will live their lives out at the zoo.

We are donating one of Dale’s castings to the exhibit and talked about the best place to display it. Their habitat is beautiful and we agree the casting will go right in front of it.

To learn more about where Dale’s castings are exhibited (all 35 places), check out our blog Our Growing Wolf Pack. The Gift of Art!

And of course, we wear our red wolf t-shirts, compliments of Defenders of Wildlife! They always get a smile from the red wolf folks!

Great Plains Zoo

The American red wolf casting of Dale’s which will be displayed at the Great Plains Zoo

The Falls Park

Falls Park

The Falls Park in downtown Sioux Falls, SD. Simply stunning!

Two more stops before we leave Sioux Falls, SD. One is to get the crack in our windshield fixed. A rock hit us as we were driving.  Luckily it is small crack but we aren’t taking any chances of it getting any bigger.

We call Progressive, our insurance carrier, who refers us to Safelite. We schedule an appointment and they have it fixed in under an hour. 

Last stop is Falls Park. I have seen photos on the Internet, but it is so much more impressive in person. The park is literally right downtown and has the most amazing rock formations complete with waterfalls. 

Next stop? The Badlands! And we can’t wait.