Scales & Tales

Reptile Gardens Opening Day

With the arrival of spring, Reptile Gardens is once again preparing to open their doors for the new season. Opening day will be Saturday, March 14, 2014 at 9AM. It will be their 78th year welcoming visitors from all over the world.

Impala Lily

kangaroo paw
The staff at Reptile Gardens spent the winter getting the park ready for the 2015 season. The Garden Department will have lots of beautiful flowers in the tropical Safari Room on opening day, including some fun new plants like Impala Lilies and Kangaroo Paws.

The Reptile Department has prepared the exhibits and all the snakes, lizards, turtles, crocodiles, amphibians, and bugs are looking good in Sky Dome. Our Giant Tortoises, Quazi, Tank, and Orville are ready to greet visitors to the park and receive some neck scratches.

The Gift Shop and the Jungle Outpost Gallery are filled with fun new T-shirts, lots of spectacular new rocks, fossils, and minerals, and many other items – souvenirs, collectibles, keepsakes, and art works.

The busy season in the Black Hills is from Memorial Day to Labor Day, however Reptile Gardens is open through November.

Reptile Gardens is open for you to visit early in the season, before the crowds, and take advantage of a reduced admission which includes a free season pass to visit anytime you like as many times as you like throughout the season. Make a plan to visit this one of a kind attraction this year and get ready to make memories!

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Reptile Gardens in the Winter

The days are getting shorter and the weather is getting cooler. Fall is definitely in the air at Reptile Gardens. We will be closing for the year 2014 on November 30, so stop by to see us again soon before we close our doors for the winter. Which raises the question: What does happen at Reptile Gardens in the winter?

One thing doesn’t change; the Safari room under the Sky Dome is warm and full of life! Orchids are in bloom, and lizards are scurrying around on the ground. The turtles that inhabit Tortuga Falls are brought into the warm shelter of the big dome for the colder months. The temperature of the Safari Room is kept around a balmy 80 degrees on a daily basis, with back-up generators ready to go if the area happens to receive a winter storm that generates a power outage.

The lower level of the Sky Dome is also the winter home to some of Reptile Garden’s famous residents. Maniac, the huge saltwater crocodile can be found in his enclosure, and is free to go outside if he chooses on warmer days. Just around the corner from Maniac lives many other creatures including bugs, frogs, and spiders that remain none the wiser of cold outside temperatures.

The crocodilians that star in the gator show in the summertime are housed indoors during the cold months as well. Ken, the Head Curator of Reptiles, simply opens the door and they saunter inside themselves as temperatures drop.

Prairie Dog Town is quiet during the winter, as the furry critters head into their underground burrows for much of the cold season. If there happens to be a stretch of warm days, a few will pop up and wander around for an hour or two, but the majority is content to hunker down until spring.

Darwin the Kookaburra, who can be found in the summer months at Tortuga Falls, is taken to the bird facility and is kept indoors since he is a tropical bird. The rest of the birds also remain at the indoor bird enclosure for the duration of the winter.

The giant Aldabra tortoises go into their building every night all summer long. Once the weather cools the gentle giants spend the days indoors, warm and protected from the elements.

Reptile Gardens will remain open to the public until November 30, 2014 with daily hours from 9 am – 3 pm. The gift shop is offering the annual 20% off sale throughout November, which includes items that are already on sale. Reptile Gardens will reopen for the 2015 season on the 15th of March.

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Flower photography tips

When photographing flowers, it is easy to be distracted by their overall general natural beauty and hard to overcome the urge to just start snapping frame after frame without much rhyme or reason. While some shots can produce lovely results, try the following tips to hone in on each flowers unique characteristics, and produce some images that pay tribute to a flowers stunning individuality.

1. Select the flower carefully. When choosing one flower (or flowers) to photograph out of a group, find the flower that has the least amount of natural flaws. Things such as wilted or browning petals will be amplified in the photo. Sometimes by just changing the angle of your camera, these often subtle imperfections can be minimized.

2. Get up close. The closer you can get to a flower, the more detail will be captured and will improve the photos composition. The texture of each individual petal and pod will draw interest and create depth in the photograph.close-up

3. Isolate the flower. When you move in close to the intended flower, try to adjust the angle so that there is not a lot of background color. This can be difficult if photographing one flower amongst many, but not impossible. The less the amount of distraction in the background, the more the flower will take center stage in the photo itself. If using a digital or SLR camera, use a wide aperture which will cause the background to be slightly blurry, but keep the flower in clear focus.isolated

4. Be sure the flower is still. Photographing flowers outside does not come without challenges. Even the slightest breeze can cause your subject to waver and sway, especially those with very thin stems. If the day is particularly windy or rainy, try photographing some indoor flora. If using a digital camera, it may help to keep the image sharp by increasing the shutter speed.

5. Consider the lighting. Harsh lighting or direct sunlight can cause harsh shadows and sometimes wash out the details of the flower in photos. If the day does happen to be very sunny, carry an umbrella to cast your own shadow. Don’t be afraid to experiment with bright sunny light; the right angle can produce some dramatic, high contrast images. Overcast or cloudy days provide the ideal light for photographing flowers. Back lighting can also produce some stunning flower images. Again, get creative with angles and locations for optimum results.backlit

6. Dew drops create additional interest. If you happen to be photographing flowers early in the morning or after a rain shower, take advantage of the opportunity to capture droplets on the petals. The water adds another dimension of texture to the photo, and makes the flowers appear fresh.water2

7. Consider the angle. As mentioned previously, the angle can play a crucial role in the final photo. Think outside of the box and get down low by bending, kneeling, or even laying down. Sometimes the best angles take a bit of creativity.unusual-angle

8. Crop your image later. You may find that you have taken some great shots, and all they need is a bit of refining. Most photography software allows you the option to crop your image. This is also an opportunity to crop particular details, and create a new image altogether.

9. But, don’t limit yourself to just close-ups. There are plenty of great wider shots that can be quite spectacular or unusual.wider-image

Flowers are all unique and each contains their own special beauty. The next time you are somewhere that has stunning flowers, take the time to get up close and take some pictures – even using your cell phone, and see if you can capture some amazing images. Looking for somewhere with lots of opportunities? Check out the botanical gardens at

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A Black Hills fall vacation may be just what you need

As the sun slowly sets on summer, it is easy to think of the long, cold winter ahead. However, there is still plenty of time to take in the lovely season that is autumn for a quick Black Hills fall vacation.

The Black Hills has great weather most of the time in the fall, with comfortable sunny days and cool star filled nights. This environment provides the perfect environment for getting outside and taking advantage of some of the great outdoor attractions that the Black Hills has to offer.

Reptile Gardens

This well-known Black Hills attraction is a unique reptile and botanical paradise. Stroll through the orchid filled tropical jungle under the giant Sky Dome. Watch for parrots and free roaming lizards. Enjoy the beautifully diverse botanical gardens which have over 40,000 flowers planted every summer on the lush 30 acre grounds. Meet prairie dogs, gentle giant tortoises, a huge saltwater crocodile, and see some of the deadliest snakes in the world. Reptile Gardens was listed in the 2014 Guinness Book of World Records as having the largest reptile zoo in the world. If you visited Reptile Gardens earlier in the season, don’t forget to bring your season pass! Reptile Gardens is open until the end of November.

Harney Peak

At 7,242 feet, Harney Peak is not only the highest point east of the Rocky Mountains. There are several different trails to the summit, and you may choose which you prefer based on length and difficulty. Once you reach the top, the view of the Black Hills is dazzling. A stone fire tower was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1938 and 1939 at the upper most elevation. It was used as a fire lookout until 1967. The rockwork on this structure is a work of art in itself. Not only does the tower have a multi-tiered balcony, there is also a sweeping stone staircase that leads visitors right to its doorway.

Custer State Park

Custer State Park, named after Lt. Colonel George Armstrong, Custer is a wildlife reserve in the southern Black Hills that covers over 71,000 acres of rolling prairie and ponderosa pine forest. The park is home to a herd of 1500 free roaming bison. Also inhabiting the park are antelope, mule deer, big horn sheep, elk, mountain lions, mountain goats and a curious bunch of feral burros. The park offers several scenic drives as well as many opportunities for a hike or picnic.

Mount Rushmore National Memorial

If you are planning a Black Hills fall vacation, be sure to stop by the four famous granite presidents. Enjoy an outdoor stroll to the observation deck, and walk the Presidential Trail for a unique view of this iconic sculpture.

The autumn months are a fantastic time to enjoy many outdoor Black Hills attractions, and something can be found for everyone to enjoy. Be sure to double check hours of operation, as many attractions that are open in the summer do change in the fall.

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Reptile Gardens is Open in 2014

With the arrival of spring, Reptile Gardens is once again preparing to open their doors for the new season. Opening day will be Saturday, March 29, 2014 at 9AM. It will be their 77th year welcoming visitors from all over the world. New at Reptile Gardens for 2014 is their latest claim to fame. Reptile Gardens has been officially designated the World’s Largest Reptile Collection by the Guinness Book of World Records. In addition to the amazing reptile and amphibian collection, their botanical gardens continue to get more beautiful each year.

The staff at Reptile Gardens spent the winter getting the park ready for the 2014 season. The Garden Department made many changes in the beautiful tropical Safari Room, the nation’s original indoor jungle. The Reptile Department renovated and redecorated the exhibits and all the snakes, lizards, turtles, crocodiles, amphibians, and bugs are back home and ready to greet visitors. After a successful visit to the Tucson Gem and Mineral show, along with visiting countless vendors, the Gift Shop and the Jungle Outpost Gallery are filled with fun new T-shirts, a wall of stunning jewelry, lots of great rocks, fossils, and mineral, and many other items – souvenirs, collectibles, keepsakes, and art works.

The busy season in the Black Hills is from Memorial Day to Labor Day, however Reptile Gardens is open through November.

Visit early in the season, before the crowds, and take advantage of a reduced admission which includes a pass to visit anytime you like as many times as you like throughout the season. Make a plan to visit this one of a kind attraction this year and get ready to make memories!

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Searching for a unique holiday gift? Search no farther than Reptile Gardens!

As the holidays approach, many people begin the quest for gifts that are memorable and out of the ordinary. Add to the season the busy shopping malls and outrageous prices, things can quickly become stressful. Do not despair … unique holiday gifts for everyone on your list can be found at Reptile Gardens!

The summer season has come to an end; however, Reptile Gardens is open through the month of November from 9 am – 3 pm daily. And as an added bonus, all items in the gift shop are 20% off! Escape the cold bite of the chilly air and visit the Sky Dome where it is always warm and tropical. Not interested in seeing our reptile friends and botanical gardens? No problem, visit the gift shop for free!

Reptile Garden’s gift shop is not just souvenirs – it has many unique holiday gift options from around the world. You will find a large variety of rocks, fossils, and minerals as well as hand-made jewelry, tribal art, and collectibles. There are also t-shirts, plush toys, and fun gadgets that you will not find anywhere else in the Black Hills.

This year, avoid the stress of holiday shopping and find the unique gifts that you are seeking. Enjoy a relaxing shopping experience and save money at Reptile Gardens.

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Conservation is For the Birds – No, Really

Ever year, Reptile Gardens, located in Rapid City, South Dakota welcomes thousands of visitors. Some of the highlights of this unique attraction include the alligator, snake and bird shows. These shows are meant to educate, entertain, and inspire. One show in particular also helps to support biodiversity. By definition, biodiversity is the variety of life on earth including all plants, animals, fungi and microorganisms.

Queenie the cockatoo and Ruby the macaw have a small portion of the Bird Show dedicated to showing their money making – or shall we say money taking skills. Under the direction of Bird Department Curators Julia Kittelson and Becky Beaton, these talented birds accept donations from visitors and place money into a donation box. During the summer of 2013 this resulted in almost $20,000 in donations.
Where does the money go? On Sunday, September 22, the Black Hills Raptor Center held Art on the Wing. The Center rescues, and cares for injured or ill birds of prey from around the country. This fundraiser consisted of various artists creating original pieces in their medium of choice, using the Center’s feathered friends as their muse. There was a People’s Choice vote for one dollar per vote, and a live auction of the pieces.

Reptile Gardens’ Curator of Birds, Julia, presented the Black Hills Raptor Center with a check for $2,700 during this event. These funds were also collected by the birds, Queenie and Ruby, during the summer daily bird shows.

Rapid City native Wally Van Sickle began a conservation effort in 1991 named Idea Wild. The purpose of the organization is to minimize the loss of biodiversity by empowering people who work on the front lines of conservation efforts in developing countries. This non-profit organization has supported over 2300 projects in 70 developing countries since its inception over 22 years ago. More information and detailed stories of their efforts can be found at

On August 17, Bird Dept Curators Julia Kittelson and Becky Beaton presented $17,404 to Wally VanSickle during the event Concert for Conservation, which featured Kory and the Fireflies, held in Main Street Square, Rapid City.

Reptile Gardens is dedicated to preserving wildlife and their habitats and is proud to support many wildlife and conservation organizations.

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The Rich History of New Guinea Tribal Artifacts

The tradition of tribal arts and crafts is well-rooted in New Guinea, stemming back thousands of years to well before European explorers first sighted the island in the 1500’s. Many people wrongfully assume that it is located in Africa – which is forgivable since there is a nation in Africa called Guinea. New Guinea is, in fact, the second largest island in the world and is located northeast of Australia.

We are proud to offer this unusual tribal artifacts here at Reptile Gardens. At first blush we assumed it would be something that would have a very limited appeal, that assumption was incorrect.

It all started when Reptile Gardens’ founder, Earl Brockelsby, brought back some New Guinea artifacts to sell in 1966. There wasn’t a lot of interest back then but that changed over time. In 1986, Earl’s nephew and Reptile Gardens’ CEO, Joe Maierhauser, picked up where Earl left off. Since then, Reptile Gardens has sold thousands of masks, figures and other tribal artifacts, not only to folks from here in heartland America but also to customers in all 50 states and in over 37 countries.

Photo taken by Earl Brockelsby in 1966

Photo taken by Earl Brockelsby in 1966

When people walk into our Jungle Outpost Gallery featuring New Guinea artifacts and see all the hundreds of masks and figures, most assume it is African but we also regularly hear it referred to as “Tiki stuff.” So what is the difference between Tiki and New Guinea artifacts?

Tikis are Polynesian, from the island cultures far out in the Pacific that include Hawaii and New Zealand, far to the east of New Guinea. The peoples of New Guinea belong to the cultural group called Melanesian. Melanesia encompasses the large island of New Guinea along with numerous smaller islands and island groups located nearby. The final cultural area of this part of the Pacific is known as Micronesia and encompasses a widespread group of tiny islands to the north and northeast of New Guinea. Even broadly speaking, all three regions have very distinctive art styles.

New Guinea is divided in half with independent Papua New Guinea on the east and Papua, a part of Indonesia, on the west. The island is so rugged and remote that many tribes lived within relatively few miles of each other for thousands of years and yet never knew the other existed. Some of the most remote villagers saw foreigners for the first time within the last 30 to 40 years and even now see them only rarely. Those who were aware of their neighbors often fought with them, practicing ritualized warfare as well as headhunting. Headhunting is something that some older men still remember and practiced not all that long ago.

Overmodeled ancestor skull, middle Sepik river

Overmodeled ancestor skull, middle Sepik river

Because of the isolation of the villages, the number of languages listed for New Guinea is 832. Of those, 823 are living languages and 9 are considered to be extinct. It has been reported that New Guinea has one language for every 350 square miles. There are just 3000 languages in the entire world. So, the island of New Guinea, which is just 2/3 the size of Texas with a population similar to South Carolina, has over 25% of the world’s languages!

New Guinea has been famous for its incredible art for almost two centuries. The most beautiful and the largest quantities of art come from the villages of the Sepik River and its many tributaries. Roughly 260,000 people live along the Sepik. The artists of the Sepik River are rightfully considered to be some of the finest traditional artists in the world because of their technical skills and lively, visually exciting art.

Masks in the Korogo village Men's House

Masks in the Korogo village Men’s House

Masks and figures are used in New Guinea for many events. They are used for both public ceremonies, like housewarmings, as well as for secret rites in the men’s spirit house. The images are generally of ancestors, tribal, clan, and personal, with such things as important clan totem animals and plants incorporated. There are also bush spirits, both benevolent and malevolent. Most ancestor figures and masks are made and kept in the men’s house. They call upon the ancestors to drive away evil spirit beings keeping the village and family safe. Family ancestor figures are often kept in the homes of the person’s direct descendants; some small ones are even carried in a person’s woven string bag called a bilum.

Although designs are somewhat standardized based on clan and family-owned imagery, there is a tremendous amount of room for personal expression. Most pieces are made of wood with additional decoration of mud, natural pigments made with berries, seeds, soot, lime, and clays, as well as commercial paints, boar tusks, hair, grass, fur, basketry, cassowary feathers, and shells.

Mwai mask, middle Sepik river

Mwai mask, middle Sepik river

Tribal Art is a very special type of art. It is rarely made strictly for its own sake. Many tribal artifacts have a ceremonial purpose but many are secular in use – decorated utilitarian items. However, all the decoration has a purpose and is rarely produced just for its own sake. Even the most aesthetically beautiful designs have significance. It is important to keep in mind that even when a piece is made by an artist strictly to be sold for the art market or the tourist trade it maintains its roots and basic design in the past and the powerful belief system that spawned it.

Bone dagger, Abelam people

Bone dagger, Abelam people

With just a basic understanding of tribal art you can get a great deal of pleasure from it. It is a powerful art form that is alive – filled with beauty and vitality. The imagery isn’t an important part of the lives of the people who create it, it is their life.

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Orchids – Nature’s Eye Candy

When you think of orchids in nature, what conjures in your mind – lush rainforests, exotic locations, and wedding boutonnieres? There are over 20,000 different kinds of orchids, not including countless thousands of hybrid varieties. Orchids live in on every continent of the world except Antarctica. This diverse and surprisingly hardy flowering plant comes in many shapes and sizes. We even have native orchids here in South Dakota. The flower of each variety has a unique and delicate character that is fascinating to the eye. Read on to discover just a few of the most common types of orchids.

Cattleya Orchids: Derived largely from South America, these orchids typically have large showy blooms and are probably what most people think of when picturing an orchid flower, as they are otherwise known as the Corsage Orchid. They have a shorter bloom length than some of their relatives and are generally found in lavenders and whites.

Phalaenopsis Orchids: These orchids are found throughout Southeast Asia and are one of the most common orchids sold today. Many hybrids have been created that adapt well to home environments. Bloom length can be up to three months and common colors are white, purple, pink and yellow. This orchid is commonly known as a Moth Orchid.

Cymbidium Orchids: “Boat Orchids” are native to Asia and northern Australia and were one of the first orchids to be cultivated. They are a little more tolerant to colder temperatures and will bloom from winter into spring. Colors include, but aren’t limited to: white, green, yellowish-green, cream, brown and red.

Dendrobium Orchids: These are diverse group common to Southeast Asia, found growing in tropical lowlands and in higher altitudes. There are approximately 1,200 species making them one of the largest of the orchid groups. Common names for these popular plants are Bamboo Orchid and Singapore Orchid. Bloom length is approximately 8 to 10 weeks and common colors are white, purple, yellow, green and varying shades of pink.

Oncidium Orchids: The “Dancing Lady” can be found in South America, northern Mexico, the Caribbean and parts of south Florida. They put on quite a show with their long flower spikes containing dozens of blooms. Blooms last approximately 2 to 4 weeks and they are most commonly found in golden tones and yellow with shades of brown. The popular Chocolate Orchid is an Oncidium, which got its name not from its color but for its fragrance.

Paphiopedelium Orchids: This orchid, also known as the “Lady Slipper,” is often identified by the unique shape of the flower petals. These beauties come from a huge area in the Old World, including India and China through Indonesia and the Philippines to New Guinea. Colors range from white to brilliant red, with everything in between. The Lady Slipper grows glossy foliage and large blooms that can last for months, making this orchid a favorite among many.

Miltonia Orchids: Miltonias are warm-growing orchids which come from Brazil. The flowers vary in colors – red, white, yellow and pink with different colored markings. The “Pansy Orchid” is one of the most fragrant of the orchids, making it a favorite for growing at home.

No matter what your orchid preference, this flower offers something for everyone. With a huge range of colors and shapes, and a history that transcends continents and time, it’s no wonder a beautiful orchid can capture your eye, and bring you a feeling of Zen. Visit the Sky Dome at Reptile Gardens, and be transported to a world of lush and exotic orchids, anytime!

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Gator Watch in Akron, Ohio!

If you happen to be at the All-American Soapbox Derby in Akron, Ohio the weekend of July 20 and 21, 2013, you may recognize something very familiar.

Ally Claar, age 11, will be competing with the best of the best soapbox racers in her Reptile Gardens inspired entry, the Ally-Gator. Ally qualified to go to the All-American with her race time in the Pikes Peak Soap Box Derby in June.

The Soap Box Derby is a youth racing program that has been running nationwide since 1934. The World Championship finals are held annually in July for each of the Stock, Super Stock, and Masters division Soap Box Derby races. Attendees and competitors are from locations around the globe.

More than 550 youth between the ages of 7 and 17 represented their home communities in the 75th All-American Soap Box Derby on Saturday, July 21, 2012. They came from 40 states in the United States, as well as from Canada, Germany, Japan and New Zealand, and qualified with the racers they had built and driven to victory in their home communities. This year again, the event is predicted to be well attended with entries from around the world.

Local champions from each of the Stock, Super Stock and Masters Division Soap Box Derby races throughout the world come to Akron in July each year to compete for scholarships, merchandise, and prizes in the All-American Soap Box Derby.

We will certainly be cheering for the Ally-Gator in this year’s event!
ally gator

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