Dig a little deeper, paint a little browner

Photo of a soil profileopens IMAGE file

I (Kiley) know I made this exhibit at the Dickinson County Nature Center, but this might be the most boring thing I've ever written.

Thirty-six inches down in our soil, you will find loam which is characterized by common, fine, distinct brownish yellow mottles, a weak fine prismatic structure...yikes. It continues but I won't bore you with the rest.

I know your toddler isn't reading that. I know you're 10-year-old isn't reading that. I'm guessing you haven't read it. Some soil scientist somewhere might find it interesting.

The basic premise is, the deeper you go in our soil, the more it changes. From clay all the way down to sand and rock.

Photo of soil profileopens IMAGE file

What's neat is, the way the soil changes also differs on where you dig. In Kenue Park's 70 acres, we have a variety of types of land --- an oak savanna, a glacial kame, a wetland and a prairie. Dig around, and you'll find different types of dirt in each, just yards away from each other.

I want you to encourage your kids to dig today. Go for a walk with a hand trowel and stop along the trail to see how the dirt changes depending on the sun, moisture level, plants that are there, the development that is there.

The oak savanna here has deep black soil, which was pretty moist after the rains last night.

Photo of dirt in an oak savannaopens IMAGE file

Oak savanna dirt

The glacial kame --- which is made of sediment left behind when glaciers receded in the Des Moines lobe --- has sandy soil, complete with rocks in some areas.

Photo of glacial kame dirtopens IMAGE file

Glacial kame dirt

The wetland soil is, you guessed it, wet. Rich, black and moist is the perfect mixture for wetland plants.

Photo of wetland dirtopens IMAGE file

Wetland dirt

The prairie soil was the hardest to dig into. Full of deep roots and a heavy clay the prairie soil is tough and durable.

Photo of prairie clayopens IMAGE file

Prairie dirt

Want an extra challenge to your digging activity? Bring back a few different soil samples, add water and use them to create a mud painting. Different types of soil give you different shades. See what your kids come up with!Photo of a little girl painting with mudopens IMAGE file Check out our blog each week for more fun outdoor kids activities!


Prairie plant roots help water quality

Native prairie plants make wonderful habitat for wildlife like voles, turkeys, rabbits, ground squirrels, hawks and foxes. They provide both habitat and food sources for tiny creatures such as monarch butterflies, bumblebees and milkweed beetles. They are beautiful to look at. However, they are also important in a way that we can’t see. Deep down Read More »

Read More

Why worms surface after rain

  After it rains, people often step outside and think, “It smells like worms.” (The dead worm above looks like an S. Take the kids for a shape walk to see what else you might discover.) The smell is more likely caused by soil bacteria released after heavy downpours, but perhaps we think it smells Read More »

Read More

Celebrate the end of summer with squirt gun painting

It’s hard to think about, but it’s obvious in the Iowa Great Lakes that summer is coming to an end. Traffic is easing. Visitor numbers are dwindling. Stores and restaurants are getting ready to close for the season. But there is still plenty of warm weather to enjoy outside, and squirt gun painting is a Read More »

Read More

Fen, kame, esker — what do these glacial landmark words mean?

Walking along the glacial landmark tour inside the entrance of the Dickinson County Nature Center, visitors can to experience replicas of many of the places created by the Des Moines Lobe of the Wisconsin Glacier when it was in the county about 12,000 years ago. From bouncing on a fen to climbing a miniature kame Read More »

Read More


  1. Maureen Reeves Horsley on March 19, 2019 at 9:01 am


    • kiley on March 19, 2019 at 9:02 am

      Feel free to share pictures if you try it!