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The Big Back Yard includes a nine-hole EarthScapes miniature golf course that provides a fun—and challenging—way to learn how water moves from mountains to oceans and shapes the landscape along the way. With water hazards like you've never seen before, this 30,000 square-foot course demonstrates that rivers and streams are alive and ever-changing!
Viewing the Big Back Yard is free with museum admission. Mini-golf is an additional charge: $4 for members and $5 for non-members.
HOLE 1: SOURCE-TO-SINK INTRODUCTION
Tee off at the top of a mountain and follow rivulets of water and sediment down to the ocean, which is represented by a pool of water and delta.
Key lesson: This hole introduces golfers to the concept of "source-to-sink." As rainwater washes sediment from mountains (source) toward the ocean (sink), it shapes the land around us.
HOLE 2: EROSIONAL LANDSCAPES
Putt up a hill and around a corner to send your ball careening onto a drainage basin. The basin starts with many small channels that erode into larger channels until they combine into one river.
HOLE 3: HYDRAULIC JUMP
When the fast moving, shallow water cascading down a spillway collides with a pool of deep, slow-moving water, the flow suddenly jumps, creating a hydraulic jump. You'll putt across the thin, fast-moving current towards your goal on the opposite bank.
Key lesson: Flowing water acts in predictable ways on materials, whether sediment or golf balls.
HOLE 4: CITY STORM-SEWER
Tee off at a storm-sewer grate where a city's drainage system empties into a river. You'll track the source of pollutants as you putt back in time through a series of complex tunnels and gutters to—surprise!—an urban front yard.
Key lesson: Everything that washes down the storm sewer from city streets eventually finds its way to rivers, lakes, and wetlands. Large quantities of seemingly harmless natural materials, like leaves and grass clippings, are harmful to aquatic ecosystems.
HOLE 5: DRAINING THE FIELDS
On a miniature farm field, you'll aim for a set of drains that carry the ball underground and into an open area. Then, choose between two options—the fast river option or the slow upland pond option. (Hint: Your score—and the environment—improve if you choose the upland pond option).
Key lesson: Systems of pipes under many farm fields drain water and protect crops. These field drainage systems move water quickly to streams and rivers.
HOLE 6: CITY SURFACE RUNOFF
This fairway has a split personality—it's one part wetlands or drainage pond and one part urban street and gutter. Aim for a matrix of closely spaced holes representing a permeable surface, like a wetland. The challenge is to putt slowly so the ball meanders its way through a swampy green near the hole. If you overshoot the matrix, the ball speeds down a gutter and away from the goal.
Key lesson: When rainwater can't soak into the ground, as is common in urban landscapes, it quickly runs into storm drains and eventually, the river. Fast-running water carries many pollutants with it.
HOLE 7: MEANDERING RIVER
Play this hole wet or dry. Either way, you'll navigate the hazards of a meandering river. Watch golf balls get carried around river bends, or golf the landscape on dry land.
Key lesson: A river's current moves and deposits sediment in striking, self-organized patterns, always changing and leaving a record of where it has been.
HOLE 8: LOCK-AND-DAM
This fairway is modeled on a section of the Mississippi River at St. Anthony Falls in Minneapolis and shows how people have engineered the river. Putt upstream in this emptied riverbed, around the hazards of the lock-and-dam and concrete apron of the falls.
Key lesson: People have changed the river to cross it, to draw power from it, and to make it more navigable. We can't see many of the manmade underwater engineering features.
HOLE 9: GULF OF MEXICO
When you reach Hole 9, you're almost to the end of your EarthScapes journey! It's a straight shot down the Mississippi River into a pool of water that represents the Gulf of Mexico.
Key lesson: Sediments transported across the landscape to rivers continue to flow downhill along the seafloor even after reaching the ocean.