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When the whole family gets together for the holidays it isn't always easy to find activities to engage the entire group. Bookish members of the clan want contemplative time. Those who can't sit still itch for some live action. Others are inclined to recline in front of the tube.
A visit to a Wisconsin museum just might help keep the peace. Most museums offer more than enough detail to satisfy the bookworms; lively videos to illustrate topics for those who learn by watching; and plenty of interactive encounters for the action faction.
Here are a few of the many museums and exhibits open around the state. For more, see TravelWISCONSIN.com.
Slither on over to the Milwaukee Public Museum and spend a few hours in the company of "Reptiles: The Beautiful and the Deadly," a special exhibit in which visitors can study reptile behavior and examine reptilian anatomy scale by scale, scute by scute. Reptiles have lived on earth for more than 200 million years; this tenacious and fearsome class of vertebrates commands the respect and awe of lesser creatures with backbones but no spine, a/k/a us quivering Homo sapiens. Live reptiles who'll savor Milwaukee's scent with their forked tongues include a Burmese python, an Asian cobra, and a Gaboon viper with fangs that could puncture a snow tire. Not to be missed are the Nile crocodile and monitor lizard feeding sessions at 11:15 a.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays. (Puts a whole new spin on holiday dining.) Live massasauga and timber rattlesnakes – the only rattlers indigenous to Wisconsin – add some local color, as does the alligator snapping turtle, the largest freshwater turtle in North America. Altogether more than 20 cold-blooded species will be represented, adding an extra chill to December's brisk air.
"Reptiles" runs through January 5th. Admission: $6.75 adults; $5.50 seniors; $4.50 children. The museum is located at 800 W. Wells St., Milwaukee. Visit Milwaukee Public Museum Phone: (414) 278-2700.
If reptiles make your blood run cold, perhaps a visit to the Kaytee Avian Education Center in Chilton will let your spirit soar. Thirty exhibits invite children and adults to explore, investigate and discover the fascinating world of birds. Enjoy the beauty of local and exotic live birds, and observe the activity of new life in the center's hatchery and nursery. Avid bird watchers will appreciate the exhibit on how to plant and manage backyard bird habitat. The center is open Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission: $2. Address: 585 Clay St., Chilton. Visit Kaytee Phone: (920) 849-2321.
The Deke Slayton Memorial Space and Bike Museum in Sparta promises to offer a "fresh look at the past century's use of science to enrich our daily lives." The museum's American Cycling Collection features more than 50 American bicycles, including an 1870s Pennyfarthing high-wheeler and a bike built by the Wright Brothers in the 1890s. Speaking of "the boys," there's also a quarter-scale model of the first Wright flyer. Other displays in the Early Aviation highlight western Wisconsin men and women who built their own aircraft at home in the 1920s. And you can see The Deke Slayton Collection that reflects on the life and career of the Mercury and Apollo astronaut. Don't miss the Rockets & Sprockets gift shop. Open in winter,Monday to Friday, 10 a.m.– 4:00 p.m., Saturdays by appointment. Admission: $3 for adults; $1 for children 6-15. Address: 200 West Main St. (in the historic Masonic Temple building), Sparta. Visit Deke Slayton Museum Phone: (608) 269-0033.