01 June, 2009

Jackalopes and Ice Cold Water, Must Be Wall Drug

Road Trip: Day 3

I've driven through South Dakota a few times before. Once, when I was maybe seven or eight, we took a family vacation to the Badlands and the Black Hills. I don't remember much from that trip; the one thing that stands out was trying to find a hotel in Rapid City. This is long, long before online reservations, so we drove from one hotel to the next, searching for a room at a reasonable rate. Dad would stomp out of each hotel or motel office, looking crankier and crankier. "Rapid City?" he'd mutter, scowling darkly. "Ha! More like 'Ripoff City.'"

I drove through South Dakota again when I was 28. This time I was alone, making a solo trip from Chicago to San Francisco in my Jeep Wrangler rag top to visit a friend. I made it through the state in one shot, stopping long enough to take a mini hike in Badlands National Park before pushing on to Wyoming for an overnight stop.

(I looked really cute driving that Jeep. Sniff. I still miss that car. Stupid drunk driver totaled it, and almost totaled me as well.)

So this trip marked my third venture into Dakota Territory. Now, anyone who has ever driven I-90 across the state knows there are two attractions that must be seen. The Corn Palace and Wall Drug.

Corn Palace, Mitchell, South Dakota

Corn Palace. Sounds like a "largest-ball-of-twine" kind of attraction, doesn't it? But it's actually kinda cool. The first incarnation of the palace was built in the 1890s to show off the varieties of corn and grain that could be grown in the rich soils of the area. The murals--with new designs each year--are made from different colors of corn and grain. Seriously, go read up on it here. The current palace was designed by Rapp and Rapp, a firm that designed some of the greatest movie palaces in the world, including the Loew's Kings Theatre in Brooklyn and the Uptown and Chicago theatres in Chicago. This is one of the smallest of their commissions that I've seen.

Corn cutout self portrait.

We loaded up on on gas and a fresh round of Diet Cokes, and four or five hours later along the interstate, we hit Wall Drug. We knew it was coming. We couldn't help it. Signs for the granddaddy of all tourist traps span out for hundreds miles in every directions. I kid you not, we actually started to see them in Iowa.

Here's a sign for it in Antarctica, courtesy of Wikipedia:

Basically, Wall Drug is a sprawling tourist mall, home to All Things Tacky. Need a stuffed jackalope head? Got it. Want your picture taken with an animated T-Rex head? You can do that here, too. At any rate, it's worth a stop to stretch your legs for an hour or so. After passing literally hundreds of billboards (supposedly, Wall Drug spends $400,000 a year on billboard advertising), you couldn't possibly drive past without stopping. They snare something like 20,000 people a day in the summer.

Me sitting atop a jackalope, holding my free Wall Drug bumper sticker.

Ted making sure he fills up on the free ice water. Note the little t-rex on the cup.

From here, it was another couple of hours and a drive through a violent storm until we stopped for the night in Deadwood, South Dakota. Tune in tomorrow for those photos.

1 comment:

Andy said...

Biggest ball of twine...

Nice "Weird" Al reference, assuming that was a "Weird" Al reference...