Due to our early start at Mt. Rushmore (we had plenty of parking choices), we finished up at Crazy Horse before 11AM. We took advantage of the free afternoon to make a detour to Wall Drug, about 50 miles east of Rapid City. It seems like a long “detour”, but with 80 mph speed limits on the interstate, it goes pretty quick. Especially when driving the truck without our house attached.
The internet tells us that Wall Drug, like the Kardashian’s, is famous for being famous. Started in 1931 by Ted and Dorothy Hustead, Dorothy’s genius idea to offer free ice water to travelers on the nearby highway, advertised via roadside signs, started them down the path to monster tourist attraction. If one sign worked well, thought Ted, why wouldn’t a hundred signs work a hundred times better? Soon, signs were appearing everywhere, and when they started their program to offer free signs simply by asking for one (a program that persists to this day), they started appearing all over the world, driven partly by American GI’s being deployed all over said world during WWII. The only requirement to receive a sign: post the mileage to Wall Drug and send us a photo. I’ve seen them all over the US, and as you drive there on Interstate 90 you can see 3 or 4 every mile.
Here’s one far flung fan:
Main Street in Wall South Dakota is totally dominated by Wall Drug. Filling a city block, there are other symbiotic businesses lining the block across the street that try to compete selling pretty much the same stuff but can’t compete with the prices. The only benefit they offer is a lower crowd density, and tattoos. There are many parking lots surrounding the “downtown core” which is primarily Wall Drug. But we must have a large supply of parking karma in the bank because we parked directly in front of one entrance, the Café, where we enjoyed a Buffalo burger and hamburger for lunch. The onion rings were fantastic! And the free ice water was as good as it can be. We passed on the 5-cent coffee, which is offered through an honor bar (“Place nickel in slot prior to serving yourself”).
You can imagine the scene if you can picture about 15 Disney gift shops packed into a building that covers a city block. Resisting the temptation to empty our wallets to benefit the Husteads, we bought a magnet, something we have been doing everywhere on this trip. Then we hightailed it out of town, but not before posing with our two new Besties of Wall.
Our second day of touring was reserved for Deadwood. I had visited 40+ years ago and still had fond memories of the authentic old West gold rush town. In those days, it was still burnished by its birth in 1874 out of a gulch full of dead trees and a creek full of gold. Main Street had the famous saloons and brothels maintained to help impart a sense of the lawlessness and excitement that was Deadwood in the late 1870’s. Wild Bill Hickok arrived here and within a few weeks was gunned down while holding a hand of aces and eights, the “dead man’s hand”. Calamity Jane is buried next to him in the local cemetery. I’m a sucker for old American history, and this place in those days fed that rush.
Today’s Deadwood is a pretty severe disappointment. Main Street is still there, although it has been transformed by a plague of major hotel/casinos that have discovered the new gold: trading history for profits.
These monster establishments literally cast shadows over the original town, blotting out the past so completely that the new town fathers have resorted to a few well-placed historical signs and daily re-enactments of street gun fights (only in the summer season) to remind their craps and slot-playing customers that this was once a wild western place. One may as well visit Reno.
We truncated our Black Hills Deadwood tour early and drove in silence back to the rig. On a brighter note, we used the extra time to catch up on our rock painting and blog writing!
Tippy is a huge Elon Musk fan.