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Posts Tagged ‘things to do in South Dakota’

Follow the signs to Wall Drug in Wall, South Dakota

“One travels so as to learn once more how to marvel at life in the way a child does.” Ella Maillart

 Travels With Maggie: South Dakota Adventures

Who could have guessed that a free glass of ice water offered to travelers on their way to Mount Rushmore back in the 1930s would turn into a sprawling mall that today attracts tourists from all over the world?

The Jackalope in the Backyard -- Photo by Pat Bean

The Jackalope in the backyard -- Photo by Pat Bean

You can still get that free glass of water, also a free bumper sticker and a cup of coffee for five cents. Named after the small town where pharmacist Ted Hustead opened a small drug store in 1931, Wall Drug suffered hard times in the beginning. It was, after all, the time of The Great Depression. Then wife, Dorothy, suggested they offer free ice water to travelers on their way to the newly opened Mount Rushmore Monument just 60 miles away.

Soon Highway 90 was littered with billboard signs touting the free water, and tourists found the offer too good to pass by. Today, they have many more reasons to stop. The huge Wall Drug complex, which has been written about in Time magazine, talked about on Good Morning America and touted on the Paris (France not Texas) Metro, includes a western art museum, cowboy themed shops, a quiet chapel, huge dinosaur and jackalope sculptures, and of course a small pharmacy.

A third of the town’s population today is employed by Wall Drug and up to 20,000 visitors drop by on a summer day.

This T-Rex roars every 12 minutes -- Photo by Pat Bean

What Ted, and then his son, Bill, have done to create this down-the-rabbit-hole Wonderland would turn Barnum and Bailey green with envy. What they did kept me smiling until my face muscles ached. And once again, as was becoming so common in my travels, Dr. Seuss’ words: “Oh the places you’ll go and the things you’ll see,” rang joyfully through my head.

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 “In old age one should do something mounmental.” — Xiao Qiam

Mount Rushmore -- Photo by Pat Bean

Travels With Maggie

 I finally made it to Mount Rushmore. So much of my sight-seeing before I began doing it full time had to be squeezed in during trips from Utah, where I lived and worked,” and places where my kids lived, mostly Texas and Southern California. There was never time to detour through South Dakota.

Although I’m one who doesn’t believe Mother Nature can be improved upon, I still found this mountainous granite sculpture of four U.S. Presidents – Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Roosevelt – impressive. To understand the size of these heads, with their 20-foot noses, one has to visualize them atop men 465-feet tall.

The retooling of the mountain, originally undertaken to attract tourists to South Dakota, took 14 years, and included the removal of 800 million pounds of stone in the process.

The man behind the sculpture was Gutzon Borglum, a student of renown French artist sculptor Auguste Rodin. Borglum was 60 years old when he began the monumental task, and sadly died just months before it was completed in 1941. His son, Lincoln Borglum, finished the politically controversial task his father had begun in 1927.

Some historians allege the monument’s underlying theme is one of racial superiority, a suggestion encouraged because of Borglum’s membership in the Ku Klun Klan. I admit that learning this bit of information dimmed my admiration for Borglum. But South Dakota thrives on the tourist attention it gets from the presidential memorial. And it’s certainly not an American wonder I would have wanted to miss.

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