After hiking the slump trail in the Badlands in the morning, we headed back to Route 90 toward Rapid City, SD. If you’ve ever driven Route 90, you know the Wall Drug billboards. I read that Wall Drug spends $400,000 every year on billboard advertising. This is exactly why we didn’t want to go to Wall Drug. It is clearly a tourist attraction with many souvenirs for sale, but that’s not exactly why we came to South Dakota. We were drawn in by the promise of lunch, though, and thought we’d see what this Drugstore was all about. We ate at what I think was called the Prairie Cafe: buffalo dogs & pizza. I had the most delicious watermelon Italian soda. Yum.
The first hint of the coolest thing about Wall Drug was that in amongst the souvenir shops and fudge shops and pottery shops and Native American beading and weaving shops was an itsy-bitsy little Chapel. A sweet, narrow nave, only about 10 feet across sat quietly between shops vending their wares. We stopped in for the peaceful quiet and to see what this little place was all about. Rows of pews, an altar up front. A few icons of Mary. A few crosses on the wall. And an invitation to travelers to stop in.
If you go to Wall Drug’s home page (walldrug.com), you see the beginning of the story that we read from a card on our lunch table. Ted & Dorothy Hustead were a young couple with a 4 year old son when they opened a drugstore in Wall, SD in 1931. The town had less than 400 residents and every one of them was poor. Ted had graduated from pharmacy school about 5 years before and had worked for other pharmacists as he began his career. He and Dorothy decided that it was time for him to open up his own pharmacy. They searched several states nearby for a good location. Their two criteria: a small town and a Catholic Church so they could attend mass every day. They said they’d give this venture 5 years and at the end of 5 years, they had another baby and not much else to show for their hard work. But then, Dorothy had an idea. She was convinced that God had them in this place for a purpose and that this purpose had something to do with serving the people who lived, worked and traveled near them. Dorothy’s idea was to give away free ice water. Before the first billboards were completely up, the people started coming and they haven’t stopped. Amazing what a little generosity, creative thinking, and unusual marketing can do! Despite the current tourist trap, we avoided the fudge and the souvenirs and enjoyed the history of this couple who found their calling in a little town called Wall.
From Wall Drug, we headed to Reptile Gardens (reptilegardens.com), on the south side of Rapid City. What a wonderful little reptile zoo. It is definitely worth a stop, if you’re nearby. We arrived around 3:00 pm and stayed until about 6:30 or so. We saw everything there was to see. The cost was $15 for ages 13 and over, and $10 for ages 5-12. Under 4 is always free. Don’t miss the shows! There are three: bird, snake & ‘gator. They are scheduled regularly throughout the day, so you should be able to easily fit all three into your visit. These are some of the beautiful things we saw at the Reptile Gardens.
We tried for a quick visit to Mount Rushmore at night, but found it drizzly and too foggy, even with the lights, to see our Presidents. We’ll try again tomorrow in the daylight.
We stayed at the Roosevelt Inn, right in Keystone, SD (rosyinn.com). It’s a lovely inn & suites right at the base of the mountain. The entrance to the Mt Rushmore National Monument is just two miles up a windy (but wide) mountain road. We have a loft suite where the kids are in beds upstairs and we have a King downstairs. Very nice.
We had dinner at the restaurant in the hotel: Big Time Pizza. Terrific pizza and subs. They were open until 9:30, which worked for our late-night family. Loved the Henry Weinhard’s Vanilla Cream soda from the cooler. They also had Cherry Cream, Orange Cream and Root Beer for a bit of variety.
I will use “wonderful” as my word for today as a hat tip to Ted & Dorothy and their Wall Drug endeavor. We enjoyed it much more than we thought we would.
Wall drug is kinda famous out here, even down in Denver you see ‘wall drug’ bumper stickers quite often…
Apparently, the bumper stickers and billboards are everywhere. Amusing.
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