If you haven’t heard of Wall Drug, you probably have never been to South Dakota. Signs for one of the world’s oldest and best known tourist traps are spread out across the state and surrounding states as well as such far-flung locations as Antarctica, Afghanistan and Italy. For me, it was an exciting stop along the only vacation route taken by my family for most of my young life, for Wall was stationed smack dab on Highway 16 between my even smaller town of Murdo, South Dakota and the Black Hills, where our summer vacation usually consisted of an overnight stay in “The Deer Huts” after taking one of my older sisters to the Methodist Youth Camp a few miles away.
The excitement of the Deer Huts consisted mainly of the fact that the bathrooms were all outside–little wooden enclosures marked by a half moon that my mother hated and I adored. I loved the nighttime trip up the hill with a flashlight and the strangely reassuring sound of what had once been a part of my body making its dark descent down the long vertical tunnel–as though it was having an adventure of its own. I loved the threat of animals watching me in the dark as I made my way back to the log cabin. It was about as exotic as my life ever got before I finally left home for college at age eighteen and life really began. But I digress, for the true adventure that wound up at the Deer Huts always began when we got to the badlands–a series of sandstone hills and gullies that furnished the background for many a cowboy movie of the fifties. Then, shortly after the badlands, came Wall Drug!.
You can read the full story of Wall Drug HERE. If you are pressed for time, however, I will give you the shortened version. The whole phenomena of a drugstore in a small town of under 300 on a godforsaken prairie in the middle of nowhere started in 1931 with a suggestion by the wife of the owner that they put up signs offering free water. From there, the promotions grew into singing automated cowboy orchestras, stuffed longhorn cattle, a life-sized dinosaur, chapels, souvenir shops, other automated scenes, a restaurant offering such South Dakota fare as hot beef sandwiches complete with mashed potatoes and white bread swimming in brown gravy, homemade rolls, cherry pie and 5 cent cups of coffee with free coffee and donuts offered to soldiers, ministers, and truck drivers.
I have pictures of me at age eight and age sixty-six, standing by a huge stuffed longhorn steer, bravely touching the horn. The last picture was taken as my childhood friend Rita and I took our last long nostalgic trip across South Dakota. In the Wall Drug Cafe, we shared a hot beef sandwich, a cinnamon roll and a piece of cherry pie for old time’s sake, put a quarter in the slots to see the singing cowboys creak into action, still in tune after almost sixty years.
In this more sophisticated age, folks still stop at Wall Drug. It’s possible their teenagers remain in the car, texting their friends or playing computer games with the air conditioning cranked up to dispel the scorching South Dakota summer sun, but I bet the little kids as well as the bigger kids who are their folks or grandfolks still wander the block-square expanses of Wall Drug, looking for thrills from another age and time. And somewhere within its cluster of rooms and passageways, Grandma can still buy an aspirin or get a prescription filled, then get a free glass of water to swallow it down with, Grandpa can still get a five cent cup of coffee and a little kid can taste his first delicious mouthful of South Dakota Black Angus beef, swimming in gravy and surrounded by reassuring slices of Sunbeam white bread and mashed potatoes.
The Prompt: Tourist Trap: What’s your dream tourist destination — either a place you’ve been and loved,https://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/tourist-trap/ or a place you’d love to visit? What about it speaks to you?