Thursday, 2 July 2015

Day Two South Dakota

The i90 took us across open prairie land and the scenery soon became monotonous with the road stretching on ahead towards a vanishing point.

We wondered what it must have been like travelling this way with just a covered wagon and horses.  The journey must have taken forever.

This gas station sign had a scrolling message informing us that the movie Dances With Wolves was filmed around here. The covered wagon prompted the conversation about travelling this way before the highway was built.

At Mitchell, we stopped for a comfort break and decided to visit what was claimed to be the world’s only corn palace.
 This seemed to consist of an odd looking brick built building with photographs of corn cobs papered over some panels and straw roofing. Whilst I am certain it is the only corn palace, since I could not imagine anyone else building one, it was not really made of corn. However, to be fair it was in the process of being re-furbished and the minarets, shown in the publicity photos, were all stacked on the ground, so it will have real corn on it when finished. Apparently they change the theme of the murals each year and we must have arrived during that process.  Despite this I do not think I will stop in Mitchell again for anything other than a comfort break. 
This sign was made from real corn cobs
The next least boring part of this stretch of the journey was when we came to Chamberlin and crossed the Missouri River via a short span of bridge and a causeway. The road dips down from the prairie and you get some views of the town and the two road bridges.   I was a bit late with my camera so missed the best view.

After this the terrain started to vary a little, becoming more undulating and going from largely grain farms to cattle.

Long before we arrived at Chamberlin, we had gradually become aware that, for a long time, we had been passing a lot of signs advertising something called Wall Drug and what was odd, was that we realised that we had been seeing them for more than three hundred miles!  For people from the UK unfamiliar with the American use of the word drug, any kind of store in the USA with drug as part of the title, is what in the UK we would call a 'chemists'. In the UK, 'drug' has a very different connotation and conjures up images of glassy eyed dropouts taking illegal substances.
Although a UK chemist and a USA drug store were in origin a kind of pharmacy, nowadays they usually sell a wide range of goods besides medicines.  We do not have quite the same kind of store in the UK as a drugstore, but Boots the Chemists in the UK have a lot of similarities with Wallgreen in the USA.  But judging by the posters, Wall Drug promised to be something diferent.

With signs like this and..
this and..
And so on
And so on..
Ad infinitum..
Well maybe not forever, but for over three hundred miles
Making unlikely claims until...

Eventually we started to get closeer, that is less than a hundred miles, and the signs changed a little.

And as we approached the Badlands.
We must be getting close...
Getting closer...
Closer still

Finally the last sign has this gigantic dinosaur stood by it.

The result of this was that, despite having a long trip still ahead, we just had to visit Wall to see what it was all about. Wall is a small Western town about fifty miles east of Rapid City and it turned out that Wall Drug is a store in this town that has grown from a simple drugstore into a major tourist attraction. The sheer quantity and persistence of the imaginative signboards makes you want to see what it is all about and whilst being a typical tourist trap, it is much more than a normal drugstore.

And here it is in all its glory

This plaque hoiuors and tells you about the founders.  No doubt the residents of Wall are grateful for the trade the drugstore brings into the otherwise isolated town.

Inside tthe main entrance

After satisfying our curiosity, we bought ice creams and then continued west. We passed by Rapid City and on to Sturgis.

In early August, the Sturgis Black Hills Motorcycle Rally occurs and the whole area becomes filled with bikers. One feature of this was that when we stopped anywhere near that town, the shops were full of 2014 rally tees at low low discounts and if I had wanted to look like an aging biker, I could have re-stocked my wardrobe with as many tee shirts as I could carry for very little cost.

Our ultimate destination was a lodge in Terry Peaks, a skiing and winter sports district high up in the Black Hills where we were going to be based. To get there, we had to leave the i90 after Sturgis and pass through Deadwood and Lead. You may have heard of the former, since it has featured in many Westerns and in particular the musical Calamity Jane, in which Doris Day sang The Deadwood Stage and Take me Back to the Black Hills. Of course, whilst we were there, there was a strict agreement amongst ourselves that no one sang either song.

The Deadwood stage has turned into a trolley bus

The local towns, Lead and Deadwood were modern looking but, had not changed in nature much since the gold rush of the nineteenth century. As well as the inevitable gift shops and ice cream parlours, there were several bars and casinos and gun stores. Also you could go gold mining for a small fee, which probably outweighed the value of any gold you could extract. In Deadwood there was a Subway, so we bought a takeaway and some wine and cider from a nearby liquor store and carried on up to Terry Peaks. The weather was still cool and our ears popped regularly as we climbed up to Terry Peaks, which has an altitude of about six thousand feet, notable by the balloon shapes of the packets of pretzels and chips (crisps) we had brought with us. The lodge we were staying in was off a dirt road known as Last Chance Trail and to get there we had to drive slowly along Lost Camp Trail and through Buffalo Trail. It is, as you may imagine, quite rustic.

Last Chance Trail

West Wind Lodge
The winters up there can be severe and many of the lodges had a small personal snow plough parked outside ready for winter.

It was very peaceful and noise free, but not exactly deckchair weather, but we unpacked, ate our takeaway and then had a drink sitting out on the balcony enjoying the evening.
The altitude was apparent when we unpacked our supplies because some of the packets we had brought with us were almost on the point of bursting.

Later that evening there was a thunderstorm and some rain, but it had cleared up by morning.

 Next post DayThree


  1. We did that exact same I 90 route back in 1961. And guess what! ... Wall Drug was advertising the same way all those years ago. Also the Corn Palace in Mitchell really is covered with corn -- at least it was back then. Did you stop at the Badlands? We loved that. Amazing that so little has changed in more than 50 years.

  2. I love the covered wagon sign. And the Wall Drugs advertising is quite innovative...and obviously works!