The famed Wall Drug, known to all who've driven across South Dakota and spoken of in reverent tones by serious road trippers, has become a travel icon in its own right, almost as famous as the nearby Badlands and an almost requisite stop on the way to Mount Rushmore. In the process, it's become the South of the Border of the north, a notorious notch in the belt for those who seek out Americana of the highest order and chuckle at the provincialism of a place that brags about being written up in People magazine.
But does it suck? Not really! It’s the most earnest roadside attraction conceivable, which makes perfect sense in this most irony-free part of the country where being neighborly is a mandate simply because there aren’t many people around.
Sure there are jackalopes on the walls, personalized wallets for sale, cowboy boots, tacky art, T-shirts and crystal jewelry. But there are also neighbors, gathered around the coffee pot, where a nickel still buys you a mug as long as you're friendly enough to enjoy it with other folks in the dining room instead of rushing back out on the road.
This is a rest stop from the era when you really would stop to rest, rather than pull off the interstate, gas up and go. It's a rest stop worth taking because once the roads get this long -- and the roads here do get long -- you really do need more than a few minutes to decompress before facing the next stretch of asphalt.
Maybe that's why Wall Drug has peppered 300 miles of I-90 with billboards galore, from Sioux Falls all the way to Wall (much like South of the Border does in North and South Carolina). They're less advertisement for the pit stop than progress markers for your journey, totems of your achievement for navigating the epic drive across the prairie. The closer you get to Wall Drug and its neighborly vibe, the signs tell the brave drivers who've elected to make this pilgrimage, the closer you are to home.
Here's what to expect, as cropped from photos taken by Paul Brady on a recent trip across South Dakota on I-90: