Wall Drug Store: The Tourist Trap That Swallowed A Town

Wall Drug Store: The Tourist Trap That Swallowed A Town

People rave about the little town of Wall in South Dakota and the famous Wall Drug Store.  So, of course, like lemmings we went to see for ourselves.  It was easy enough to do because Wall Drug is conveniently located right off the interstate between Mt Rushmore and the Badlands National Park.

Wall Drug store

A large chunk of the town of Wall is the Wall Drug Store.  The store is actually lots of little mini-businesses just run under the umbrella name of Wall Drug Store.  Yes, there is a pharmacy but also 26 other little shops including a chapel, gift shop, restaurants, children’s attractions etc.  My favourite part was the little museum of old photos of the area.

Wall Drug pharmacy

Wall Drug is famous for its fiberglass jackalope (no one is sure how jackalopes got associated with the store).  Of course my daughter climbed on top of the jackalope for the obligatory photo.

Wall Drug rabbit

Wall Drug Store started as a little pharmacy  owned by Ted Hustead in 1931 in the little town of Wall (population 326 at the time). When Wall Drug started offering free ice water to hot and tired travellers on their way West during the Great Depression, their reputation started spreading far and wide.  Wall Drug claim they are still giving away thousands of cups of free ice water to tourists every year.  It is now owned by the third generation of Husteads.

Wall Drug gun

I honestly don’t know what the fuss is about.  I think Wall Drug is a testament to the art of self-promotion.  You can see their advertising on the interstate in South Dakota as well as on bumper stickers.  In the 1960’s, Wall Drug  had over 3000 billboards!

Wall Drug post office

You’ve been warned not to expect much!  It’s a harmless bit of Americana and, frankly, there is nothing else around for miles.  You might as well get out, stretch your legs and say you’ve been there.

Wall Drug sign

Wall Drug doesn’t care that they are a tourist trap because they are laughing all the way to the bank. Visiting Wall Drug is big business.  Apparently it takes in $10 million a year from the 2 million visitors it gets every year.  Not bad for handing out free water.

Wall Drug Store in South Dakota

Wall Drug is located off exit 109 on Interstate 90 and is open 7 days a week.  You can’t miss it (or the signs).

Fall In Love With The Sioux Indian Taco

Fall In Love With The Sioux Indian Taco

When you are visiting the Badlands National Park, the only place to eat for miles is at Cedar Pass Lodge.  So it is a good thing they had a reputation for making excellent Sioux Indian Tacos.  I figured we had to try it for ourselves.  We were not disappointed!

Although the taco started as a Mexican dish, it is now such a mainstay of American culture and has appeared in non-Mexican versions.  For example, Native Americans have the Indian Tacos and Korean Americans started the trend for Korean barbecue tacos.

Sioux Indian Taco

The Sioux Indian taco at Cedar Pass Lodge is a sizeable portion of food.  The base is a plate-size portion of Indian fry bread.  The refried beans, bison beef, lettuce, tomato, cheddar cheese and olives toppings create an open-faced taco.   You get sour cream and salsa on the side.  I felt full even without finishing my frybread.

Sioux Indian Taco

The Sioux Indian Taco is pretty much like other Indian tacos but is made with bison meat.  Bison meat is really tasty and leaner than beef.  When you are consuming this many calories, every little bit helps!

Indian taco

Image: Creehawk

Frybread

The frybread is what makes the Sioux Indian Taco really stand out.  Frybread is the state bread of South Dakota. The main ingredients of frybread are flour, water and salt.  The dough is then fried in some sort of fat like lard or oil.

Frybread is supposed to have started during the “Long Walk” when the American army forcibly removed thousands of Navajo from Arizona to New Mexico in the 1860’s.  The Native Americans were given rations of flour, salt and sugar which was very different from their usual diet of vegetables and beans.  The Native Americans made do and created frybread.  The rest, as they say, is history.

Frybread isn’t the healthiest option.  Typical fry bread has about 700 calories and 27 grams of fat per serving.  Some critics have blamed frybread for the diabetes epidemic in Native American populations.

Frybread and Indian tacos are standard fare at Native American pow wows and festivals.  Despite the tragic provenance, frybread has been embraced by Native Americans as part of their cultural identity.  There is even a National Indian Taco Championship held in Oklahoma.

Fall in Love with the Sioux Indian Taco

On our Western Road trip, I came to appreciate bison meat in the form of bison burgers and the Sioux Indian taco.  My family and I are big fans of tacos and the Sioux Indian tacos at Cedar Pass Restaurant got enthusiastic thumbs up from all of us.

Information for Visiting Cedar Pass Lodge

Cedar Pass Lodge is located in the Badlands National Park of South Dakota.  The restaurant is open from April through December from 8 AM to 6 PM with longer hours during the peak summer months.  It is located on SD-240 a few miles from the Northeast entrance.

Family Hiking in Spearfish Canyon in South Dakota

Family Hiking in Spearfish Canyon in South Dakota

After all the good food (and hearty portions) we had on our American road trip, we thought we should  do something that involves physical exertion.  Luckily Spearfish Canyon in South Dakota is the perfect place to go hiking because it has access to thousands of acres of public lands in the Black Hills National Forest.

hiking spearfish canyon south dakota

The Black Hills of South Dakota

The Black Hills of South Dakota were formed about 62 million years ago probably when the Pacific Ocean floor had a run in with the North American continent.  The resulting landscape gave birth to lots of geological variety such as the alien-looking Badlands, the even stranger geological formation called the Devils Tower and even the gold deposits that were the subject of the Gold Rush.

The Black Hills got their name because from a distance the pine trees were so thick, the hills looked black.

Spearfish Canyon

Spearfish Canyon is part of the geological variety of the Black Hills National Park that started 62 million years ago.  The Canyon, which was formed about five million years ago, is about 20 miles long.  The shape of the canyon is still evolving because of its soft limestone makeup.  Although you can’t get to the canyon rim by car, you can hike up there (see the ’76 trail hike discussed below).

These spruce trees in Spearfish Canyon are over 200 years old.

The forests of the Black Hills National Park

The undergrowth in Spearfish Canyon is densely covered with shade-loving plants as well as these spruce trees.  There’s lots of shade from the harsh South Dakota sun for little animals and birds.  You can hear the birds chirping away as you hike.

undergrowth from hiking in the Black Hills National Park

Hiking Spearfish Canyon

There are lots of trails for which you can get information from the Forest Service.  They range from easy to difficult.

Hiking in Black Hills National Park

We did two hikes which were both marked easy and were indeed embarrassingly simple.  The Spearfish Falls trail is a 1.5 mile roundtrip which is a path going around the tree canopy of Spearfish Canyon.  The other trail was the Roughlock Falls Trail which is only a mile (and handicap accessible) but takes you to a very pretty waterfall.

Waterfalls found hiking in Spearfish South Dakota

Other trails for you more adventurous hikers include:

  • ’76 Trail – Although only 1.6 miles roundtrip, this trail is marked difficult because you climb pretty much straight up to the top of Spearfish Canyon.
  • Iron Creek – This trail is about 4 miles but is considered easy because it follows along an old roadbed along the creek.
  • Lookout Mountain – The closest trail to Spearfish itself is considerate a moderate loop trail 4 miles in length that follows an old road.  The road is still kept in good shape.  You need to be careful though because there are rattlesnakes on Lookout Mountain.

I’m going to rely on photos because it’s hard to express in words how beautiful this area is.  Even for city slickers like us, hiking in Spearfish Canyon was an easy way to get out into nature and enjoy fresh air and centuries old forests.

A stream near Spearfish South Dakota

In addition to hiking, you can go fly-fishing and cycling in Spearfish Canyon.  In fact, fly-fishing is even more popular than hiking in Spearfish Canyon.

The town of Spearfish itself has been called unlike the rest of South Dakota, with its craft beer and hipster scene.

A Bit of Medieval Norway in South Dakota

A Bit of Medieval Norway in South Dakota

The Borgund Stavkirke, located near Laerdal Norway, was built about 1150 AD.  In 1969, Americans of Norwegian immigrant descent created an exact replica in Rapid City, South Dakota.  They had the permission and architectural plans supplied by the Norwegian government and the help of a master carver in Norway.

stavkirke south dakota

The Stavkirke is entirely made of wood and joined together with wooden pegs.  There is not one nail holding the structure in place not even in the roof.

The carvings of snakes and dragons are a holdover from Viking beliefs that represent the battle between good and evil.  Dragons were believed to be good (which is why they were always on the prow of a Viking ship).  The Stavkirke has lots of dragons as well as crosses showing the merging of older pagan beliefs with Christianity in medieval Norway.

stavkirke

Inside the Stavkirke, the ceiling is constructed like an upside-down Viking ship hull.

stavkirke interior

The front door has replicas of the original door furniture – a ring and a lock.  The ring was both a door knocker and a sanctuary ring in medieval  Norway. If an outlaw could hold onto the ring, they would be spared being killed.  Of course, he could also starve to death holding onto the ring since no one was bound to help him.

stavkirke lock

On the grounds is also a Norwegian settler’s log cabin which was relocated from nearby Keystone, South Dakota.  The immigrant, Edward Nielson, came to the the Black Hills in 1876 to prospect for gold.  Originally from Hole, Ringerike in Norway, he was 33 when he arrived in South Dakota.

stavkirke log cabin

The statues are a bit cheesy but this house has stuff typically brought by Norwegian immigrants.  It is an amalgam of a typical early settler’s house and not everything shown was available in each house.  The immigrants brought some tuff from Norway when they emigrated which was usually whatever they could fit into a small trunk like the one shown below.

settler's trunk

Being master craftsmen, the immigrants were able to put their woodworking skills to good use by making what they needed for their new life, starting with a house itself and then all the interior items, such as beds, children’s toys and cooking utensils.

I found this painting of a nostalgic scene from Norway touching.  This immigrant painted this scene from memory and he would never see his old home, family or friends again.  The journey was arduous and expensive to undertake and visits home would have been an impossibility. I didn’t have such worries when I moved to England because I knew I could visit my family and friends in the USA often.

settler painting

I am amazed at the courage it would take to pack your whole life into a trunk, leave everything you know behind and move to an unknown and somewhat hostile environment.  I don’t think I could have done it – could you?