Our second stop on Our Trip of a Lifetime was Wall, South Dakota where we planned to visit Wall Drug Store, Badlands National Park, and The Minuteman Missile National Historic Site. Although we enjoyed the travel and camping up to this point, we were excited to finally be getting into the meat of our destinations. Prior to the trip, everyone we talked to about places to visit along Interstate 90 in South Dakota recommended Wall Drug Store and Badlands National Park as neat places to visit although a few people voiced some reservations about the Badlands. To my surprise, very few people had heard of the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, so it became of special interest to our group.
The first of the three we visited was Wall Drug Store. When we were within about a hundred miles of Wall, South Dakota, we began to see billboards marketing the drug store with such phrases as “As seen on the Today Show,” “As featured in the New York Times,” and “Get your free ice water at Wall Drugs.” Our anticipation grew! The drug store began in 1931, and over the years, it expanded to seventy-six thousand square feet of shopping area. Picturing a traditional old-time drug store setting with a soda fountain counter and a plethora of novelty items to explore, I couldn’t wait to see the place. Boy was I in for a surprise!
There may have been a time when Wall Drug Store was a traditional old-time drug store complete with sassafras root beer, penny candy, and homemade ice cream, but those days were long gone by the time of my visit. Basically, I found a string of shops filled with overpriced clothing and trinkets made in China. The place was what we call a strip mall back home. The one redeeming factor was the walls and corners of the shops were decorated with unique displays and antiques ranging from a stuffed grizzly bear to a cowboy fortune telling machine. The wives loved the place, but other than getting free ice water, I say stop at this mini shopping mall disguised as a drug store if you must, but if you really want to see the good stuff, drive out to The Badlands National Park and the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site. If you like nature and history that is so real it will awe you and maybe even scare you, these two places should not be missed.
I am probably being too hard on Wall Drug, but it was simply too commercial for me. It reminded me of Disney without the Disney magic (again maybe too harsh) – little more than a highly marketed tourist trap. However, our visit to The Badlands National Park made everything good once again. I found the Badlands simply breathtaking! One thing I have discovered about national parks is that each is unique, and unique certainly describes The Badlands National Park.
Located in Interior, South Dakota, a short drive south of the town of Wall, The Badlands National Park is not to be missed. Rugged, dry, desolate – its striped layers of brown, pink, yellow, and red rock tell stories of millions of years. Once a prehistoric seabed, the wind worn spires allow you to look back in time when brontotheres (a rhinoceros type animal) and sabretooth tigers roamed the earth. Set in direct contrast to the South Dakota plains surrounding it, the area may be called the Badlands, but its beauty speaks otherwise. The Badlands of South Dakota are a tribute to the forces of nature and its resulting beauty. The Park is a MUST SEE! Walk the trails, many of them boarded and easy to walk, climb the towering rock formations (be careful), and take time to simply look and imagine this place a million years ago. There is no “made in China” here. This is pure America!
From the Badlands, we journeyed a couple of miles up the road to the Minuteman Missile Historic Site. What we found there was one of the most fascinating adventures anyone in our group has ever experienced. The tour of the once top secret underground command center, the center from which the fate of the world sometimes lay in the hands of twenty-year-old kids (trained young men, but kids nevertheless), was eye opening, frightening, and one of the most remarkable tours I have seen.
Next Blog: The Trip of a Lifetime: The Minuteman Missile National Historic Site.
©Jack Linton, July 20, 2017