June 7, 2012
On our way to Mount Rushmore, we can’t help but stop at Wall Drugs, pretty much in the middle of nowhere on the edge of the Badlands of South Dakota.
Wall Drug is a shopping mall consisting of a drug store, gift shop, restaurants and various other stores, along with numerous attractions to trap tourists and their cash. The drug store was bought by Nebraskan Ted Hustead in 1931. He and his family had a hard time making any money off the store in this tiny 231 person town. Ted’s wife came up with the idea to give away free ice water to all the new tourists traveling to the newly opened Mount Rushmore. Suddenly, business was booming and before long Wall Drug grew into a cowboy-themed shopping mall, much like we see it today. The cafe still offers free ice water to weary travelers and now is famous for it’s 5 cent coffee.
In 1981, Wall Drug was featured in Time magazine as one of the largest tourist attractions in the north and since then people from all over the world pose with signs telling how far away they are from Wall Drug. The restroom area has a gallery full of them.
Next we visit the many shops and attractions of the Wall Drug Mall just next to the drug store. There’s a life-sized animated group, the Chuck Wagon Quartet, which performs every fifteen minutes.
Behind the mall, outside, is Wall Drug’s backyard. Setup like an old prairie town, there’s a lot of great photo ops with funny cowboy props and a water park to get wet in. Inside there’s more galleries and shops as well as a mining operation where you can pan for gold. The tiny traveler’s chapel is based on the one found at New Melleray Abbey near Dubuque, Iowa.
And of course, the kids will love the giant roaring Tyrannosaurus Rex.