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Time Travel Takes Us to South Dakota


A couple of days ago, we told you about the remarkable, oversized sculptures you see when you drive across North Dakota. Well, hitting the road in South Dakota is just as memorable. In fact, it feels like a time warp to the 1940s.

Long before high-speed Interstate highways, there was no easy way to bypass the little towns that dot the 600 kilometers from the Minnesota border to the Wyoming line out west. Humble motor-court motels and snake farms, family zoos, gemstone and dinosaur-bone collections broke the tedium for families heading to Yellowstone National Park.

Many roadside oddities have survived to this day. In Mitchell, South Dakota, there's the Corn Palace -- a building covered in 275,000 ears of corn. In the town of Lemmon, a petrified-wood park, which someone described as a forest of frozen fossils. In Rapid City, a free park filled with concrete dinosaurs. Elsewhere across the desolate prairie, you'll find the skull and bones of a circus elephant; a house in the shape of a shoe; and museums devoted to vinegar, the walleye fish, and those relics of the days before indoor toilets: outhouses.

You still see hundreds of billboards promoting Wall Drug. Beginning in the 1930s, that little store drew a crowd simply by promoting free ice water at a time when a cold drink was hard to find on the prairie. Today, hundreds of Wall Drug billboards STILL tout that free water and a five-cent cup of coffee, though the shop -- now a block-long superstore -- makes its fortune on cowboy gear, Indian souvenirs, and buffalo burgers.

And its allure reaches far beyond the little town of Wall, South Dakota. Hammered into the ice at the South Pole is a sign that reads, Wall Drug. Free Ice Water. 9,333 miles.