At the other end of South Dakota's I-90 corridor from the Corn Palace, Wall Drug is a one-of-a-kind phenomenon -- a wayside stop that just kept growing and growing. It all began in the Depression, when nearby Mount Rushmore was still under scaffolding, years away from attracting travelers to this middle-of-nowhere burg. Desperate for business, Wall Drug's owners, Ted and Dorothy Hustead, put up signs on the highway advertising free ice water to thirsty travelers. Motorists poured in.
Now convinced of the power of advertising, the Husteads planted more and more billboards, until they even began to appear in foreign countries. The Highway Beautification Act of the 1960s severely limited Wall Drug's billboard campaign, but still the tourists came; and over the years the Husteads (who still own the place, though it's now in the hands of the third generation) have added more and more popular features to draw them in.
Some 20,000 people a day, it's estimated, pull off the road to mill around this shambling low-slung complex, so extensive that it scarcely seems like a drugstore anymore. (There is a replica of the original small pharmacy inside, however.) Along with a "mall" of 26 little shops, Wall Drug has a restaurant, a vast postcard store, a gallery selling Western art, displays of Native American artifacts, a mechanical diorama of an American Indian village, and a mocked-up Main Street of a Western town. But wait! There's more! Animated figures tucked into every available niche "speak" to the customers, including a roaring T-Rex. Out in the back yard stand king-size plaster figures of a bucking bronco, a rabbit, and the mythical jackalope, and an 80-foot-long green brontosaurus statue benignly casts its shade over the children's play area.
Nothing defines "tourist trap" better than Wall Drug. That's why you must visit.
Nearest Airport: Rapid City Regional, 55 miles.
Where to Stay: $$ Hotel Alex Johnson, 523 6th St., Rapid City (tel. 800/888-2539 or 605/342-1210; www.alexjohnson.com). $$ Sylvan Lake Lodge, 24572 SD 87 (at SD 89), Custer (tel. 888/875-0001 or 605/574-2561; www.custerresorts.com).