Friday, September 4, 1992...
After 50,000 miles this year, I finally got to drive my favorite road-trip road of all, I-90 across South Dakota. Though I couldn't go all the way to the Black Hills, I saw plenty! A mile-by-mile guide:
Exit 400: Junction of I-90 and I-229; the start of the South Dakota trek.
Exit 399: Stock up on beverages and other provisions at Rentschler's Truck Plaza. There's a casino next door, and numerous motels in the area provide the traveler with a fine place to rest up for the journey ahead.
Exit 396: Junction of I-90 and I-29; alternate point of departure.
Exit 390: Buffalo Ridge ghost town; hardly worthy of the name "tourist trap" when compared to anything that follows. Through here, the road passes through gently rolling countryside with lots of farms.
Exit 363: Rest area just past Salem exit -- time to collect all the South Dakota literature that may have previously been overlooked.
Exits 332/330: Business loop to Mitchell, home of the World's Only Corn Palace (100 years old in 1992!), the Enchanted World Doll Museum across the street, and now the Balloon Museum down the next block! En route to the Palace, check out the front lawn of the Thunderbird Motel, where a menacing concrete gorilla threatens an adorable concrete jackalope. Ask yourself whether the owner of the Zesto Drive-In couldn't have picked a better name, or the owner of Beppo's Pizza couldn't have found a sign which didn't make the chef look like a pig. Buy lots of souvenirs and postcards. Buy lots of souvenirs.
Exit 264: Rest area overlooking the Missouri at Chamberlain. The West officially begins on the other side of the river; on this side, the small town of Chamberlain offers the last McDonald's for 200 miles and classic small-western-town atmosphere on its streets. From about Mile 275 on, the billboards mount -- Old West Town and Al's Oasis, in addition to the usual Black Hills suspects. Loop through town and take the steel-truss bridge across the river.
Exit 260: A triple threat here: Al's Oasis for gas, food, lodging and supplies; World Wildlife Adventures for a collection of stuffed trophies; and the Old West Museum for a collection of 100,000 (or so they claim) items assembled from around the state: old cars and other vehicles, guns, handcuffs, toy trains, and Lord only knows what else. The place, which opened in 1969, overwhelms by sheer volume more than enticing with anything special. Though the owners are friendly and helpful, the $4.50 adult admission's really not worth paying.
Exits 192/191: Business loop for Murdo, home to a classic old commercial strip of Fifties-era motels and restaurants (not a fast-food place in the bunch) and the Pioneer Auto Museum, finest attraction between Mitchell and Wall. The Pioneer Auto Museum, which opened in 1954, contains about 250 cars (including an Edsel and a Tucker), lots of motorcycles (including one owned by Elvis Presley at his death), numerous historic structures and artifacts salvaged from around the area, all arranged more artfully than at the Old West Museum. There are also nice collections of lunchboxes, semiprecious rocks, ladies' dresses, and anything else which struck the owners' fancy. Worth every cent of the $5.00 admission. Mountain Time begins just west of Murdo.
Exit 183: A "Ghost Town" at Okatoa seems to exist mostly as an enticement for motorists to stop for gas -- don't bother stopping unless your tank's low.
Exit 170: The "1880 Town," an assemblage of old buildings moved to the site of a gas station built when the Interstate was constructed. Good collection, especially since augmented by many props from the filming of "Dances with Wolves" around here.
Exits 152/150: Kadoka features both the Badlands Petrified Gardens and a Burns Brothers truck stop which attracts tourists with promises of "hot buffalo chips." The Petrified Gardens opened to tourists in 1956, constructed to face US 16, since bypassed. For $3.50, it offers a yardful of petrified wood, several displays of rocks which phosphoresce under ultraviolet light, and fossils dating back to the dinosaurs. The souvenir shop sells rocks and petrified wood by the pound, as well as polished agates and geodes. According to the Gardens' owner, South Dakota was nearly denuded of the billboards which give it character -- a new highway bill contained the money needed to buy and tear down nonconforming signs, but the Secretary of Transportation chose to spend the money in other ways. Uh oh...
Exit 131: At the eastern end of the Badlands, the Ranch Store offers a Stuckeyesque collection of souvenirs plus a chance to wander through a prairie dog colony and feed the inhabitants. Oh, and there's a national park around here, too.
Exit 110: The 80-foot dinosaur proclaims one's arrival at the Mecca of South Dakota, Ted and Bill Hustead's drugstore. The small casino across the street definitely detracts from the ambience, though nothing could spoil Wall Drug.
Wish I could have continued on through the Black Hills, but I had to turn around. I drove all the way back across the state, past Sioux Falls and down to Sioux City, Iowa, en route to Kansas City...
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