The Ultimate South Dakota Road Trip Itinerary

Discover Mount Rushmore, Badlands National Park, Custer State Park, Sioux Falls, and more on a road trip through South Dakota

South Dakota was made for road trips: There are scenic, paved roads that lead to national treasures, natural anomalies, perfectly preserved Wild West towns, and quirky attractions. Whether you’re a history buff, foodie, or nature lover, this Midwest state delivers. Read on for the ultimate South Dakota road trip itinerary including where to stop, what to do, and more.

Mitchell Corn Palace © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mitchell Corn Palace

Any drive through the Midwest will bring you face-to-face with cornstalks taller than you can imagine. The Mitchell Corn Palace in South Dakota celebrates all things corn—starting with this prairie town in the middle of nowhere. A pair of rounded turrets and two massive domes thrust into the sky capping off walls adorned in six different types of native grass and multi-story murals depicting famous South Dakota sights. A marquee reading “South Dakota Home Grown” stands over the main entrance. All of it is made from multi-colored ears of corn.

Wall Drug Store © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wall Drug Store

Nestled in the town of Wall in the western part of the state, Wall Drug has grown from its humble beginnings in 1931 to a thriving oasis. Wall Drug offers dining, activities, gifts and souvenirs, visitor information and, of course, free ice water. Many road-worn travelers stop at Wall Drug and leave awake and refreshed just like they did more than 80 years ago. 

Wall Drug Store © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But it wasn’t always a thriving business attracting 2 million visitors each year to the small town of Wall. Ted and Dorothy Hustead struggled to make Wall Drug successful in the early days. But the story of Wall Drug was a story of success because one simple idea took root: Offering travelers free ice water. Soon travelers would make a point to stop at Wall Drug to enjoy a refreshing break and they haven’t stopped coming to Wall Drug since. Stop at Wall Drug and see what the excitement is all about.

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Badlands National Park

At first blush, it doesn’t sound like the best place to go. After all, it’s called Badlands! But it’s gorgeous with towering, striated red-and-gray rock formations. Not to mention all the wildlife visitors can see here—big-horned sheep, bison, pronghorns, burrowing owls, and whole towns of adorable prairie dogs. Native Lakota people named this 400-square-mile maze of buttes, canyons, pinnacles, and spires “Mako Sica” or “Bad Land.” Nowadays, it is usually tagged as “surreal” or “otherworldly.” State Route 240—also known as the Badlands Loop State Scenic Byway—leads visitors on a 38-mile odyssey through the center of the park. The route features 16 scenic overlooks and eight trails, ranging from handicapped-accessible quarter-mile boardwalks to a 10-mile-long trek.

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Custer State Park

Nearly 1,300 magnificent bison wander the park’s 71,000 acres which they share with the swift pronghorn, shy elk, sure-footed mountain goats, and a band of curious burros. Visitors often enjoy close encounters with these permanent residents along the 18-mile Wildlife Loop Road that winds around the southern edge of the park. Slender granite formations nicknamed “the needles” dominate the skyline, and grassy meadows fill the valleys. Visitors can explore the park via trail rides, scenic drives, mountain bikes, paddle-boats, hay rides, and even safari tours.

Needles Highway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Needles Highway

The Needles Highway is more than a 14-mile road—it’s a spectacular drive through pine and spruce forests, meadows surrounded by birch and aspen, and rugged granite mountains. The road’s name comes from the needlelike granite formations that seem to pierce the horizon along the highway. Visitors traveling the highway pass Sylvan Lake and a unique rock formation called the Needle’s Eye, so named for the opening created by wind, rain, freezing, and thawing.

Sylvan Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Midway along this route, a turnout called The Cathedral Spires offers stunning views of the rocky outcroppings juxtaposed with Harney Peak, the highest point between the Rockies and the Alps.

Mount Rushmore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mount Rushmore

It’s finally time to see the Founding Fathers’ faces carved into the mountain—the enormity of the sculpture is truly a sight to see. Each year, approximately three million tourists from all over the world visit Mount Rushmore to experience this patriotic site. Today, the wonder of the mountain reverberates through every visitor. The four “great faces” of the Presidents tower 5,725 feet above sea level and are scaled to men who would stand 465 feet tall. The park includes a half-mile walking trail, museum, gift shop and dining room. 

Worth Pondering…

Let us place there, carved high, as close to heaven as we can, the words of our leaders, their faces, to show posterity what manner of men they were. Then breathe a prayer that these records will endure until the wind and rain alone shall wear them away.

—Gutzon Borglum, Mount Rushmore Sculptor, 1930

Wall Drug: America’s Favorite Roadside Attraction

Wall Drug is NOT your typical drug store

Ever see one of those weird signs along the side of the road that read “Wall Drug, 3,472 miles,” and been like “I saw a Walgreens like three exits ago!” But, Wall Drug is NOT your typical drug store but rather a landmark shopping extravaganza off I-90 an hour east of Mount Rushmore and the Black Hills.

Wall Drug © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In addition to four city blocks of every local souvenir imaginable, it has a restaurant with buffalo burgers and fresh doughnuts, life-sized dinosaur replicas, a jackalope that you can ride—and FREE ICE WATER!

Wall Drug © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of the world’s most well-known tourist stops, it’s hard to believe Wall Drug Store got its start with something we wouldn’t even turn our heads at today—the promise of free ice water. But in fact, Ted and Dorothy Hustead turned free ice water into a million dollar idea with a little determination and quick thinking.

Wall Drug © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How do you make a living in a town of 230 people that is unanimously described as being “in the middle of nowhere” by residents and tourists alike during the middle of the Great Depression? You work with what you have—even if it’s not much. This is the story of how a tiny little drug store became the world famous Wall Drug. 

Wall Drug © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The history of Wall Drug as we know it began back in 1931, when Nebraskan Ted Hustead bought it. He was looking to move to a small town with a Catholic Church and open a pharmacy, and Wall, South Dakota met his requirements.

Business was pretty slow at first—total shocker, right? It was Dorothy who finally dreamed up a brilliant plan to bring in more customers to their establishment: put up billboards offering free cups of refreshing ice water to tourists passing near Wall on their way to Mount Rushmore, about 60 miles west.

Wall Drug © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The year was 1936. The Great Depression gripped the nation, and the Dust Bowl made things doubly bad on the high plains. It’s doubtful many businesses had worse prospects than Hustead’s small establishment in that small town in the far reaches of western South Dakota.

Wall Drug © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

So remote and drought-stricken was Wall that, when Ted bought the town’s drug store, his father-in-law told him, “You know, Wall is just about as Godforsaken as you can get.”

Wall Drug © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ted put the signs up along Route 16A (Interstate 90 would eventually come through Wall, but not until 1969), and the tourists came. They stopped for the free ice water. They bought ice cream. And since then, they’ve bought millions of touristy trinkets and spent countless hours partaking of the free, fun and shopping that is the modern Wall Drug.

Wall Drug © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Their advertising campaign pretty much set the standard for tourist attractions: you can find billboards advertising Wall Drug lining the highways—especially I-90 between Minnesota and Billings, Montana. You can even find billboards for Wall Drug in the most unexpected of places, like Antarctica.

Over 80 years later the 76,000-square-foot drug store—which now includes restaurants, Western art galleries, shops and children’s activities along with a pharmacy—draws thousands of visitors each summer day.

Wall Drug © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wall Drug is a rest stop from the era when you really would stop to rest, rather than pull off the interstate, gas up, and go. It’s a rest stop worth taking because once the roads get this long—and the roads here do get long—you really do need more than a few minutes to decompress before facing the next stretch of asphalt.

Wall Drug © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But, Wall Drug more than a tourist trap—it’s an icon. It brings in 2 million visitors each year to a town that people would ordinarily drive right past without a second thought. But the fact that, even though it has grown into a massive complex of kitsch and touristy cliches, they’ll still serve you a free cup of ice water when you pull up, really does say it all.

Wall Drug © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Free Ice Water. It brought us Husteads a long way and it taught me my greatest lesson, and that’s that there’s absolutely no place on God’s earth that’s Godforsaken. No matter where you live, you can succeed, because wherever you are, you can reach out to other people with something that they need!

—Ted Hustead, founder of Wall Drug

a-MAIZ-ing Corn-fused Roadside Attraction

The Corn Palace is an a-maiz-ing marvel of agricultural innovation

A two-story mural of Willie Nelson is made completely of corn. The high school team is called the Kernels. Their mascot is Cornelius. You gotta embrace it! Mitchell may well be the corniest city in America. No city is as singularly associated with a building as Mitchell is with its iconic arena/community center’s 43,000-square-foot piece of folk art known as the Corn Palace. And the people lean into it. Hard!

Mitchell Corn Palace © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Paris has the Eiffel Tower and Mitchell has the icon of innovation­—the amazing Corn Palace. The Mitchell Corn Palace is the only corn palace in the world, a fact you’ll see on varied billboards lining Interstate 90 as you speed through South Dakota. As curiosity lures you off the highway, you’ll pull onto Mitchell’s small-town Main Street and find a bright-gold behemoth that looks like a tornado hit Moscow and dropped part of the Kremlin on the prairie.  

Mitchell Corn Palace © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A pair of rounded turrets and two massive domes thrust into the sky capping off walls adorned in six different types of native grass and multi-story murals depicting famous South Dakota sights. A marquee reading “South Dakota Home Grown” stands over the main entrance. All of it is made from multi-colored ears of corn.

Mitchell Corn Palace © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Any drive through the Midwest will bring you face-to-face with cornstalks taller than you can imagine. The Mitchell Corn Palace in South Dakota celebrates all things corn—starting with this prairie town in the middle of nowhere. This “palace” looks like something straight out of Russia, built in 1892 to showcase South Dakota’s bountiful harvests.

Mitchell Corn Palace © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And though it might be tempting to write off the Corn Palace as yet another kitschy South Dakota roadside attraction, its origins far predate the interstate. Or even the automobile.

Mitchell Corn Palace © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The first corn palace was built in 1892, but back then it wasn’t the only one in the world. Or even in the state. There were several of them throughout South Dakota and into Nebraska and Iowa. Stroll past the Corn-cession stand in the main concourse. Everything around us smells like popcorn. It was a celebration for the farmers, for all their hard work on the harvest. They wanted to pay homage to agriculture. And over time for whatever reason those communities did not maintain their corn palace and Mitchell thought, ‘hey, this is a cool thing. We’re going to keep going’.

Mitchell Corn Palace © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And keep going they did: Through 128 years and three different locations until settling on the current one at 604 North Main Street in 1920. Though the building’s longevity is impressive, what’s perhaps most astounding is that Mitchell redoes the entire thing every year. Before spring planting, the city decides on the theme for the murals that will adorn the Corn Palace for the coming year. This year’s, for example, is “South Dakota Home Grown.” Once the theme is established, a team of students from Dakota Wesleyan University designs the murals. Based on the color scheme, a single local farmer then grows over 375,000 ears of corn in 12 different varieties to match the motif.

Mitchell Corn Palace © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Once harvest comes—typically in late September—the corn is soaked in giant water buckets to make it pliable. Giant tar paper outlines are plastered on the Corn Palace walls with color coded sections determining which corn goes where. Workers then air-nail the corn to the tar paper in a sort of paint-by-numbers game until the entire palace is covered. Typically it’s ready by the beginning of December but all of that is weather-dependent. They’re not going to have people decorating when it’s 20 below and a blizzard is blowing.

Mitchell Corn Palace © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The grass is generally replaced in June or July when it shines the brightest green. So if you want to see the Corn Palace in its full Technicolor glory early summer is probably the best time to visit. The entire project costs about $175,000 which is a small investment for something that draws half a million visitors annually.

Mitchell Corn Palace © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Of course, droughts or floods can affect the crop. So some years there’s not enough corn to redo the whole thing and murals stay up for two years or more. Though the corn doesn’t rot, it fades, and birds pick off parts of the building.

Mitchell Corn Palace © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Though you’ll never find a shortage of roadside gawkers wandering the corn-cob concourses of the Corn Palace and the gift shop that occupies the arena floor, it has practical uses too. It hosts 335 events a year including high school and Dakota Wesleyan athletics, concerts, and festivals.

Mitchell Corn Palace © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Corn is not just corn―there are many different types. The kind people eat on the cob is known as sweet corn (Zea mays convar. saccharata var. rugosa). The corn that dominates most American farms is known as field corn (Zea mays indentata). And if you’re looking for popcorn, that’s a whole different kind of corn, too. This kind of corn is simply called popcorn (Zea mays everta). Corn is not just corn.

Find Your Passion: What Type of Road Trip Is Right For You?

The open road is calling

After an unpredictable first half of 2020, we can all agree that we’re itching to travel. Road trips have been a huge summer trend in the current climate mainly because it’s safer than flying. You’re in complete control of your adventure—there’s no waiting in airport security lines, sitting in crowded spaces, or fees for missing your departure. There’s a sense of adventure that’s so satisfying, discovering all that America has to offer…right in your backyard.

Gettysburg National Military Park, Pennsylvania © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A recent survey conducted by Ford Motor Company found that people are really looking to reconnect with friends, family, and the great outdoors in their travels this summer. More than a third of the respondents ranked wanting to visit family or friends who live within driving distance as their top reason for taking a road trip. Considering the impact of social distancing and restrictions on being able to travel this makes sense. The survey also found that people are looking to slow down and make the most of their time away from home. More than 20 percent wanted to take a road trip just so they could explore and see the sights along the way to their destination.

Greenville, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Planning an RV road trip has endless opportunities from camping beside a lake or river, visiting national parks, roadside attractions, tasting the local cuisine, or even taking some time for well-deserved relaxation. You’re not restricted to flying on a schedule, renting a car, and booking a hotel like other vacations. And it’s okay if it doesn’t go as planned—it might actually be more fun. Veering off on the road less traveled also makes for a great adventure. Not sure what type of road trip to take? Here are three different themes around which to plan your summer road trip.

El Moro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

National Park Road Trip

Yes, we all know the Grand Canyon (it’s breathtaking) and Joshua Tree (it’s amazing) but did you know that there are 419 National Park Service sites in America? Of these, 62 have a national park designation. Planning a road trip to visit national parks is for the history buff and outdoorsy type who enjoys hiking and camping.

Mount St. Helens National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Discover hidden gems like El Moro in New Mexico, Mount St. Helens in Washington, and Cumberland Island in Georgia. Explore the Mighty Five in Utah planning a camping adventure along the way. Chances are there are lesser-known national parks within a few hours of your home that you’ve never visited, possibly Cedar Breaks in Utah, Gettysburg in Pennsylvania, or Montezuma Castle in Arizona.

Texas BBQ © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Taste America Road Trip

As much as tourists want to see the sights, they also want to taste the local food. For the foodies out there, that’s what road trips revolve around. They’re known for finding the best restaurants, seeking out underground spots, and trying cuisine that they can’t get back home.

Kolaches at Weikel’s Bakery in La Grande, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Creating a road trip around food can literally go anywhere. Definitely make some stops down south for some true southern hospitality. Texas barbecue pitmasters provide an excuse for a road trip to just about any far-flung corner of Texas.

Cracklins © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Louisiana’s food is legendary. Rôder (pronounced row-day) in Cajun French means to roam, or run the roads and Lafayette is the perfect destination, Southern Living’s Tastiest Town in the South. Where else can you tour a rice plantation, a crawfish farm, and a pepper growing facility before enjoying a dish that combines them all? Avery Island’s Tabasco Experience is perhaps the most well-known foodie attraction. And the area also has its own Boudin Trail. Don’t miss the opportunity to chow down on dishes like crawfish etouffee, cracklins, and gumbo.

La Posta in Historic Mesilla, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

No adventure in New Mexico is complete until you have experienced their unique cuisine. Unlike any other, it is a blend of flavors from Spanish and Native American cultures that has been perfected over the course of 400 years. At the center of it all is the New Mexican chile in both red and green varieties which is used in everything from enchiladas to ice cream and wine. Whether you’re looking for a dining experience that’s received a James Beard award or an authentic dive off the beaten path, you will find it here.

Woodford Reserve Distillery tour © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Along with food, add some brewery tour stops to explore local beer and spirits too. Take a trip on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail to discover heritage sites, working distillery tours, tasting rooms, a whiskey museum, and the rolling green pastures of Bluegrass Country.

Giant Peachoid © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Roadside Attractions

All manner of strange and interesting pit stops are found across the country. Road trips wouldn’t be nearly as exciting without these alluring, wacky, and fun landmarks. America plays host to some of the weirdest off-beat roadside attractions found anywhere. Check out these six strange roadside attractions on your next road trip across the country: Paisano Pete (giant roadrunner) in Fort Stockton, Texas; Peachoid in Gaffney, South Carolina; desert sculptors in Borrego Springs, California; World’s Largest Killer Bee in Hidalgo, Texas; World’s Largest Roadrunner in Las Cruces, New Mexico; and World’s Largest Pistachio in Alamogordo, New Mexico.

World’s Largest Pistachio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Better stock up on boudin and pork cracklins, kolache and doughnuts, and other snack foods—there are going to be many, many detours in your future.

World’s Largest Roadrunner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

No matter which way you road trip, you’ll get to see America through a lens that perhaps you didn’t experience before. After being kept home for months with previous trips cancelled, it’s a journey of self discovery and learning more about off-beat places in America. It will demonstrate that you don’t need to hop a plane and fly across the ocean to seek adventure. Who knows where the road will take you, but I’m sure it’ll make for a great story. And don’t forget your camera!

Worth Pondering…

Destination is merely a byproduct of the journey.

—Eric Hansen

Totally Texas

We rounded up as many “totally Texas” things to do, places to go, people to know, and sights to see

With COVID-19 (Coronavirus) everyone’s lives—yours and ours—were thrown into a scrambled state of flux. Someday, we’ll all be ready to pack the RV again and head out on our next adventure. In the meantime, here’s some inspiration for the future.

Texas is big, beautiful, and diverse. It’s not so exaggerated to think of Texas as a whole country—800 miles wide and nearly that far from north to south.

There is something for everyone is Texas, from sunny seacoast to mile-high mountains, dense forests to cactus-studded desert, and great cities to small villages and towns.

Texas is big and brawny in every way, a state brimming with natural assets.

Big Bend

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Few national parks can match the scenic variety of Big Bend. A land graced with desert, mountain, and river environments makes for a compelling study in contrasts. The Chihuahuan Desert, with its vastness and stark beauty, is joined by the abrupt canyons of the Rio Grande and the forested peaks of the Chisos Mountains.

San Antonio

San Antonio Riverwalk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of America’s most beautiful cities, San Antonio has a great deal to offer. Fantastic museums, the wonderful and unbelievably photogenic Riverwalk, HemisFair Park and, of course, The Alamo are but a few of its highlights. And if you like the Alamo, you’ll love the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, a string of four 15th- and 16th-century Spanish missions in and around the city. Another impressive aspect of San Antonio is the food.

Hill Country

Guadalupe River at Kerrville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Call it kitsch appeal, call it hokey, but the Texas Hill Country is one fantastic region. There are the little German towns in the center, like Kerrville and Fredericksburg, and dozens of other small towns nestled in the rolling hills. There’s canoeing, rafting, tubing, and kayaking along the numerous rivers, and LBJ Ranch and Luckenbach.

Fredericksburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When Waylon Jennings first sang about Luckenbach, the town in the Hill Country where folks “ain’t feelin’ no pain,” it instantly put this otherwise non-place on the map. The population is about 10, and all that’s here is the old General Store, a town hall, and a dance hall.

Galveston Island

Bishop’s Palace, Galveston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Come to the island to stroll the beach or splash in the waves. Or come to the island to go fishing or look for coastal birds. No matter what brings you here, you’ll find a refuge at Galveston Island State Park. Just an hour from Houston, but an island apart!

Galveston Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Texas coast is on an hourglass-shaped migratory path called the Central Flyway that extends from Alaska to South America. This makes Galveston Island State Park a must-see birding spot, especially with its combination of beach, prairie, and marsh.

Shiner

The Little Brewery in Shiner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shiner, Texas is home to 2,069 people, Friday’s Fried Chicken, and—most famously—the Spoetzal Brewery where every drop of Shiner beer is brewed. Tours are offered throughout the week, where visitors can see how their popular brews get made. Tours and samples are free. Founded in 1909, the little brewery today sends more than 6 million cases of delicious Shiner beer across the country. Founder, Kosmos Spoetzal, would be pretty proud! To which we say “Prosit!”

Monahans Sandhills

Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The 4,000 acres of wind-sculpted sand dunes found at this Texas state park resemble a landscape straight out of the Sahara. The Harvard Oaks that cover more than 40,000 acres here seldom rise above 3 feet in height, even though their root structure may extend down 90 feet or more. The park offers an interpretive center and museum, as well as picnicking and camping…and many visitors’ favorite activity, sand surfing.

Enchanted Rock

Enchanted Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Enchanted Rock, the 425-foot-high dome that is the centerpiece of Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, is one of the largest exposed batholiths in the country. It is a massive pink granite dome that formed when molten rock solidified beneath the surface more than a billion years ago. The summit of Enchanted Rock is easily accessed via the park’s Summit Trail. The trail begins at the Westside parking area, where it descends briefly into an arroyo before ascending quickly.    

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

You may all go to hell and I will go to Texas.

—Davy Crockett

Wacky and Fun Roadside Attractions across America

Roadside attractions exist between major destinations as detours on the way to someplace else

All manner of strange and interesting pit stops are found across the country. Road trips wouldn’t be nearly as exciting without these alluring, alarming, and sometimes disappointing landmarks. Truth be told, America plays host to some of the weirdest roadside attractions found anywhere. Here are six of the strangest roadside attractions you need to check out on your next road trip across the country.

Better stock up on boudin and pork cracklins, kolache and doughnuts, and other snack foods—there are going to be many, many detours in your future.

Paisano Pete

Paisano Pete © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There’s a really big roadrunner in Texas. His name is Paisano Pete and he wants to welcome you to the town of Fort Stockton (he is their mascot, after all). An off-beat roadside attraction, Paisano Pete has been a fixture in this West Texas town since 1979.

Paisano Pete © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Paisano Pete was for many years the World’s Largest Roadrunner. In 1993, Pete lost his world’s largest title to an enormous statue in Las Cruces, New Mexico, but this hasn’t dimmed his appeal nor stopped him from becoming Fort Stockton’s most photographed resident. And at 22 feet long and 11 feet tall, he’s still pretty big.

Peachoid

Peachoid © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As thousands of drivers motor down Interstate 85 each day, their attention is caught by the Gaffney (South Carolina) Peachoid, the water tower’s sphere which is sculpted and painted to look like a gigantic peach. The multi-story Gaffney Peachoid, the world’s largest peach, has grown to become the region’s most famous roadside stop.

Town Too Tough To Die

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Live out all of your Wild West dreams in Tombstone, Arizona, the location of the infamous Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Cowboys, cowgirls, and wannabes fill up the town’s saloons and the O.K. Corral museum puts on reenactments of Wyatt Earp’s 1881 shootout. The buildings are so well maintained and the townsfolk so authentic that at times it’s easy to think you’ve landed on a John Wayne movie set.

Fantastical Creatures Roam the Desert

Galleta Meadows © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While some creatures are ambitious fantasies such as a 350-foot-long serpent arcing across the playa, many of the sculptures represent real-life creatures that once roamed this land. In 2008, Ricardo Breceda was commissioned by local philanthropist Dennis Avery to make sculptures for his extensive desert property known as Galleta Meadows, but the creatures seem to have multiplied around town.

Galleta Meadows © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To find Breceda’s 130 or so rust-red, scrap-metal sculptures, pick up a detailed map at the Anza-Borrego Desert Natural History Association bookstore in Borrego Springs (also a great place for nature-themed gifts).

Mother of All Tourist Traps

Wall Drug © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of (if not the) the most prominent tourist traps has to be Wall Drug. But what the heck is it? It’s like a gigantic greatest-hits collection of roadside kitsch with an entire town built around the sprawling drugstore. Once there, you’ll experience dinosaurs both statuesque and animatronic.

Wall Drug © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You’ll see giant jackalopes, singing cowboys, Western art, a shooting gallery, and the requisite tacky Western tropes. As advertised, the ice water is still free, the donuts are delicious, and the open-face turkey sandwich is a gut buster. You will leave with a bumper sticker that says “Where the heck is Wall Drug.” In a state that also boasts the Mitchell Corn Palace, it manages to be the kind of roadside America.

World’s Largest Killer Bee

Killer Bee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Killer Bees have been around since the 1950s when some African queens escaped a Brazil lab and began flirting with the local gentry. Their volatile spawn migrated north, growing nastier with each succeeding generation. In October of 1990, they illegally crossed the U.S. border at Hidalgo, Texas.

Killer Bee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Most towns would view this occasion with horror, something best left unmentioned in the hope that it would be forgotten. Happily, Hidalgo was blessed with a mayor who knew that killer bees bring honey as well as a sting. John Franz gave the media the buzz: Hidalgo was “Killer Bee Capital of the World” and proud of it.

Worth Pondering…

Because the greatest part of a road trip isn’t arriving at your destination. It’s all the wild stuff that happens along the way.

—Emma Chase