I-90 Roadside Attractions in Western South Dakota
Where can you find prairie dogs to feed, jackelopes to ride, and military missiles to ponder? Western South Dakota’s I-90 is home to these interesting roadside attractions and more. If you remember, we enjoyed a lot of great sites along I-90 in eastern South Dakota, and the western part of the state didn’t disappoint as we continued on our Birdy NPS 100 road trip.
Badlands Ranch Store
The world’s largest prairie dog has been greeting visitors to the Badlands Ranch Store since the 1950s. As we turned off I-90 to head south for our visit to the Badlands National Park, this roadside attraction called to our prairie-dog-loving hearts.
As soon as we exited the car, we spotted them…dozens of prairie dogs popping their heads out their holes. Some screeched a warning to their prairie dog friends, while others didn’t seem very worried about visitors.
If you head inside the store, you can buy a bag of unsalted peanuts, the preferred healthy treat for the prairie dogs. This $2 is definitely money well spent!
We bought our bags and headed out to feed the furry Ranch Store residents. It didn’t take long before we made friends. We don’t have prairie dogs where we live, so it is a rare treat to see them.
They definitely weren’t camera shy! Though they let us get quite close, they weren’t up for petting.
We think these two were talking about how awesome Birdy looks.
If you’re heading to the Badlands from I-90 or just wanting a unique place to stretch your legs, head to the Badlands Ranch Store for an unforgettable experience. We loved it!
Note: As you tour the West, you’re quite likely to see prairie dogs in their natural habitats. It is not advisable for you to feed them in the wild because they will become too accustomed to humans and to human foods. However, since the Ranch Store prairie dogs have been fed by tourists for generations, we didn’t quite consider them the same as regular wildlife.
You can’t drive across I-90 without seeing signs for its most famous roadside attraction: Wall Drug. In 1931, a couple bought a small drugstore in the middle of nowhere. Unfortunately, with the country in the midst of the Great Depression, they had trouble earning a good living.
After struggling for five years, one day the wife had an epiphany. What if the couple could pull in business by offering free water to people driving across the hot prairie? She created clever signs and posted them everywhere. People came for the water and bought much more. Soon, Wall Drug was a booming success.
Today, you’ll still see lots of creative signs lining the highway.
When you see the 40-foot tall dinosaur towering over I-90, you’ll know you’ve found your exit.
What started as a small-town drugstore now takes up several city blocks and offers much more than free water. (Note: If you’re making a stop while towing, you’ll find signs directing you to a large parking lot with much more room than the street parking shown here.)
I’m not sure exactly what I expected when I walked into Wall Drug, but I surely wasn’t expecting this. The entryway is lined with lots of taxidermied animals, unusual mannequins, and busy store fronts. I was perplexed.
Though I was initially a little taken aback, it didn’t take long to catch the spirit of Wall Drug. My husband caught a little spirit, too, and made friends with this saloon girl.
Wall Drug is the perfect place to hunt for the West’s mythical mascot: the jackalope! Here, you’ll find jackalopes to buy–and to ride.
To find the jackalope for this photo op, you’ll have to head to an area known as the backyard. Luckily, Wall Drug supplies maps to help you find your way around.
The backyard is packed with fun. You can get your picture made with a horse-drawn buggy, strange creatures, or a replica of Mount Rushmore. Of course, the strange creatures were our favorite. We couldn’t decide if this guy was creepy or cute.
We also found some real wildlife. Stuffed, of course.
Another fun element of the backyard is the splash pad. If you are traveling with little ones, be sure to bring in an extra set of clothes or a swimsuit.
Also, be sure to take advantage of the free water offer, which is still available to this day. Help yourself to a cup at a faucet in the backyard.
We hadn’t planned to eat at the Wall Drug Cafe, but after seeing the sign for roast beef hot plates and homemade donuts, we were drawn in. Both were perfect bites of Americana. The hot plate is available at the cafeteria line, while more options are available with the sit-down menu.
In the Wall Drug Cafe, you’ll also find a decent cup of coffee for a nickel. Can’t beat that! We splurged and had two cups each.
Wall Drug was such a fun roadside attraction! I can’t begin to describe all the strange and wonderful things you’ll find there. You really just have to stop to see it for yourself (but only if you have a sense of humor).
Minuteman Missile National Historic Site
The Minuteman Missile National Historic Site is a more somber roadside attraction, but I encourage you to make a stop. This site preserves part of our country’s scary Cold War history. Not long ago, our countryside was dotted with hidden missiles, ready to destroy the world in a minute’s notice. Most of these have been decommissioned, greatly reducing our nuclear arsenal.
The Minuteman site near Wall, South Dakota, was selected to be maintained as a historic site to teach future generations about this piece of the American timeline. Here, you’ll actually find three separate sites to explore.
First, you need to make a stop at the visitors center. This explains the background of the missile program and gives you a glimpse of what life was like for civilians and for military personnel during the Cold War.
Our kids were intrigued by the displays and spent a good amount of time reading the information and asking questions. In school, I don’t think they’ve covered this part of our history yet, so it was a good chance for us to talk about it with them.
You must arrive at the visitors center early (like 8 am early) if you’d like to visit another of the historic sites: the Delta-01 Launch Control Facility. This takes you to the missile command center–the place where the button would have release the destructive missile.
A limited number of guided tours are available on a first-come first serve basis. Due to the size of the facility, only 6 people can tour at a time. Tickets are snapped up quickly. If your family is interested, be sure to visit the NPS site to read about the restrictions and recommendations. They have some safety requirements you must consider before visiting. I know our family would have learned a lot with this tour, but our timeline didn’t allow for it.
Finally, if you’d like to see an actual missile silo, make a stop at Delta-09. This is located a few miles away from the visitors center, but I highly recommend making the trek. It is just off the interstate, making for an easy stop.
Here, you’ll find an audio tour explaining various sections of the site. It runs a little long, but we opted to listen to most of it. To listen, you just dial numbers on your phone, which we put on speakerphone for our tour.
Lean over the railing to peer through the glass at the missile replica below.
Just thinking about these missiles chilled me to the bone. However, despite the seriousness of this roadside attraction, I truly recommend putting it on your list.
Chamberlain Rest Area
We were intrigued by the large white teepees that marked the South Dakota rest areas along I-90 and finally pulled off to check one out. We ended up being delighted by the Lewis & Clark rest area in Chamberlain.
Stepping inside is more like stepping into a tiny museum. This one has a lot of information and several displays about Native American tribes and about Lewis & Clark. They even have a replica keelboat (we had already seen a different one at an earlier stop in Iowa). Stretch your legs and learn some history.
Then, take a walk outside to the scenic overlook. After driving through the flat prairies of South Dakota, it’s a bit of a shock to finally see the Missouri River and the huge valley it has carved.
For us, the journey is as enjoyable as the destination, so we love pulling off for places like this. I-90 through western South Dakota is chock full of great places to take a rest, have some fun, or learn some history.Find Travels with Birdy:
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