“You have to stop at Wall Drug,” said Kathy, my buffalo safari guide at Custer State Park. I’d just told her I was going to visit South Dakota’s Badlands the next day. “And make sure you get one of their homemade donuts – they’re legendary.” Decision made. I’ll travel just about anywhere for donuts. If there’s anything better than donuts, I haven’t found it yet.
The next morning, I left my Rapid City hotel and set off in blustery winds for the one-hour drive to the Badlands. And I do mean winds. I could barely hold my rented Subaru Outback on the highway, driving through what appeared to be a meteor shower. It might have been tumbleweeds, or it might not have been.
About ten minutes into the trip, I saw a huge road sign that said “Wall Drug – Pretty Close.” This was puzzling, as I knew I was not pretty close. The next sign said, “Wall Drug — 5¢ Coffee.” I started seeing similar signs every five minutes. It was then that I concluded Wall Drug was no ordinary pharmacy.
Wow, that was an understatement. Or under-thought, in this case.
I pulled into the quirky old west Main Street and saw that Wall Drug Store took up a whole lot of real estate in that chain of shops. I pulled open Wall Drug’s door, and instead of a pharmacy, I gazed upon rows of shops including an apothecary, western outfitters, chapel, bookstore, the ubiquitous tee-shirt shops, and three restrooms, all operating under the watch of myriad taxidermy beasts.
I stopped in one of the shops to chat with the shopkeeper, Eddie. “Wow, this isn’t what I was expecting!” I said. “We get that a lot.” said Eddie, who also worked at the Badlands and gave me a treasure trove of information about the national park, a map, and what route to take to get the best photos.
But where were the donuts? I continued to meander through the labyrinth of connected shops toward back of the Wall Drug tourist megaplex until finally I hit
gold dough. I ordered two donuts for the photo op I had in mind, got my 5¢ coffee and then began to scout the dining area. I found a pleasant-looking middle-aged couple talking amicably with a young woman who looked to be in her mid-to-late twenties. I took a seat at an empty table near them.
I took out my Nikon, arranged my tray, donuts, and coffee just so, and then paraded over to their table. I excused myself and then launched right into my [true] tale that I was a travel writer roaming the prairie lands without my photographer, and asked if one of them would please take a photo for me.
The older couple looked at each other, guffawed, and pointed to the young woman across the table from them. “She’s a professional photographer!” the man said. Come to find out, it was Katie Adkins, a budding new local talent whose show was being hosted at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology that very night!
Don’t you love it when that happens?
But I digress….
Katie graciously snapped a few photos for me, the four of us chatted for a few minutes, and then I went back to my own table.
Did I mention the donuts were maple frosted? If you ever get to Wall Drug in South Dakota, I highly recommend them. If you get two for your own photo op, don’t try to eat both of the deliciously dense treats or you’ll hate yourself afterwards.
I know of what I speak.