“You have to stop at Wall Drug,” said Kathy, my buffalo safari guide at Custer State Park. I’d just told her that my road trip in South Dakota was taking me to the 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 the 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? Maples is my Achilles Heel — even more than chocolate.
If you’re thinking of a South Dakota road trip, I highly recommend a stop at Wall Drug for the donuts. 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 afterward.
I know of what I speak.