Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Nostalgic tourism in South Dakota

Okay, I'll admit that South Dakota isn't quite Route 66, but we do have our share of classic roadside Americana. I defy you to pick up any book on the subject that doesn't at least feature Wall Drug. I love this stuff that I call "Nostalgia Tourism." For the photographer, images that scream "ROAD TRIP!" are waiting to be taken everywhere you turn.

If you make your way east to west across South Dakota without becoming aware that you are getting closer to Wall Drug, someone else must be driving and you are asleep. Since the 1930s, Wall's once-tiny drug store has used hundreds (if not thousands) of billboards to offer up free ice water, homemade donuts, and mounted jackalopes for sale.

Finding the photos in the now-sprawling complex of gift shops, restaurants, t-shirt emporiums, and roaring T-rex statues can be a daunting task. Do you throw on the 20mm and try to capture it all in one shot?

Or do you use a medium telephoto to isolate some souvenir items out of the chaos?

And yes, you can still take the snapshot of Uncle Harry riding that giant jackalope in the background of the picture above.

A flash is a must as some areas of the store are dark. There are no restrictions on photography here, but in the height of summer it can get very crowded. I wouldn't expect to be able to use a tripod in Wall Drug unless you are there in the off season.

The Black Hills offer some unusual roadside attractions that make for great photos, including Flintstones Bedrock City in Custer, Reptile Gardens outside of Rapid City, Parade of Presidents Wax Museum in Keystone, and Dinosaur Park (below).

Located on a ridgetop in the heart of Rapid City, Dinosaur Park was a Depression-era WPA construction project. Five concrete dinosaurs make some great images against the sky or the panoramic Black Hills. With a wide angle and a polarizer, those summer clouds really make the picture dramatic.

Approximately 5 miles south of Deadwood on Highway 385 in the northern Black Hills is Boondocks, kind of a mini 1950's theme park. The old cars in this shot are parked at the drive-in all the time, and really add to the atmosphere. Exploring the grounds you will find more kitschy souvenirs to shoot, an old-fashioned ferris wheel, and a Studebaker service station.

In the southern Black Hills, Ken's Minerals and Trading Post on the east edge of Custer looks like it hasn't changed much since the 1960s or earlier and provides more concrete dinosaurs.

In the northeastern part of South Dakota, Aberdeen has several nostalgic attractions that make great photos. An iconic drive-in restaurant, Twist Cone looks right out of a scene in "American Grafitti."

On the northwest edge of Aberdeen is Storybookland, a walk-through park filled with fiberglass statues of the Three Little Pigs, Mother Goose, and Paul Bunyan, etc. along with their houses, castles, a train, etc.

Rapid City has a very similar park called Storybook Island.

Other options for classic travel photographs in South Dakota are Prairie Village outside of Madison, Pioneer Auto Museum in Murdo, Porter Sculpture Park on I-90 near Montrose, and the "World's Largest Prairie Dog" at Cactus Flats, the "World's Largest Pheasant" in Huron, and Mitchell's "World's Only Corn Palace" (see earlier post).

4 comments: said...

Good article and info about Nostalgic tourism in south dakota ...why not to know about Borneo Tourism

Anonymous said...

Love that Twist Cone photo.

It might not work for your line of work but shooting goofy tourists doing goofy things at places like Wall Drug can be fun too. Something about people on vacation can make them do the dumbest things.

~*Brooke*~ said...

Your photography is amazing!! I am an aspring photographer and since I live in South Dakota, most of my work comes from this beautiful state! I love it!

Chad Coppess said...

Thanks Brooke. I hope I can be somewhat inspiring, that's the whole point of this blog. Good luck shooting your pictures!