Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Route 66 has nothing on South Dakota

As I was researching my recent Route 66 trip something struck me about similarities between vacations here in South Dakota and that famous roadtrip destination.

In fact, I began to realize that the things Route 66 is known for - quirky roadside attractions, classic eateries and nostalgic tourism - are just as plentiful in South Dakota and in a much more compact, accessible package. Not to belittle the "Mother Road," but an east-to-west roadtrip across the "Great Faces, Great Places" state brings travelers face to face with numerous fun attractions in roughly 400 miles instead of more than 2,000.

Even our rest areas/information centers along Interstate 90 feature giant concrete teepees beckoning drivers from miles away. This one is at Chamberlain, just before you cross the Missouri River near the center of the state.

Starting our trip back near the eastern border, Sioux Falls offers roadside Americana fans a giant walk-through bass at the Outdoor Campus...

The beautiful Phillips Avenue Diner downtown...

....and a Milky Way drive inn on both ends of town.

Heading west near Montrose, travelers are astonished at the giant Egyptian bull head and many more whimsical metal statues at the Porter Sculpture Park.

No roadtrip is complete without a stop at at the World's Only Corn Palace in Mitchell.

Al's Oasis in Oacoma on the west bank of the Missouri River is a traditional stop for many South Dakotans. The giant buffalo statue fits right into our theme.

Transportation fans won't want to miss Murdo's Pioneer Auto Show with several buildings stuffed full of classic vehicles and other antiques.

Old West history comes to life at the 1880 Town near Belvidere. The recreated pioneer town is a favorite with photographers as well.

This style of roadtrip adventure must include several "world's largest" somethings and the concrete prairie dog at the Ranch Store off Exit 131 fits the bill very well.

Known the world over for free ice water and advertising signs, Wall Drug is the undisputed king of roadside attractions. While it's impossible to miss the 80 foot Wall Drug Dinosaur along the highway, the sprawling gift shop/restaurant/art gallery is vacation nostalgia at its absolute best. Jackalopes, singing cowboys, and rubber tomahawks, plus more!

Once you reach Rapid City and the Black Hills, you've hit another jackpot of attractions. Two free parks standout - Storybook Island with many statues and play areas for the kids...

...and Dinosaur Park's concrete behemoths atop a ridge in the middle of town.

Reptile Gardens contains the world's largest collection of snakes, alligators, crocodiles, etc. and is celebrating their 75th year as a Black Hills visitor stop.

Kids of all ages will love Flintstones Bedrock City theme park in Custer.

The Mammoth Site in Hot Springs has this life-size statue out front and many skeletons inside.

If all of this isn't enough, we cap it off with the world's largest carving, Crazy Horse Memorial, just north of Custer and...

....quite possibly the most famous mountain carving in the world - Mount Rushmore near Keystone.

So there you have it. We had a great time on our Route 66 trip, but I'll stack up South Dakota against it any day!

In addition, South Dakota has even more than this to offer the nostalgia tourism fan. I'll be posting about more great attractions in the future. We can't forget the world's largest pheasant or Cosmos Mystery Area!