There’s a lot to love about the west, but there’s a lot of smoke and mirrors too. One side represents a simple life of tranquility, hard work, and active nature-enthusiasts, while the other side represents an idea that prays on hopes and dreams; it’s a façade, and it’s been luring the dreamers, the desperate, and the escapees for centuries. This idea, like its landscapes, are beautiful but dangerous, and most of the time they are much further away than they seem. But there is still something inherently dangerous and exciting that calls from the west and entices all to leave what is safe and familiar to take a chance exploring the sublime and open spaces of the great and wild western front in search of freedom, fame and fortune.
But why? And have tourists and dreamers been the butt of this cruel joke for decades?
Spare your kids dignity and don't pan for gold at Wall Drug
as a matter of fact, don’t pan for gold EVER. In case you missed that chapter in grammar school American History, the “gold rush” quite being lucrative about half-way through 1849…yeah, the first year it started. Stop perpetuating the ignorant idea to your child that moving out west entails some type of entrepreneurial-get-rich-quick secret to life. They aren’t going to find gold and you know it. You should be ashamed of yourself for setting them up for failure.
What exactly is Wall Drug?
It’s a drug store right off the desolate highway 90 in South Dakota that’s bigger than all the rest. That’s it. It thrives itself on this ridiculous façade the west created long ago to lure the desperate.. You can get anything from bobble heads to boot spurs, and see anything from banjo-playing dummies to a mechanical dinosaur. But, to be honest, I’m not sure if you can actually get a prescription filled?
Doesn’t this really embody that putrefied stereotype of “America” all together? But even after all this, the sick part is that you’ll stop anyway. I stopped. We always stop. Just don’t expect to find gold.
Corn Palace? Yes, that's correct; a palace made of corn.
Why? I assume the same reason all the other lonely western towns create absurd reasons to lure tourists, and the same reason South Dakota thought Wall Drug was a good idea. There is absolutely no good reason to come to this washed up and typical town, so let’s create a gimmick. Enter Corn Palace. Now, I admit I have absolutely no idea what’s inside. I rolled through at night, got out of my car, took a look, and left. It was weird. There wasn’t a soul in sight except for one drunk man that came lurking beneath the singular flashing lights of an empty casino. He asked me for money, and then nicely wondered back into the shadows of the sleepy town. Architectural genius? It’s made of corn: Architectural boredom. I think you should keep driving, but…again, I know you’ll stop. Just don’t make it a special trip.
4 Mile West - Old West Town (4 miles west of Custer, South Dakota)
4 mile is an old western ghost town that has been left as is. I pulled over since it looked like a nice place for some photos; old trucks, barns and stores tucked in the dry landscape. I even got a goofy shot behind a big ‘wanted’ poster. For a mere $8 you can enter the actual town and peruse the 50 homes and businesses-all fully furnished and see some of the historic relics left behind. I was a little creeped out when I walked in the front store to find a whole family attired in old western ware sitting around a large table playing cards. I got the feeling grandma was out back milking ol’ Bessie. I asked the middle aged woman that approached me what the deal was with this place. She recited a 4 minute spiel that was completely indifferent to my reactions and feedback. If I put a quarter in her mouth I could have heard the whole thing over again. I didn’t pay the $8, as a matter of fact I used that $8 for two beers at a keystone bar where a nice climber named Dave gave me a better route to Yellowstone (Rt 111). If I had children would I have paid the $8? Sure, but I don’t, and will gladly leave those attractions for those that do.
The strange commonality of these 3 stops is the people statues and commitment to living in the past. They are everywhere! Peeking out windows, playing poker, slinging back shots propped up on a barstool; all attired as if time was stopped in 1850, yet their images remain. If you want to go to the west for cowboys, saloons, and gun fights, you’re late. But if you don’t mind being part of the circus and living in the past, join the façade and go to wall drug, corn palace and 4 Mile Old West Town. It’s just enough to distract you from all the beauty the west currently is.
Crazy Horse Monument
I am wholeheartedly supportive of this monument and the hardworking Korczak Ziolkowski's family that refuses government funding from the same government that killed crazy horse, HOWEVER; There is a great view of crazy horse monument from the road and paying the $14 dollars will not get you much closer. I did pay the $14. I support the cause BUT still can’t help to feel a bit taken advantage of. It’s a good cause but that shouldn’t justify ripping people off. The fist $10 you pay gets you admission into the gift shops and museum. It’s huge, but this does not include the 3 minute bus trip to the foot of the mountain to get a closer look. That’s an additional $4. Crazy Horse Monument is more expensive that seeing Mt. Rushmore and isn’t finished yet. The monument should be the attraction not the gift shops. It will be incredible when it’s done and I have nothing but admiration for the dedicated family creating the masterpiece, no doubt, but there is a lot of smoke and mirrors.
Written and contributed by beth yost from www.crossingtheline.us