Saturday, July 06, 2013

South Dakota adventure part 3: Wall Drug teaches us how to approach life more boldly

This was the scene just moments before disaster struck. Do not trust this jackalope.

WALL, S.D. – We don’t know exactly what happened.

We might never know.

But I looked down and saw the Gnome of Victory and Celebration shattered and sprawled near the hind legs of a giant jackalope in Wall Drug’s “back yard.”

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

After experiencing the Corn Palace, we stopped along the way in Chamberlain for lunch at Pizza Hut – and an impromptu visit to the South Dakota Hall of Fame – before heading to the Akta Lakota Museum.

The museum is an outreach of the St. Joseph’s Indian School to educate about the Northern Plains Indian culture through artifacts and artwork. It’s very classy and educational.

That makes it a stark contrast to the next planned destination, Wall Drug.

Confession: I was really looking forward to checking out Wall Drug.

Its owners are famous for turning an out-of-the-way pharmacy into a major tourist destination through a plethora of signs and the promise of free ice water – and so much more.

We counted 87 signs between Sioux Falls and Wall – we had a contest – though there was a flurry at the end that made it hard to get a proper tally.

The place is a glorious explosion of kitsch. It’s sort of a mini mall, complete with a café and chapel, with a host of odd attractions mixed in.

It’s actually the kind of place where a guy walking around with a Mets gnome would not attract a lot of attention. There are many strange things at Wall Drug.

Oh, the moving, growling T-Rex that seems poised to break from his pen every 12 minutes was pretty cool.

But the really fun stuff was the collection in what Wall calls its “backyard,” which is more of a courtyard.

Here we are enjoying our free ice water.

We decided that this was a scary rabbit.
The Mount Rushmore mock-up seemed safe enough.

 There’s a replica of Mount Rushmore, some stuffed bison and rabbits of various sizes. There are the taps with the legendary free water – through it wasn’t quite icy.

But the key attractions sit side by side. First, there is Sam the Singing Gorilla. For 50 cents, he’ll play the piano and sing “Alley Oop.”

This is a newer, more realistic version of Sam. The previous version was legendary for looking like it might fall part at any moment, and it probably did.

Then, there is the giant jackalope. He – I’m assuming it’s a he – has a saddle and a special secret stairway to help riders.

Naturally, we all took turns posing on the jackalope and everything else. Someone suggested a group shot – with me, Caroline, Zack and the Gnome of Victory and Celebration.

Jackalopes are dangerous. We know this. They might look all safe, like a giant bunny with a cute cotton tail. But they have those antlers, symbolizing peril and risk. Turn your back on one, and you could end up impaled and without your carrots.

So we knew the risks. But any good vacation has some adventures. So we climbed the secret stairs and mounted the jackalope.

The Gnome was technically on the stairs, perhaps rightfully fearing the beast. It didn’t help.

The camera clicked. We heard a crash. We all looked down and saw the Gnome of Victory and Celebration in three large pieces and several smaller ones.

Zack assumed it was his fault. I assured him it was not. We don’t know if the Gnome was pushed, or whether he tried to leap away from the jackalope. We just don’t know.

We scooped up the pieces and placed them in a plastic bag, moving on to the T. Rex and other sights, our hearts somewhat heavy.
"Ozzie" meets the T. Rex. The Gnome was in a bag in pieces at the time.
But because Wall Drug sells just about anything, Zack and Uncle Jeff found super glue and tape.

Back at the hotel, we spread out some newspaper and laid out the pieces. Slowly, the familiar form of our traveling friend emerged.

The next day, the Gnome appeared at breakfast, a little worse for wear. He’s got some battle scars, and some missing pieces there and there.

But that’s what happens when we embrace life. Adventures can be a little messy and dangerous, or they wouldn’t be adventures. The Gnome of Victory and Celebration battled the mighty Wall Drug jackalope and lived to tell about it. If he can do that, well, we call can walk a little bolder.

With this new perspective on life – and a little bit of super glue left over – we were ready for Mount Rushmore.

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