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Jenna Scatena

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South Dakota Straddles The Border Between Old And Otherworldly (PHOTOS)

Posted: 06/25/2012 7:00 am

South Dakota is an oft-overlooked state full of characters and defined by a quirky sort of humor involving tall-tales of mythical creatures like the Jackalope and the sky, which seems wide as the universe as it stretches between distant towns. Ghost towns here seem to outnumber inhabited ones and time seems to have come to a screeching halt at the turn of the last century.

There is also a pervasive feeling of loneliness and longing is reflected in the art, the roadside attractions, the homestead exhibits and on local faces. Pine Ridge, the poorest county in the country and the site of Wounded Knee, still embodies the raw history of Indian-Western racism. The highlight of many trips, seeing buffalo and moose, is tainted somewhat when those majestic beasts are seen again on local menus.

A road trip through South Dakota is truly an other-worldy adventure.

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  • The Black Hills

    "Greetings From the Black Hills" is splashed across an old billboard outside Wall Drug, a general store that generated phenomenal success by "selling" free ice water to thirsty drivers along I-90 in 1931. Since then, it's grown into a mini-mall and brings in <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/1999/01/17/us/ted-hustead-is-dead-at-96-built-the-popular-wall-drug.html" target="_hplink">$10 million a year</a>.

  • The Black Hills

    South Dakota is a state lost in time.

  • Wall Drug General Store

    The flying jackalope is one of the Prairie State's list of mythological creatures. This one was for sale at a roadside shop, alongside a coyote and a buck.

  • Another display of South Dakotans' quirky sense of humor: Anthropomorphic animals in staged window displays.

  • Wall Drug General Store

    A taxidermied bobcat for sale in the Wall Drug gift shop.

  • "Welcome traveler" inscribed on the back of a pew in a small, narrow church.

  • The prairie, one of my grandma's childhood friends says, "makes you feel as insignificant as a blade of grass lost in the midst of endless rolling hills and flatlands." And that's what she loves about.

  • Miles of tall blonde grass scratch the infinite sky. There seems to be no method of placement for the buildings we pass; their destination appears as random as a tornado touching down.

  • The front of 1880 Town, another roadside attraction capitalizing on the state's past.

  • An old train stop for the abandoned town of Okaton.

  • The entrance to Badlands National Park--South Dakota's Grand Canyon. Temperatures here range from -40 F to 116 F. It's home to some of the richest fossil beds in the world.

  • Another view of the Badlands.

  • An eerie mannequin propped outside of homestead attraction's gift shop.

  • A homestead exhibit showing a common bathroom for the 1800s.

  • A gas station on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation border.

  • The cemetery at the Battle of Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge reservation.

 

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