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Small town travels: what to do in Wall, SD and Spring Green, Wis

When crossing the country by car, it's the big cities, with big advertising budgets that get all the attention.  Places like Las Vegas, New Orleans and Jackson Hole are favorites.  

But the U.S. is filled with small towns with packed with tons of character that are worth stopping for. 

I have seen many in my travels, but two small, wonder and different towns that undeniable claim to fame stick out for me: Wall, S.D. and Spring Green, Wis.

Here's what they have to offer and why you should go:

Wall, S.D. 

Wall is way out there, off of Interstate 90. In case you have a lapse in memory as you drive and drive, never fear there are over 500 miles of billboards reminding you that Wall is there – population approximate 800. Sidebar: Driving across South Dakota is awesome. It is a beautiful state and you are lucky to have the experience.

Wall Drug 605-279-2175. One might say, Wall Drug IS Wall, South Dakota. It is a must stop and see. FYI there are several lodging accommodations and shops in town and for a town of approximately 800 people there is a whole lot to do.

So many ask how on earth did this place get “invented”?  Briefly, it was 1931 when Dorothy and Ted Hustead – a pharmacist and Dorothy with her teaching degree, decided to move from Canova, S.D. To add to the challenges and ambiance of the day, the Depression was affecting everyone. Still, they wanted to move. They had two requirements for their new home: A drug store and a Catholic church. After searching they found both in Wall, S.D.  Not exactly downtown LA.  Families and friends were more than skeptical. But off they went. Times were hard but persevere they did. By now they had a little boy and a little girl. Problem: No one was stopping at Wall and Ted was wondering how smart the move had been. One very hot day, Dorothy noticed the increase in traffic going to Yellowstone and Mount Rushmore and had an idea- let us offer ice water. Almost before they could drink a glass of cold water they had put up original signs based on the popular Burma Shave highway signs, offering free ice water. Shall we say, an empire had begun.

Fast forward to now. Approximately 20,000 people stop PER DAY during the summer! Coffee is 5 cents per cup, ice water is still free and so are bumper stickers and admission. Souvenirs of every imaginable variety, size and shape are available. There is so much to see. The Western Art Gallery Restaurant seats 520 and offers Hot beef sandwiches, buffalo burgers, famous homemade donuts and so many delicious delectables.   Also the largest privately owned western and illustration art collection in the country is for your viewing and admiration. There is not a disappointment at the 76,000 square foot American Experience. Make a cold water toast to this western wonderland as you enjoy this unique experience.

Spring Green, Wis.
This tiny, distinctive, beautiful area with a population of about 1,500 people attracts thousands of visitors each year. Why? Because of its three special attractions:  Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin, American Players Theatre and The House On The Rock.

Taliesin is Frank Lloyd Wright's summer home when he was a boy. It is where the embryonic stages of his creative and unique structures began and continued throughout his life. Route 23 takes you to Spring Green and 608-588-7900 will put you in touch with details of this unique place. Whether a bona fide architect or as most, an admirer of the exceptional, you will glean a lot from your visit. You will see how he envisioned, developed, built these unique structures. Not just four wall, a floor and a roof – not by any stretch of the imagination. Nature is part and parcel of his designs. Learn and enjoy and you will begin to understand even minutely Frank Lloyd Wright and his unique designs.

American Players Theatre:  In 1978 the founders of the American Players Theatre, found this special place for their theater. Their vision was to present the classics- especially Shakespeare under “the sun, moon and stars.” Almost immediately there was a following and as the applause grew so did the scope of the authors. In a very short time the American Players Theater was nominated for a Tony Award for Regional Theatre. The Theatre grew as well as its reputation and in 2000 the amphitheater was renovated and there are now 1,100 seats and the promise of an outstanding evening of theater of the ultimate excellence.

House on the Rock: 5754 State Rd. 23: 608-935-3639 Totally different, totally extraordinary and totally amazing. Room after room, all juxtaposed in every possible fashion. None are small. None are drab. Each is full of – no crammed full, of items. There is the Tribute to Nostalgia a room full of items – small and large –even vintage automobiles- reflecting the past. The Mill House room displays gun, dolls, mechanical toys, banks, suits of armor, paper weights and more and more. Here, in this house, you can see the world’s largest carousel, a Weapons Exhibit and on and on. There are 15 rooms.  The most spectacular is the Infinity Room. It is primarily glass and extends out 218 feet over the Wyoming Valley. It is breathtaking and really cannot be adequately described in words. To underscore the uniqueness of this house, there are 3,264 windows. There is not another House On The Rock in the entire world. Comfortable shoes are a must and several hours to be totally awed and astonished. Depending on whether you are just visiting The House or also staying at one of the lodging accommodations, there is a fee, which I think is quite sensible considering the experience you will have.

Driving diva Gerry Hemple Davis is the author of several travel books including Romancing the Road.