To understand the profusion of roadside attractions along Highway 16 from the Wyoming border to Rapid City, you have to know your history.
In 1934, the United States suffered through a crippling Depression. As a way to spur economic development, Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the Tourism Restoration and Protection Act* into law, designating the southwestern corner of South Dakota as a National Cash Extraction Zone. The Act provided for the construction of a gigantic statue carved into the Black Hills, to be called the Mount of the Three Presidents, honoring Lincoln, Washington, and Jefferson.**
The TRPA enjoyed limited immediate success, bearing most of its fruit after the end of the Second World War, as hundreds of thousands of Americans, hungry for a sense of normalcy, descended upon South Dakota like gnats on a banana.
In 1964, the United Nations proclaimed the region a World Old-Timey Heritage Area,*** ensuring the maintenance of Reptile Gardens, Cartoon-Based Theme Parks, Chuck Wagon Dinners, Mystery Areas, and Ridiculous Tram Rides for generations to come.
*Or, as it was affectionately known, the Tourist Trap Act.
**Teddy Roosevelt's bespectacled face was added to the plan upon the insistence of nephew Franklin Delano, who refused to sign the TRPA without it.
***Only one other site in the United States has merited such a designation: the Drug Store That Shall Not Be Named.