Wall Drug: The Legend

Callie Jean Mount (Payne) in front of her mural art at Wall Drug in the 1930s. You go grandma! Thank you for your bravery, creativity, and general badassness! 

Hi all, Stefanie here! I have a personal story to share alongside this stop along the road…

If you’ve driven through South Dakota, you’ve probably been to Wall Drug, one of the most famous road trip stops in the United states of America. It is legend, and for me, this stop had special meaning…

My grandmother was one of the first professional artists to be employed by Wall Drug—they brought her on during her high school years in the late 1930s to create murals outside of the newly minted tourist stop that has since become an institution among the U.S. road trip circuit.

Grandma Jean and I were very, very close. Throughout my life I've heard endless stories about my grandma’s youth in Rapid City, her life as a young artist, and her fearless streak of independence that certainly made way through the generations before landing on me. My grandma Jean was a badass—an entrepreneur, an artist, a real mover and shaker, and huge inspiration in my life. She passed away last year at the age of 95.

Driving into the Badlands and up to Wall Drug, I imagined how she might have gotten to work during here time there. What kind of car did she drive? What was her schedule like? Who were her friends? Did she like working there? These questions will remain largely unanswered. However, the institution remains, so we went to the site seeking a connection with the place she spent some time in her life—a place where she made art (and a definite must stop while visiting the Badlands in South Dakota.) 

We scoured Wall Drug endlessly to find the site of my grandma’s mural (seen next to her in the picture above.) Unsurprisingly it could not be found—there was renovation and expansion some time ago and out with it went my grandma’s art. But the soul of her designs remain there still—silhouetted renditions of installations featuring cowboys, ranch life, and other prairie art that still adorns the walls. The existing murals were crafted by another, but her flavor has remained.  

It is incredibly rewarding to know that my family—just like all of our families—have contributed to all of our experiences as we travel through the nation we American's call home. I could've written this post about the wonder of Wall Drug (it truly is a wonder) but I can't share this place in that way. For me, it is more than a stop where one can refuel with 5-cent coffee, or "really good ice-water," where Zoltor the genie offers mystical futures, and where you can buy trinkets and gifts for the people in our lives... for me it is a place I have heard about the whole of my life and where I will always connect with my family history. It is more than just a road trip stop, it is a part of my DNA. I'm sure anyone reading this has a place like that. All I can say is that a side stop is likely more than 100% worth a dip off-trail.