South Dakota’s must see destination Wall Drug had me on the edge of my seat for miles and miles. Their use of signage to capture a traveler’s imagination worked like a charm on me. All across Interstate 90 and actually even from other areas throughout Wyoming, we’d seen signs calling us to Wall Drug.
Wall Drug vs Buc-ees
It reminded me of Buc-ees in Texas. If you’ve not been to a Buc-ees, then you really need to get a life! I’m not even kidding. Buc-ees is the king of all kings when it comes to roadside travel stops. Maybe 50-75 gas pumps and what seems like a Walmart-sized interior, full of food, snacks and knick knacks. Buc-ees uses billboards to draw travelers in. Mostly they just have a picture of the mascot, Buc-ee Beaver, and an exit number. That billboard was enough to get Steve and I to pull over, years ago when traveling from Houston to Sulphur, Louisiana to visit my parents.
While Wall Drug is no comparison to Buc-ees beyond the use of signage, it is definitely a site to behold on its own. It takes up most of a city block and is comprised of lots of smaller stores inside the larger one.
How the Store came about
Wall opened back in 1931 on Main Street, which is just a bit off the highway. The small drugstore didn’t do much business and the owners, Dorothy and Ted Hustead were almost to the end of their five-year “trial period”. Dorothy left the empty store to head home and put the kids down for a nap, when she soon returned to the store all excited. She couldn’t sleep because of all the traffic heading home from Mt Rushmore, so she suggested that the store offer free ice water to the weary travelers. They made a few signs based on the Burma Shave model and on the first day after the signs were up, people started coming. And coming. And coming. About 20,000 visitors per day now pass through the shops. Getting their free ice water and spending their souvenir dollars.
In addition to ice water, visitors can also pick up a free bumper sticker from South Dakota’s must see destination, Wall Drug. I loved this place. Not as much as visiting Mount Rushmore. Not even as much as exploring near Spearfish. But I still loved this stop just the same. It’s quirky and it’s fun and there’s something cool to see around every corner.
Wall Drug Dining Room
The dining rooms (yes, multiple rooms) contain over 300 original oil paintings that represent one of the country’s best Western and Illustration collections. Some of the artwork on display are paintings by NC Wyeth, Harvey Dunn and Dean Cornwell. Google them and you’ll find some beautiful works. There are multiple signs asking visitors not to take pictures of individual paintings, so I tried to honor that, but you know I wanted to snap all the pictures. There are also life-sized carvings of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, made from a 187-year old cedar tree. I especially enjoyed this, since we’d recently been to Sundance, Wyoming where The Kid spent jailtime and earned the Sundance as part of his name.
The Back Yard
The Back Yard of South Dakota’s must see destination Wall Drug was another treat! Unfortunately children were also drawn to this area and kept crowding me out! Little buggers. There’s a giant Jackalope, a bucking bronco, a stage coach, a kind of creepy human-sized rabbit and a Mt Rushmore replica. Supposedly there’s a life-sized animated T-Rex, but I’m guessing it was inside the closed building. Maybe it’s only open during the summer? There’s a food court back there too, in case you’re still hungry after all the delicious offerings in the dining room.
South Dakota’s must see destination Wall Drug has a Travelers Chapel
The one quiet area of Wall Drug is the Travelers Chapel. Not surprisingly, we had the whole thing to ourselves. A chapel doesn’t seem to really fit in to this caucophony of “things”, but somehow it did. And as chapels and churches and cathedrals do, it drew us in. Maybe because we’re cheap and we like free things like cathedrals and cemeteries. Or more likely, because we like the serenity of these places. The peace admist chaos. The resting spot for both body and mind.
A signs says the chapel is built is modeled after the chapel at New Melleray Abbey, a monastery near Dubuque, Iowa. Having never been to Iowa, I couldn’t attest to the truthfulness of the statement, but it sounded good to me. I liked the Byzantine style pictures of Mary and Jesus, as the style appeals to me. And the wooden ceiling drew my eyes heavenward. Intentional? Hmmm. Anyway, go to Wall Drug. Stop in the chapel for a moment of peace and then sit on a bench in the hallway for your selfie next to a wooden Dance Hall girl. Sounds crazily appealing, doesn’t it?
The western Mall
The Western Mall portion of Wall Drug is a shopper’s extravaganza. There’s every type of store that you can think of. From jewelry to clothing to kitschy wall hangings. Literally everything you can think of. It’s a nice way to spend an afternoon, I think especially if it’s hot outside and you’re ready for ice cream and air conditioning.
I hope you make time for a stop to South Dakota’s best destination, Wall Drug. It’s fun and quirky and you’ll hit the road again with a full belly and a few less dollars.