South Dakota Road Trip Vacation in the 1950s With Family Photos
1950s Road Trip
You are invited to join our two families on a summer vacation in the 1950s as we made a road trip from Wisconsin to South Dakota. Many pictures were taken along the way and can be brought to life once again from a photo-album-cum-scrapbook assembled by my Dad after the trip was finished.
My Dad made notes of what we did each day and not only included photos of our adventures, but also collected brochures, maps, postcards and the like to embellish the black pages of the old leather-bound, embossed scrapbook tied together with a shoelace type of assembly.
It is a family treasure and a wonderful remembrance of that particular vacation trip.
Our Road Trip Begins
My youngest brother and youngest cousin stayed at home in Oconomowoc with my grandparents who volunteered to keep and entertain them for the duration of this vacation trip that our two families had decided to take.
Dad and my Uncle Russ drove their cars in tandem and kept within sight of one another. Remember...this was long before the days of cell phones! So if a stop was necessary along the way, hand signals and car lights would have been flashed to communicate between the two families in the automobiles.
Mother and my Aunt Marge were responsible for the food preparation and we enjoyed many picnics along the way.
The notes jotted down by my Dad and taken from the scrapbook will henceforth be in quotes.
"Left home at 4 A.M. Saturday, August 4, 1956. Stopped for breakfast at Pettibone Park in Minnesota across the Mississippi River from LaCrosse at 8 A.M. Arrived in Fairmont, Minnesota at 1 P.M. Stopped to eat lunch on the banks of Temperance Lake.
Arrived at Mitchell, South Dakota at 5:30 P.M. Rented cottage, ate supper, showered and hit the sack early.
Sunday got up at 5 A.M., ate breakfast and went to church (7:00 Mass) at Holy Family Catholic Church. After church went to see the Corn Palace. Entire front of building covered with different colored corn and grains."
Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota
The original Corn Palace was constructed in 1892 and was built of wood entirely covered with corn. Another building like the first was built in 1905.
The present structure built of brick and embellished with corn and other grains in artistic patterns that change annually was erected in 1921.
In the brochure my Dad picked up in 1956, it stated that the annual cost of redecorating the Corn Palace each year stood at $15,000. According to the Wikipedia account above, that cost has now ballooned to approximately $130,000.
Not only is this Corn Palace a major tourist attraction for this part of the country, but the half-block square building houses conventions, basketball games, stage shows and many other events throughout the year.
"Left Mitchell, South Dakota at 8:30 A.M. Sunday. Crossed Missouri River just west of Chamberlain, South Dakota at 10 A.M."
To the Badlands
"After leaving the Missouri River we were amazed at the shortage of trees. The land is very barren. Lots of waste land.
Stopped at Kodoki, South Dakota at 11:30 A.M. Ate lunch alongside a railroad track at a freight station. Not much of a place but it did have trees for shade. All other waysides consist of an outhouse and a wood shelter to eat under. Weather very hot.
Arrived in Bad Lands, South Dakota at 1 P.M. Took a number of pictures. Wish we would have had colored film as we thought the Bad Land Rock Formations were beautifully colored."
South Dakota Badlands PicturesClick thumbnail to view full-size
Moving on to the Black Hills
"Left the Badlands at 2:45 P.M. Arrived at Rapid City at 4 P.M. Picked up lots of maps & literature about the Black Hills.
Decided to locate at Hill City in the heart of the Black Hills. Arrived in Hill City at 5 P.M.
After looking at different cabins we decided to take the cabins at Pine Rest Motel. Time 6 P.M. Rented a double cabin in a beautiful setting with a play area for the children which they enjoyed very much. The owners were very nice to us."
"Children's play area right next to our cabin. Children received mail every day in the mailbox in the play area from the owners of the cabins."
"Monday, August 5, 1956. Left cabin at 9:30 A.M. First stop...Mount Rushmore."
Mount Rushmore is one of the main attractions for visitors to South Dakota. The four former Presidents of the United States that have their likenesses carved into the solid granite walls of this mountain are George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. From chin to forehead each face measures about 60 feet in height.
These particular Presidents were chosen to be honored because of the place that they have in American history in developing our democratic form of government. Congress appropriated the funding and set aside the land within the Harney National Forest for this monument to be built.
Gutzon Borglum, a noted sculptor was chosen to execute the monument and began his work in 1927. He worked on it sporadically over a total of about 14 years but died just prior to its completion. His son, Lincoln Borglum finished what we see there today.
Keystone, South Dakota
"After Mount Rushmore we stopped at the small town of Keystone. The girls enjoyed shopping for Indian costume jewelry.
The kids got a big bang out of having their pictures taken with an Indian in front of his Tepee. He gave the kids a real line about how he fought white soldiers and took over as the chief of the tribe from Chief Crazy Horse.
From Keystone we went to Rushmore Cave and took the tour through the cave which took one hour. Huge cave kept in natural state. Lots of climbing."
Cosmos of the Black Hills
"We next stopped at the Cosmos, a place that defies the Laws of Gravity.
After the Cosmos we had lunch. Then on through the Black Hills National Forest.
Next stop...Rockerville Gold Town. The town is preserved from the Gold Rush Days. Also had a tent theatre. Very interesting.
Kids spent most of their time in Rockerville talking to an Indian family living in a Tepee."
Reptile Garden to Dinosaur Park
"Next stop was the Reptile Gardens. Snakes of all kinds. Watched them milk a rattlesnake. They let us pet a tame South American Boa.
Held up by a hailstorm when we wanted to leave. In parts of the Black Hills they had hail stones the size of baseballs. Wouldn't have believed it if we hadn't seen them ourselves.
Next on Skyline Drive to the Petrified Forest and to Dinosaur Park which was on top of a hill overlooking Rapid City, South Dakota. Enough for one day and so back to the cabin and get ready for tomorrow."
Scenic Drive Highway # 85 A and Other Sites
"Tuesday, August 7, 1956.
Left the cabins at 8 A.M. for another day of travel. On to Scenic Drive Highway # 85A. Almost too beautiful to describe! Pigtail curves, beautiful bridges, tunnels through rock formations. A lot of hill climbing. At top of hill at Lookout Point one would guess the ability to see 80 or 90 miles away looking down onto beautiful valleys, etc.
From this drive we drove through Nordbeck Wild Life Preserve."
"At about 9:30 A.M. we entered Custer State Park looking for buffalo.
Had to stop along road because of little burros in the road. They were very tame. They ate cookies out of our hands and then would come over to the car and stick their heads into the windows looking for more hand-outs. These burros seem to be on the loose all over this area as we saw them a number of times."
"Next stopped at Last Frontier Game Lodge. Took about a 1 hour horse back ride back into the hills.
Left there and stopped at campsite for lunch. Beautiful spot. River running through it with solid rock walls on opposite side of the river. Water so clear you could drink it. All pine and birch trees. Would love to camp in this spot for a couple of weeks at some later date."
"Next we drove up to the top of Mount Coolidge. Went up into the observatory and we could see for many miles in all directions."
Custer State Park to Wind Cave National Park
"Continued on through Custer State Park. Saw three separate herds of buffalo.
Drove on into Wind Cave National Park. Saw one lone deer so far. Saw more buffalo then stopped at Prairie Dog Town. Lots of little prairie dogs - cute little fellows.
We then came upon a spot where they were feeding the buffalo. They were all over the road and on both sides. We got some real good pictures here. Two of the big bulls had a fight the day before. One was killed and the other bull (which we have a picture of) was really scarred up and beaten up pretty badly."
"We then drove through Hot Springs. From there we took a back road to circle back to Hill City. Stopped at Roses Hitching Post Tavern in the small town of Pringle. Had a couple of beers. Pretty dry.
Next drove into Custer and then stopped at Fairyland Zoo. The kids all took rides on little donkeys."
Stockade Lake...Needles Highway...Sylvan Lake
"On way back to cabin we stopped at another beautiful campsite at Stockade Lake.
Heading back through part of Scenic Drive # 85A from the other direction. Driving through the Needles Highway. Stopped and took a picture of the kids but it is almost getting too late for pictures.
We could see a couple of mountain goats up in the stone formations.
Next stopped at Sylvan Lake Hotel then down to Sylvan Lake. Beautiful. Took a walk through sheer high rock on narrow footbridge down to the dam on one end of the lake.
Getting too dark for pictures. Couldn't stay long as it is getting late and it is suppertime. Left there and arrived at cabins at 6:30 P.M. to end a most pleasant day."
"Wednesday, August 8, 1956.
Left the cabin at 7:15 A.MDriving along saw lots of goats along the road. Passed Sheridan Lake. All beautiful country. Next...Thunderhead Falls."
"We saw lots of petrified logs and more burros along the road. We also saw many old covered wagons and many old stone chimneys where cabins had been burned down. Must be still from old pioneer days.
8:20 A.M. coming into lead and old mining town. Next town...Deadwood.
Passed monument where Preacher Smith was killed by Indians. Next stop...Black Hills Airport where we met "Doc" (an old Army buddy of mine). We pulled up there just in time to see him land. He has his own airplanes.
9:25 A.M....entering Wyoming. Lots of red rock and red earth. Next town...Sundance, Wyoming. Stopped for a beer and talked over old Army days.
Next...Sundance Mountain. Entering Black Hills National Park, Wyoming. Bear Lodge Country. Lots of sage brush."
Video taken of Black Hills from an airplane
Nice slide show of the Black Hills
"Now entering Devils Tower State Park. Passed another Prairie Dog Town. Saw them by the hundreds. They beg for food all along the road. We had lunch in the park at the base of Devils Tower. After lunch we walked along the footpath at the base of the tower and took pictures."
"Left Devils Tower at 12:00 Noon.
Stopped in town named Hulett, Wyoming. Cowboys all over the place. The country around here is beautiful. High hills the color of salmon sprinkled with pine trees. Passed wealthy ranches that have sprinkling systems running on wheels across their acreage. We see big herds of sheep. Saw a black eagle. Ranches about every 10 to 15 miles apart.
Came into a small town by the name of Alzada, Montana.
Heading back toward Spearfish. Saw quite a few small herds of antelope. Stopped in Belle Fourche, South Dakota for a little while. Next arrived in Spearfish.
Went to see Passion Play arena. Couldn't stay for play as it starts too late and it's a long drive back to Hill City.
Went back to airport to see Doc off. We all went out on the field to watch him take off in his airplane."
"Left airport for drive through Spearfish Canyon.
Stopped at Bridalveil Falls. Crossed the river and climbed up to rock at base of the Falls to take pictures. The canyon is beautiful. Trout stream running all along the canyon. We saw deer along the stream."
Lead, South Dakota
"Next stopped to see the Chair Lift at Terry Peak in Lead, South Dakota. Couldn't get anyone to go up.
We then stopped at the Inferno and had a beer. It is a tavern made from an old gold mine. Terrific.
Back through Lead where they still have an active "Homestake Gold Mine."
Stopped to buy souvenirs at a jewelry factory then back to cabin at Hill City. Arrived at cabin at 7:15 P.M. Busy day."
Chief Crazy Horse Memorial
"Thursday, August 9th, 1956.
Left the cabin late as we are going to take it easy today and rest up for our trip back home tomorrow. Went out to the monument of Chief Crazy Horse. The monument is in the 7th year of a 30 year project.
The sculptor "Korczak Ziolkowski" has only one man to help him. It is all donated time so they have a herd of dairy cows to make a living on. The name of the mountain is Thunderhead Mountain."
"In the evening we went over to our cabin owners who have a driftwood shop. We bought all kinds of stuff. The one daughter picks up all these pieces of driftwood up in the hills and then during the winter months makes up all of the different pieces and finishes them. She is a real artist. Some of the pieces are just beautiful."
"Friday, August 10th, 1956.
Heading for home. Left cabin at 3 A.M. Went about 3 miles when we saw a big buck deer on road. Through Custer, Pringle and part of Wind Cave National Park. While in park we came upon a whole herd of big elk right next to the road on both sides.
Next into Hot Springs where we see lots of range cattle. Drove through Slim Butte country. Right here looks like a miniature Badlands.
Next town Oglala in Indian Reservation. A big share of their houses were log cabins. It is the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
5:40 A.M. crossed state line into Nebraska then back into South Dakota. Came upon spot up on hillside where Indians hold Sundance Ceremony. Big Catholic Missions and several Catholic churches throughout reservation. The homes are just shacks and all wasteland. Makes you wonder how they can make a living there. A few beef cattle but is seems they gave the Indians the lousiest land they could find for their reservation.
Next arrived at Mission, South Dakota. The girls had to stop and buy more Indian jewelry."
"Gregory next town.
Passed Fort Randall Dam - dedication next day.
Stopped at wayside along the bank of a river just outside Olivet.
Left South Dakota at 2:00 P.M. and crossed into Iowa.
Arrived at Mason City, Iowa at 5:45 P.M at a motel. Went out to eat at a fancy restaurant called Costos. Had a most wonderful Pike dinner. Then hit the sack for an early start tomorrow.
Anxious to get home now."
"Saturday, August 11th, 1956.
Left Mason City at 5:30 A.M. Drove quite a ways before we stopped at a little church yard and had breakfast. A terrific lack of waysides in Iowa.
Not too far out of Mason City we saw a big buffalo ranch. Went through Claremont then to McGregor, Iowa and crossed the Mississippi River into Praire du Chein, Wisconsin at 8:30 A.M.
Took Highway 14 and Marge and Russ stopped in Madison to unload. We kept on going and arrived home at 12:00 Noon to end a most wonderful vacation."
This is the end of my Dad's noted descriptions from our South Dakota vacation trip. Also attached to the pages of the scrapbook are a number of postcards which are not featured here as they are glued to the black pages and I cannot check them for copyrights. Numerous maps and brochures are also included in the scrapbook in addition to the pictures.
This was our two family's first major trip taken together and what the pages do not tell is the fun we had singing in the cars as the miles passed under the rolling tires. To save money most of our meals were eaten picnic style prepared by our mothers. Quite often we kids would switch cars and spend time riding with our cousins.
Our two families were very close and often did things together starting with our parent's double wedding...double honeymoon...and numerous weekends and summer outings spent together.
As the eldest of the "kids" and at the ripe old age of nine years wonderful memories were created. That being said I would love to go back and take in those majestic South Dakota landscapes as an adult. Much fun would be had with my digital camera today!
My cousin's family have been able to retrace their steps with the addition of their youngest son joining them on that trip. Since my parents moved to Texas a few years after this vacation we never made it back to South Dakota to once again view such sites as the Black Hills, Badlands, Mount Rushmore and other wondrous areas touched upon in this article.
Hope you enjoyed going back to the 1950s, viewing family pictures and tagging along with us on this South Dakota road trip as much as I have had fun in reliving it by writing about this particular vacation.
Have you ever been to South Dakota?
Location of South Dakota in the U.S.
© 2010 Peggy Woods