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South Dakota Road Trip Vacation in the 1950s With Family Photos

I live in Houston and have worked as a nurse. I have a lifelong passion for traveling, nature, and photography (preferably all together!).

My brother John, cousins Tom and Bill and myself posing below Mount Rushmore.

My brother John, cousins Tom and Bill and myself posing below Mount Rushmore.

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.

Mitchell Corn Palace

Mitchell Corn Palace

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."

Marge, Carol, Johnny, Billy, Tommy and Peggy posing in front of the Mitchell Corn Palace, 1950s

Marge, Carol, Johnny, Billy, Tommy and Peggy posing in front of the Mitchell Corn Palace, 1950s

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.

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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."

2 Families Posing with Missouri River Behind Them, 1950s (Billy, Uncle Russ, Johnny, Peggy, my Dad, Tommy)

2 Families Posing with Missouri River Behind Them, 1950s (Billy, Uncle Russ, Johnny, Peggy, my Dad, Tommy)

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."

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."

Mount Rushmore

"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."

Kids posing with American Indian in costume, 1950s ("Johnny - Peggy - Chief - Billy - Tommy")

Kids posing with American Indian in costume, 1950s ("Johnny - Peggy - Chief - Billy - Tommy")

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."

Note under the photo..."The trouble is that I didn't even have one good martini."

Note under the photo..."The trouble is that I didn't even have one good martini."

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."

"Kids enjoyed this park - Tommy, Johnny, Billy & Peggy" (Dinosaur Park - South Dakota)

"Kids enjoyed this park - Tommy, Johnny, Billy & Peggy" (Dinosaur Park - South Dakota)

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."

"One of the tunnels through rock on scenic route # 85A - Carol, Marge, Johnny, Billy & Tommy

"One of the tunnels through rock on scenic route # 85A - Carol, Marge, Johnny, Billy & Tommy

"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."

Friendly wild burros in Custer State Park

Friendly wild burros in Custer State Park

"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."

"In observation building on top of Mount Coolidge - Johnny, Peggy, Tommy & Billy"

"In observation building on top of Mount Coolidge - Johnny, Peggy, Tommy & Billy"

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 really 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."

"Johnny, Billy, Peggy & Tommy along Needles Highway" (Needles Highway photo, 1950s)

"Johnny, Billy, Peggy & Tommy along Needles Highway" (Needles Highway photo, 1950s)

Thunderhead Falls

"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.