Our One Vacation, the Black Hills, 1958

When I was a girl on an Iowa farm in the 1950s, we read items in The Dexter Sentinel that so-and-so had been to the Black Hills or to Estes Park. We knew people who actually took vacations during the summer.

We didn’t. Oh, there was the one Sunday when our pastor was gone, Mom packed a breakfast picnic and we headed for Madison County’s Pammel Park. She cooked breakfast on an open fire, Dad read the Sunday paper and took a nap. Gloria, two years younger, and I went for a hike and came back with lots of snails we’d found on tree trunks. Some vacation, huh!

In 1958, Mom got Dad to say okay to traveling to the Black Hills. But I was 14 then and didn’t want to go. I was at “that age” and didn’t want to ride all that way in the back seat with a pesky little sister. That changed when Mom suggested inviting Grandma Leora along.

Having Grandma along certainly improved my outlook.

Joy, Grandma Leora, Gloria, at the Wyoming border. Aug. 20, 1958. Ladies always wore dresses in the 1950s.

Not only did Grandma ride in the middle of the back seat, she slept between Gloria and me at the motel.


Gloria on a Triceratops at Rapid City’s Dinosaur Park, Aug. 19, 1958

Highlights: Rapid City, SD, with its School of Mines Museum and Dinosaur Park, a “Passion Play” at Spearfish, and Mount Rushmore.

On the way back, we looked over the old Air Force Base at Alliance, Nebraska, where Uncle Bill Neal, Dad’s brother, had been stationed during WWII.

We actually stayed gone for a week, August 17-23, 1958. I was the official keeper of mileage (1759.7 miles), what towns we went through, what we spent ($37.67 for gas, about $68.11 for food, $73 for 6 motels, $30 for a tire), even kept a diary of what we saw every day.

I’d always thought of this trip from the POV of a bratty teenager. An assignment in a writer’s class was to reframe a story from the past. The Black Hills story turned into a delightful memory about how the upbeat personality of one person can permeate things. Dad was willing to stop at places he would ordinarily have frowned at, even Wall Drug and the Corn Palace.


  1. I suppose one vacation was better than zero! Not a bad place to visit. We went to a school of mines museum in Butte, Montana and found it fascinating. I skipped Wall Drug, but did go to the Corn Palace!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.