Bored after isolation? Climb in the wagon and drive

Courtesy photo

The first all metal American station wagon was the 1935 Chevrolet Suburban. Of course, they’re not called station wagons anymore. (If it has three rows of seats, or a double box design and tailgate, it’s a station wagon.)

Today, only Buick makes what the manufacturer calls an American station wagon. Every other manufacturer building a “station wagon” is foreign – luxury foreign – like Mercedes, Jaguar, Volvo. Americans have shamed our manufacturers, claiming station wagons were ugly, gas guzzling “Family Trucksters.” So marketing professionals re-named these popular family cars mini-vans, crossovers, multi-person vehicles (MPVs) and sport utility vehicles (SUVs).

The key design consideration in 1935 is the same today – family. Going for a ride in the car was an actual thing. As self-isolation has become the norm, finding something to do for entertainment is a new challenge. Seeing America the way our parents did starts to make sense. And multi-person vehicles, along with inexpensive gasoline make doing so on a budget as attractive as it was decades ago – if it’s for a coupe of weeks or a couple of hours.

Anyone who has lived in the Black Hills for more than two years, likely is taking for granted the more than a million acres of publicly accessible playground, perfect for families. There are, of course, the usual attractions – Mount Rushmore National Memorial, Crazy Horse Monument, Reptile Gardens and (for the adults) Deadwood.

But there’s so much more. Take fishing and water sports, for instance. From the Orman Dam, near Belle Fourche to Angostura near Hot Springs, there are a multitude of lakes and reservoirs full of fish like bluegills, crappie, brook, brown, rainbow and lake trout, channel catfish, northern pike, perch and walleye. Crappie and bluegill are especially delicious and easy to clean. And there are many places in the Black Hills where a family can catch them, clean them and cook them, all while easily staying a safe distance from the next family.

Flyfishing is also a great pastime for parents and their older children. I have caught spectacular Black Hills trout in streams I could step over. Thanks to organizations like Black Hills Flyfishers, there are stretches of catch-and-release only streams in the Hills where landing a trophy fish is not unusual. There are excellent fly shops in Rapid City and Spearfish, and the proprietors of both are eager to get more people interested in this elegant lifetime sport.

When fishing isn’t appealing, the Hills offer something for nearly everyone with an appreciation of the outdoors. Photographers can simply pick a spot. There is subject matter galore. Spearfish Canyon is always a favorite. Follow Highway 385 from the Northern Black Hills through a stunning path all the way to Hot Springs winding through some of the most striking scenery anywhere. Don’t be afraid to take a dirt side road. Maps are plentiful throughout the Hills.

Wildlife is abundant in the Black Hills. Pick a place and hike a couple hundred yards. Be patient and be quiet. Wildlife will likely find you. You can also go through Custer State Park’s Wildlife Loop to see, from your car, Black Hills bison and often, elk.

The Michelson Trail, created in 1998 on the former Burlington Northern rail line, winds its way through 109 miles of the Black Hills and is perfect for hikers and bikers looking for a more groomed experience. Some of the trail passes through private property and people are expected to be respectful.

Reasonable fees are required for state parks and the Michelson Trail. Kids 16 and older are required to purchase a fishing license. Mount Rushmore charges for parking. Private attractions, obviously, have entrance fees. But, the forest is free. Creek fishing is free.

The Black Hills provide an excellent venue to get the curtain climbers and rug rats to emerge from their rooms and stop whining about how bored they are. For information about ways to enjoy the Black Hills, try or simply pull off a road and get out of the wagon.

Michael Sanborn writes from Rapid City.

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