Medora, North Dakota is what a replica old West town should look like. That’s because Medora, North Dakota is not a replica, it’s the real thing.
This town of 116 residents bills itself as the number 1 tourist destination in the state, and with good reason. Hiding in the bluffs of Theodore Roosevelt State Park, Medora feels like a real old west settlement. Sure, its buildings are sometimes hokey facades with plank fronts but there is real history here and you can feel it as you drive over the hill and down to Main Street.
Our campground was right on the west edge of town between the Little Missouri River and the hills of the Badlands. We set up camp and immediately hopped on our bike to ride into town. We parked our horses at Ticket Junction. Five minutes and $129 later we had tickets for the 6:15 p.m. pitchfork fondue dinner and the 8:30 Medora Musical.
Our first stop in town was North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame where we spent just over an hour learning about the Native Americans and the cowboys who called North Dakota home. There are many photos below. But one thing you learn about little Medora is how important this town and the surrounding Badlands were to in the formation of our 26th President, Theodore Roosevelt.
Then we window shopped the dirt streets for a half hour or so and headed home to nap, shower and get dressed for dinner.
A couple hours later we hopped in the car and headed up the hill to the outdoor theater and restaurant. After what seemed like twenty miles straight up, we parked our trusty stead – the Volvo S40 – and followed the amazing smells toward the restaurant. Of course we couldn’t help but notice the beautiful panoramic views of the Theodore Roosevelt Park and the surrounding North Dakota Badlands. I swear we could see our house from up there.
Once we caught our breath again, we headed over to the “kitchen prep” area. The three sided shanty held three enormous cauldrons already bubbling with oil. The “cooks” would snatch a pitch fork, lined along one wall, grab a 12-oz sirloin from the seasoning vat and pierce it on one of the tines. Once all four spears were filed, they would add it to the ever-increasing pile of loaded forks amassing on the other side.
Then as the hungry crowd gathered with their cameras, they began dipping the steaks, fork and all, into the steaming kettle. The liquid swallowed each one as the crowd laughed and gasped at the immense heat coming from the pots. Within moments, the dinner bell rang, and like cattle we lined up to load up on baked potatoes, mixed vegetables, cowboy rolls and both green and baked beans before heading over to the prep kitchen to get our deep fried steak.
A few members of the cast of the Medora musical hopped up on stage to perform classic country favorites as we wolfed down our – only one word for it – deliciousness. It was possibly the best steak I’ve ever eaten – slightly crisp on the outside and juicy on the inside.
After filling our bellies, we took a stroll around the area. From our view at the top of the mountain, we could watch large elk on the hill next door. Finally, we were able to take our seats for the outdoor musical. We rode down on an escalator to the theater. Yeah, you read correctly, an outdoor escalator carried us down into an amphitheater built in a mountain basin.
From the start the Medora Musical was a rip-roarin’ good time. Part country music showcase, part old-time variety show, it was well produced and catered to the vacation audience. Really, it was much like an updated live version of Hee-Haw, with better jokes.
The entire experience reinforced everything we already knew about North Dakota. Breathtaking natural beauty enhanced by warm, gracious people. At intermission, I looked at Victoria and said introspectively, “we are in North Dakota watching a musical about North Dakota, in July.” It was one of the first moments I’ve had on this trip to just sit back and watch and it was refreshing to realize that the dream – at least to this point – was making us feel out of place and educated all at once. We couldn’t ask for more.
If you’re ever in this neck of the woods, be sure to stop by and take a gander at the laid back country folk in Medora. More information here.