Ummmm…Medora, North Dakota, ya’all. I really thought it was going to suck.
I was so wrong.
So, here’s the deal: the rich guy who invented Mr. Bubble also happens to be a huge Theodore Roosevelt fan. TR, if you don’t know, was known as the conservationist president and did more to preserve our nation’s wilderness than any other. He also loved this part of the world and owned 2 ranches here. Good old Ted had some seriously tough times in 1884 when his wife and mother died from typhoid fever within hours of each other. Needless to say, after that, TR needed some serious time to get his head right and he did it here in Medora. So, Mr. Bubble man, the TR fan, came to Medora to be where Ted once was and was saddened by it’s dilapidated state. Then he did something amazing: he started a foundation to improve the town and the results provided a pretty amazing day for our family.
We struck out at 9am with plans for breakfast at Theodore’s in the old Rough Riders hotel downtown and a quick stop in the Park, followed by working our way back home with an 8-hour drive to Sioux Falls. On the way to breakfast, we drove by the cutest little park you have ever seen. The kids begged to stop and it’s vacation so, hey! While playing, I started talking to a couple cute young moms who are from the area, Natalie and Bethany. They insisted we see the Medora Musical. In fact, Natalie’s husband is the marketing director of the Medora Foundation and if we just walk a few blocks to the box office with her and her kids, he would love to give us tickets. What? Say yes, Danielsons. Be yes people. Eric, call the campsite. Can we stay an extra night? Yes!
The kids hopped on their scooters and, along with Natalie’s 2 boys on bikes, traversed Medora like pros. Of course Natalie’s husband, Justin, is just as kind as can be and told us about the Pitchfork Steak dinner that we also shouldn’t miss. Tickets for the dinner and show in hand, we bopped about Medora for a bit, popping into kitschy little shops and stopping for delicious iced coffee drinks and smoothies at a local place.
Once again underestimating and not overly excited (shame on me), I thought we’d do the Junior Ranger booklets, swear the kids in and get in a quick obligatory hike before checking the NP box. This stop ended up being so much more than just a box checked.
First of all, we realized when stamping our NP Passport that this park completes the Rocky Mountain regions for us. We’ve done them all. Yes, they were the most accessible to us from a proximity standpoint, but still. Go us!
While in TRNP, we first visited the South Unit Visitor Center (there’s a whole North Unit to the park that we didn’t even touch). A kind Ranger swore the kids in as Junior Rangers and we toured through TR’s first ranch home, the Maltese Cross Cabin. We then got quite a surprise when the Roosevelts walked in, the President and his 2nd wife, Mittie. Our Teddy was visibly shaken by their arrival but behaved himself for a brief conversation and a photo. I found out why he was so taken-aback when he pulled on my shirt and motioned me down to listen to him whisper, “I thought that guy was dead.”
In the Park, we drove about 10 miles to the Wind Canyon trailhead, passing through huge Priarie dog towns (so cute). Natalie had told us her family enjoys hiking down into the canyon from there, so we gave it a whirl. The soft and winding sandstone trail made for easy but fun hiking and took us down to the Little Missouri River, which flows into our home River, the Missouri. TRNP has feral horses, descendants from ranch stock, that roam wild. They can be elusively hard to see, yet there they were, 5 of them, standing in the Little Mo, waiting for us to come see them.
It was hot so we headed back to our cabin at the Medora Campground to (re)check in and shower before the Pitchfork Steak Dinner. Now, healthiness aside, have you ever eaten a deep-fried steak? It’s so good! And the whole affair is pretty adorable, with volunteers from town helping serve, cowboys with pitchforks and a fabulous view of the Badlands.
After dinner, we walked the short distance to the Burning Hills Amphitheatre, seeing 2 elk grazing on a not-so-distant hillside. We wereamazed by the luck. Spoiler alert: Turns out the Medora folks put a little food out to lure the elk over as a little pre-show treat for their guests. Genius! This place was built by Mr. Bubbles man (Harold Schafer – seriously, what a guy) in 1965 and has been producing an annual musical every year since.
The show was pretty cheesy, with at least one “Proud to be an American” sing-a-long, 2 ghost horses on the backdrop hillside and a National Parks tribute. We loved it! The kids were even called on stage to pledge to take care of our parks and Josie got on mic.
In addition, there was a fireworks-laden battle scene, TR astride his horse (real horse, mind you), leading his rough riders to victory at San Juan Hill. Oh, and there was a guest act: Todd Oliver and his dog, Irving, who talks. We laughed so hard. The Medora Musical is a true pilgrimage for many North Dakota folk. Eric had the pleasure ofsitting next to a woman who has come every year for the past 40. Let’s just say she was EXTREMELY moved by the ghost horses. Huge shout out to Natalie and Justin for the ticket hookup. It was a wonderful way to end our trip.
We left our Medora Cabin this morning and are currently heading south on I-29 in South Dakota, with a projected arrival time in Shawnee of 10pm. This long drive reminds me to make mention of the adorable #switchbackkids , Elizabeth and Cole. We met them at TRNP and they are next headed to Alaska in their year long quest to see all the parks. Follow them on Instagram and Twitter. Stay safe – we’ll be following!
Back in our viniman, Eric is driving and listening to Bill Bryson’s *A Short History of Almost Everything. I checked it out from the library for the trip, thinking I’d brush up on my world history. Wrong. This is more about DNA, adaptation and continental drift than anything. Science. It takes a lot of concentration (not my forte) so I think I just might have time to post about our Teton and Yellowstone legs of this trip. But, as Bill Bryson would say, that’s another story.