Category Archives: North Dakota

North Dakota Part II: Medora

Our second stop in North Dakota was in Medora, an old-west tourist town on I-94 in the southwestern edge of that state, at the gateway to the Badlands. Neither of us knew anything at all about Medora before we got there. As Mike was lining up future reservations for us, he was looking for an RV park west of Bismarck. All of the other parks he looked at were already booked during weekends, so the Red Trail Campground in Medora turned out to be our only option. We are so lucky! I cannot say that the campground itself was in any way spectacular, but the land and scenery around us made up for the drawbacks of the RV park.

Medora was founded in 1883 and is the county seat of Billings County, but it is not really a traditional town. Most of the land and businesses in the center of town are actually owned and operated by the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation. Almost all of the shops, restaurants, and activities in town are owned and staffed by the Foundation. It is a seasonal community. Each year about 600 people from all over the country come to Medora to work for the summer. That workforce is supplemented by another army of volunteers who come to town and spend a week of their time catering to tourists visiting the area. The Foundation also works very closely with the National Park Service, as Medora serves as the gateway to Teddy Roosevelt National Park.

Theodore Roosevelt arrived in Medora for a buffalo hunt in September of 1883 and immediately fell in love with the land. He invested in cattle and soon operated two large ranches, the Maltese and the Elkhorn. His time in the area and his affinity for the Badlands made him the most famous individual to be intertwined with Medora and its history. Harold Schafer, however, is probably the person most responsible for the evolution of Medora into the attraction it is today. Mr. Schafer was a native of North Dakota and a “rags to riches” businessman. He rose to national acclaim as the original maker of Glass Wax, Snowy Bleach, and Mr. Bubble bubble bath. Do you remember Mr. Bubble in the pink plastic bottle? I do! Harold Schafer is the man that established the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation in 1986 and set preservation efforts into motion so that Medora would become somewhat of a living history museum – showcasing the lifestyles and physical environment of the western cowboy era.

We spent two fun weeks in Medora. We visited the museums, shops and restaurants. We also took advantage of most of the other entertainment options available to visitors. When we weren’t wandering around the cute little town, we were in the National Park or on one of the other hiking trails in the area. This was our first exposure to the Badlands and the landscape was gloriously beautiful. I will let the pictures below tell the rest of the story.

Although the Keystone Pipeline from Canada to Texas has not yet been officially approved, we have seen yards of pipes ready to go since we were in Duluth, MN. I wonder what will happen with all of this equipment if the construction of the pipeline is ultimately denied?

Although the Keystone Pipeline from Canada to Texas has not yet been officially approved, we have seen yards of pipes ready to go since we were in Duluth, MN. This was a pile of pipe that we passed along I-94. I wonder what will happen with all of this equipment if the construction of the pipeline is ultimately denied?

This is not the greatest photo since it was taken out of the passenger side window as we were driving west across North Dakota, but this is a field of sunflowers. I did not know North Dakota is the largest producer of sunflower crops in the United States. They look so bright and magical as they all face the same direction - like a little army of happy flowers.

This is not the greatest photo since it was taken out of the passenger side window as we were driving west across North Dakota, but this is a field of sunflowers. I did not know North Dakota is the largest producer of sunflower crops in the United States. They look so bright and magical as they all face the same direction – like a little army of happy flowers.

Our first glimpse of the cute town of Medora as we walked to downtown from our campground.

Our first glimpse of the cute town of Medora as we walked to downtown from our campground.

These horses provided tourists with a 30- minute tour of the town as the man with the reins serenaded them with old-timey cowboy songs.

These horses provided tourists with a 30- minute tour of the town as the man with the reins serenaded them with old-timey cowboy songs.

A spectacular national park.

A spectacular national park.

The basic components of any community: the post office, the bank, and the church.

The basic components of any community: the post office, the bank, and the church.

St. Mary's Catholic Church was built in 1884 and financed by the town's namesake Medora de Vallombrosa. Back at that time, she received an annual income of $90,000 from a stock portfolio she received from her father before her marriage. Can you imagine earning an income of $90k over 131 years ago? She was loaded!

St. Mary’s Catholic Church was built in 1884 and financed by the town’s namesake Medora de Vallombrosa. Back at that time, she received an annual income of $90,000 from a stock portfolio she received from her father before her marriage. Can you imagine earning an income of $90k over 131 years ago? She was loaded!

St. Mary's Catholic Church is too small to accommodate 2015 crowds, so now services are held at the Community Center in the City Council Chambers at 4pm on Saturdays. The priest travels from the town of Beach, about 30 miles west of Medora. The historic church is still open to visitors for prayers and lighting of candles.

St. Mary’s Catholic Church is too small to accommodate 2015 crowds, so now services are held at the Community Center in the City Council Chambers at 4pm on Saturdays. The priest travels from the town of Beach, about 30 miles west of Medora. The historic church is still open to visitors for prayers and lighting of candles.

The only road leaving Medora to the south.

The only road leaving Medora to the south.

Medora offers a musical variety show every night of the week during the summer season. We got to the parking lot extra early on the night we saw the production, and had our own little private tailgate party. This was our view from the back of the Honda.

Medora offers a musical variety show every night of the week during the summer season. We got to the parking lot extra early on the night we saw the production, and had our own little private tailgate party. This was our view from the back of the Honda.

Tailgate selfie.

Tailgate selfie.

A view of the badlands as sunset approached.

A view of the Badlands as sunset approached.

While we enjoyed our tailgate party, we were able to watch these two elk graze on top of a hill across from us. (Mike was in heaven)!

While we enjoyed our tailgate party, we were able to watch these two elk graze on top of a hill across from us. (Mike was in heaven)!

The views from The Badlands' hilltops are magical.

The views from the Badlands’ hilltops are magical.

The musical in progress.

The musical in progress.

Did you know prairie dogs live in towns? I did not.

Did you know prairie dogs live in towns? I did not.

Piper and Cessna also thought the scenic views of The Badlands were incredibly majestic.

Piper and Cessna also thought the scenic views of the Badlands were incredibly majestic.

Mike and his dog looking for wildlife.

Mike and his dog looking for wildlife.

Badlands selfie.

Badlands selfie.

Wild mustangs or feral horses off in the distance.

Wild mustangs or feral horses off in the distance.

Buffalo everywhere.

Buffalo everywhere.

The rock formations in The Badlands had me thinking we might have been transported to another planet all together.

The rock formations in the Badlands had me thinking we might have been transported to another planet all together.

Taking it all in during a driving tour of Teddy Roosevelt National Park.

Taking it all in during a driving tour of Teddy Roosevelt National Park.

The public golf course in Medora is called the Bully Pulpit. There were several golf tournaments taking place during our stay, so unfortunately Mike only got to hit balls from the practice range. No tee times available for 18-holes.

The public golf course in Medora is called the Bully Pulpit. There were several golf tournaments taking place during our stay, so unfortunately Mike only got to hit balls from the practice range. No tee times available for 18-holes.

The Maah Daah Hey Trail is a 145 mile non-motorized trail that stretches through the Badlands. Portions of the trail that run through the national park do not allow dogs, but they are allowed outside the park. Piper and Cessna loved our daily hikes.

The Maah Daah Hey Trail is a 145 mile non-motorized trail that stretches through the Badlands. Portions of the trail that run through the national park do not allow dogs, but they are allowed outside the park. Piper and Cessna loved our daily hikes.

One of our daily hikes.

One of our daily hikes.

One of Medora's most famous historic citizens was the man who invented Mr. Bubbles bubble bath. Another was Theodore Roosevelt. There is a performance in the town theater every day at 3:30 when the former president talks to the audience about his life, his philosophies, and his aspirations. It was very interesting and educational.

One of Medora’s most famous historic citizens was the man who invented Mr. Bubbles bubble bath. Another was Theodore Roosevelt. There is a performance in the town theater every day at 3:30 when the former president talks to the audience about his life, his philosophies, and his aspirations. It was very interesting and educational.

The ceiling beams in the Little Missouri Saloon were covered in dollar bills and cowboy hats.

The ceiling beams in the Little Missouri Saloon were covered in dollar bills and cowboy hats.

I've been trying to recall exactly how many 'signed' dollar bills we have left across the country since this adventure started. I can for sure remember tacking them to the walls of watering holes in Pensacola, Rhode Island, and Columbus, Ohio.

I’ve been trying to recall exactly how many ‘signed’ dollar bills we have left across the country since this adventure started. I can for sure remember tacking them to the walls of watering holes in Pensacola, Rhode Island, and Columbus, Ohio.

The only remaining train line that runs through Medora is the BNSF.

The only remaining train line that runs through Medora is the BNSF.

We had our own personal Badlands hill on the outskirts of our campground.

We had our own personal Badlands hill on the outskirts of our campground.

This photo was taken the night before the full moon was up in Medora during our stay. The National Park Service was sponsoring a guided full moon walk /hike in the park on the next night. Unfortunately, the wild fires burning in Montana and Washington were so bad that the smoke darkened any view, so I opted not to go after all.

This photo was taken the night before the full moon was up in Medora during our stay. The National Park Service was sponsoring a guided full moon walk /hike in the park on the next night. Unfortunately, the wild fires burning in Montana and Washington were so bad that the smoke darkened any view, so I opted not to go after all.

Buffalo traffic jam.

Buffalo traffic jam.

The Little Missouri River.

The Little Missouri River.

Medora was founded by a Frenchman named the Marquis de Mores (his wife was named Medora). Their home was a 26-room Chateau constructed during the 1880's. It is still standing and open to the public for self-guided tours. The home features original furnishings and décor. This was the pantry off of the kitchen. Looks like they were ready to host aristocratic hunting parties at any time for any number of guests.

Medora was founded by a Frenchman named the Marquis de Mores (his wife was named Medora). Their home was a 26-room Chateau constructed during the 1880’s. It is still standing and open to the public for self-guided tours. The home features original furnishings and décor. This was the pantry off of the kitchen. Looks like they were ready to host aristocratic hunting parties at any time for any number of guests.

This is the type of thing that we shared the sidewalk with as we walked the dogs around town.

This is the type of thing that we shared the sidewalk with as we walked the dogs around town.

Mike fries us up some fish from our last stop in Valley City.

Mike fries us up some fish from our last stop in Valley City.

As we returned from an afternoon walk, NINE coaches from a caravan were all arriving to check in at the campground.

As we returned from an afternoon walk, NINE coaches from a caravan were all arriving to check in at the campground.

The Pitchfork Steak Fondue takes place each night from 5:30 - 6:30 on an outdoor terrace overlooking the Badlands. Mike had one of the western style steaks. I had a plate of roasted buffalo, grilled chicken and bbq'd ribs. I thought the meal would be mediocre at best, given the number of crowds they serve each night and the orientation toward 'touristy' entertainment. I'm happy to say I was wrong. It was surprisingly good. I later learned this dining experience was featured on the "Best Of" show on Food Network.

The Pitchfork Steak Fondue takes place each night from 5:30 – 6:30 on an outdoor terrace overlooking the Badlands. Mike had one of the western style steaks. I had a plate of roasted buffalo, grilled chicken and bbq’d ribs. I thought the meal would be mediocre at best, given the number of crowds they serve each night and the orientation toward ‘touristy’ entertainment. I’m happy to say I was wrong. It was surprisingly good. I later learned this dining experience was featured on the “Best Of” show on Food Network.

The line for dinner at the Pitchfork Steak Fondue.

The line for dinner at the Pitchfork Steak Fondue.

Three trophy mule deer bucks in the national park. The photo is grainy because I was zoomed in all the way. Mike was salivating.

Three trophy mule deer bucks in the national park. The photo is grainy because I was zoomed in all the way. Mike was salivating.

We got up extra early one morning and took a sunrise drive through the park. The objective was to see as many wild animals as possible as they were out and about at dawn. Our strategy was successful. We saw turkey, white tail deer, mule deer, coyotes, feral horses, bison, birds, prairie dogs and pronghorn.

We got up extra early one morning and took a sunrise drive through the park. The objective was to see as many wild animals as possible as they were out and about at dawn. Our strategy was successful. We saw turkey, white tail deer, mule deer, coyotes, feral horses, bison, birds, prairie dogs and pronghorn.

A single pronghorn at the base of a hill.

A single pronghorn at the base of a hill.

Two mule deer on the side of a mountain. The photo is grainy again because of the zoom factor.

Two mule deer on the side of a mountain. The photo is grainy again because of the zoom factor.

It is almost impossible to see, but I took this photo of a coyote making his way up the side of this mountain.

It is almost impossible to see, but I took this photo of a coyote making his way up the side of this mountain.

Mule deer.

Mule deer.

buck

A momma and her baby.

A momma and her baby.

Only the streets within downtown Medora are paved. All other roads in the area are red gravel.

Only the streets within downtown Medora are paved. All other roads in the area are red gravel.

The amphitheater at the Medora Musical before the evening's audience was seated.

The amphitheater at the Medora Musical before the evening’s audience was seated.

The Maah Daah Hey Trail name comes from the Native American language of the Mandan Hidatsa Indians. It means "grandfather, long-lasting". It is used to describe things or an area that has been or will be around for a long time and is deserving of respect. The trail markers feature a single turtle. Adopted from the Lakota Sioux Indians, the turtle symbolizes patience, determination, steadfastness, long-life and fortitude. The turtle shell symbolizes protection.

The Maah Daah Hey Trail name comes from the Native American language of the Mandan Hidatsa Indians. It means “grandfather, long-lasting”. It is used to describe things or an area that has been or will be around for a long time and is deserving of respect. The trail markers feature a single turtle. Adopted from the Lakota Sioux Indians, the turtle symbolizes patience, determination, steadfastness, long-life and fortitude. The turtle shell symbolizes protection.

A snapshot of the Maah Daah Hey Trail above the Bully Pulpit Golf Course.

A snapshot of the Maah Daah Hey Trail above the Bully Pulpit Golf Course.

Hiking the trail.

Hiking the trail.

 

North Dakota Part I: Valley City

Our first stop in North Dakota was in the tiny town of Valley City, about an hour west of Fargo. The City had a 27-spot Tourist Park campground directly on Main Street near downtown. The spots were very narrow but the price was only $18 per day, so the trade off was fine. We were at this spot for three weeks.

A few weeks back, I had scheduled a quick solo weekend trip to Colorado for a getaway with a couple of my lifelong girl friends. We all went to high school in Austin, but Janet and Amy coincidentally both live in Denver now. Mike initially looked for campgrounds near Fargo, but no one could take us during the dates we requested. Valley City had availability, and it was still convenient for me to get to the airport when the time came for my flight to Colorado. Mike drove me over to Fargo on the last Thursday of our stop. He dropped me at the airport and drove back to Valley City. He hung out with the dogs, spending his weekend waxing the Monaco and watching the PGA Championship Tournament on television. On Sunday evening, he drove back over to Fargo and picked me up. The following Tuesday we left Valley City and continued west to the opposite side of the state.

There wasn’t much to do in Valley City, but it was a clean and safe little town of about 6,000. We were able to walk everywhere on our errands. We walked to the Parks & Rec Department, Visitor’s Center, Bank, Library, Post Office, Grocery Market, St. Catherine’s Catholic Church, and the dog park. Mike got a 10-day fishing license and fished on Lake Ashtabula, which was about 12 miles to the north of town. He also fished on the Sheyenne River in town at a little public space near the hospital. There was a nine-hole public golf course on the south east side of town and Mike hit some balls from the driving range on a couple of occasions. I had a nice spa mani/pedi at a local salon in town. We went on a couple of scenic driving tours through the Sheyenne River Valley, and visited Fort Ransom State Park and Little Yellowstone State Park. We drove to Jamestown to get groceries at the Walmart Super Center, because the grocery prices at the market in tiny Valley City were totally jacked up. We also made a couple of daytrips into Fargo. Mike and I took the dogs one afternoon to walk and explore. I went back another time on my own for a haircut at a downtown salon.

Our cramped #24 spot at the Valley City Tourist Park. $18 per night.

Our cramped #24 spot at the Valley City Tourist Park. $18 per night. The campground had a steady stream of overnight stops with people passing through. There were also a dozen or so highway construction workers from Bemidji. They lived in their campers during the work week, and drove back home to Bemidji over the weekends. Our neighbor on our driver’s side was an elderly widowed gentleman from Rapid City, S.D. visiting his hometown. He had a beautiful springer spaniel named Ike. He was there before we arrived and was staying for a while longer after we left. There was also a homeless lady living in a tent at the park. She was there the entire time we were there too.

The famous elevated train track in Valley City.

The famous elevated train track in Valley City.

The local historic Carnegie Library is one of the few restored structures still in use as a functioning library. The amount of data on our monthly AT&T plan was running low, so I walked over with my laptop on most days to use the free wifi while I checked email, worked on my blog and other stuff like that.

The local historic Carnegie Library is one of the few restored structures in America which is still in use as a functioning library. The amount of data on our monthly AT&T plan was running low, so I walked over with my laptop on most days to use the free wifi to check email, work on my blog and other stuff like that.

Another one of Mike's fishing spots was only a couple of blocks from our camp.

Another one of Mike’s fishing spots was only a couple of blocks from our camp.

There was a medicine wheel at a civic park in Valley City.

There was a medicine wheel at a civic park in Valley City.

We saw this on the first night we were camped at the Valley City Tourist Park.

We saw this on the first night we were camped at the Valley City Tourist Park.

Geese (of course).

Geese (of course).

The Sheyenne River.

The Sheyenne River.

The Sheyenne River out of the dam from Lake Ashtabula.

The Sheyenne River out of the dam from Lake Ashtabula.

Lake Ashtabula (one of Mike's fishing spots was off the end of the pier at the bottom of the photo).

Lake Ashtabula (one of Mike’s fishing spots was off the end of the pier at the bottom of the photo).

Some of Mike's daily catch.

Some of Mike’s daily catch.

The harvest.

The harvest.

A Viking Statue on top of a pyramid shaped hill (is the perfect shape of the hill a natural coincidence, or was the mount created by Indians from civilizations past? (The debate rages on).

A Viking Statue on top of a pyramid shaped hill (Is the perfect shape of the hill a natural coincidence, or was the mound created by Indians from civilizations past? The debate rages on).

The Sheyenne River at Fort Ransom State Park.

The Sheyenne River at Fort Ransom State Park.

This hawk and I has a time consuming stare-down. All he wanted was to hunt for rodents in the field under this utility pole. All I wanted his to do was fly away so I could get a photo of him in flight. After 10 minutes, I gave up. He was very patient.

This hawk and I had a time consuming stare-down. All he wanted was to hunt for rodents in the field under this utility pole. All I wanted him to do was fly away so I could get a photo of him in flight. After 10 minutes, I gave up. He was very patient.

The original food truck. In 1912, as part of a threshing rig, this car followed the harvest from Colfax, ND to Canada and was returned by rail back to Colfax.

The original food truck. In 1912, as part of a threshing rig, this cooks’ car followed the harvest from Colfax, ND to Canada and was returned by rail back to Colfax.

Fort Ransom State Park has hiking trails, horse trails, snow-mobile trails, and bike trails.

Fort Ransom State Park has hiking trails, horse trails, snow-mobile trails, and bike trails.

A view of the Sheyenne River Valley from the scenic overlook at Fort Ransom State Park.

A view of the Sheyenne River Valley from the scenic overlook at Fort Ransom State Park.

Fort Ransom State Park. (This would be a fun place to visit during winter)!

Fort Ransom State Park. (This would be a fun place to visit during winter)!

Storm clouds east of sunset.

Storm clouds east of sunset.

A bird over the dam at Lake Ashtabula.

A bird over the dam at Lake Ashtabula.

A train on 'the bridge' in Valley City.

A train on ‘the bridge’ in Valley City.

Jamestown boasts the largest buffalo structure in all of the United States.

Jamestown boasts the largest buffalo structure in all of the United States.

We went to Jamestown, about 35 miles west of Valley City to get our groceries. This was the home town of Louis L'amour. How many of these books have you read? I read quite a few of them for a western lit class I took from Don Graham at U.T.

We went to Jamestown, about 35 miles west of Valley City to get our groceries. This was the home town of Louis L’amour. How many of these books have you read? I read quite a few of them for a western lit class I took from Don Graham at U.T.

Downtown Fargo has a nice fabric of historic commercial buildings.

Downtown Fargo has a nice fabric of historic commercial buildings.

I'll be this colorful mural in downtown Fargo brings a bit of cheer to the environment during the white cold months of winter.

I’ll bet this colorful mural in downtown Fargo brings a bit of cheer to the environment during the white cold months of winter.

Downtown Fargo has brightly painted bison sculptures placed at different spots all around the central business district.

Downtown Fargo has brightly painted bison sculptures placed at different spots all around the central business district.

Have you ever had hog wings? We first learned of them at the Sunset Bar and Grill in southern Wisconsin. Pork shanks (pig ankles). Brined and then grilled. Delicious. Fall of the bone. If they are ever on the menu in a restaurant you are visiting, do yourself a favor and order them.

Have you ever had hog wings? We first learned of them at the Sunset Bar and Grill in southern Wisconsin. Pork shanks (pig ankles). Brined and then grilled. Delicious. Fall off the bone. If they are ever on the menu in a restaurant you are visiting, do yourself a favor and order them.

Cessna enjoying the view of the Red River of the North while we enjoyed happy hour drinks and snacks in Moorhead, MN - on the west side of the River, across from Fargo.

Cessna enjoying the view of the Red River of the North while we enjoyed happy hour drinks and snacks in Moorhead, MN – on the east side of the River, across from Fargo.

Hanging out at the Aurora Reservoir on Friday during my weekend side-trip to Denver.

Hanging out at the Aurora Reservoir on Friday during my weekend side-trip to Denver.

Sunday brunch before they put me back on the plane for my return to Fargo Hector International Airport.

Sunday brunch before Janet and Amy put me back on the plane for my return to Fargo Hector International Airport.