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. 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.
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.
A spectacular national park.
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 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.
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.
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)!
The views from the Badlands’ hilltops are magical.
The musical in progress.
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.
Mike and his dog looking for wildlife.
Wild mustangs or feral horses off in the distance.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
A momma and her baby.
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 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.
Hiking the trail.