Remember when I said that Medora, ND, was a topic for a new post? This is that post.
Tourism isn’t exactly North Dakota’s biggest industry. I was looking up numbers on exactly how pathetic our tourism industry is in this state but, of course, the state tourism board makes all the numbers look really good, so it’s hard to tell. (I really like this guy’s take on tourism in North Dakota — hilarious.)
One thing I do know, though, that the state banks a good chunk of its annual tourism traffic on the “slews” of people who “race” to Medora, ND, every summer to see the Medora Musical. This clip from the local news station in Minot, ND, gives the best idea what the Musical is like. If you watch even just a minute and a half of it, you’ll see scenes from Theodore Roosevelt’s chilling ghost ride through the Badlands and the Musical’s war reenactment — My favorite parts.
Here’s what seems to be a digression, but it’s worth it: My boyfriend’s grandma is a particularly interesting little lady, full of stories and energy somehow all bundled into her slight frame. She hails from Pennsylvania, but she spent as much time as she could throughout her life traveling the world with her family in their RV. (Yes. The world — in their RV.) She has trinkets from everywhere she’s been — every state in the Union and countless other countries, places I’ve never even heard of — lining every shelf and wall in her home. And she has a story to tell from exactly where each one came from. She won’t let you leave the house without at least one little token you seemed particularly interested in. As she got older, she parked the RV for good, but she continues to travel every time she gets the chance. She really should write a book or something about her adventures.
The first time I met her, one of the first things she did was bring me to her refrigerator. Every square inch of its surface was covered in souvenir magnets from different places. But she pointed out one in particular to me. Tucked at the center of the door to her refrigerator was a North Dakota magnet. I was excited to hear she’d been to my home state and asked where she visited. Lo and behold, she made a trip to Medora to see the Musical. Not just once, but twice, and she was hoping to go back again. It’s got that effect on people.
This gave us a lot to talk about, since I’ve done the whole Medora experience almost every year since birth. Since my dad’s a farmer and still works full-time, I never saw much of him during the summer. Consequently, we never took a family vacation. (Ok, except once when I was 9, we went to Rapid City, SD, to see Mount Rushmore for, like, four days over the Fourth of July. But that still doesn’t really count.) Medora, an approximate 3 hour drive from my hometown of Williston, was the closest we ever got to a regular family vacation.
One trip that particularly stands out was just a few years ago. My mom had to literally drag my dad, who hates musicals to begin with, especially ones that he’s seen several times. (The Medora Musical does change its storyline from year to year, but it always follows the same pattern.) In protest, he spent most of the day sitting in the car stewing about all the things he could be getting accomplished at the farm while we did touristy things like this killing time before the Musical:
For anyone who hasn’t had the pleasure of visiting Medora, it’s a step back in time. All the shops are set up to look like they’re on Main Street in an old west town. You can watch salt water taffy being pulled on an antique machine through the window at the candy shop. You can take a relaxing horse and buggy ride through town. You can dress up in costume and have your photos taken old west style, but you have to make sure you sign up early in the morning, or else you won’t get in. (I did this once … Thank God there’s not a digital version obliging me to post it here.) You can eat a delicious steak dinner, fire-roasted “old west” style outdoors overlooking the badlands at the Pitchfork Fondue — possibly my favorite reason for going to Medora. (Call me a foodie or a fatty, whichever you prefer.) You can even take a trail ride through the Badlands but, like the photos, you need to sign up early to ensure your spot.
Writing about all this makes me a little nostalgic. It sounds fun when you haven’t done it for a few years (or if you’ve never done it). After several years of the Medora experience, my family took on a more cynical view.
As children, there seemed to be a plague on any time my family would go to the Musical. From about ages 4-10 for me, the simultaneous Puke and Rain Plagues cursed my family’s Medora-cations. When my younger brother was about 3, he ate an entire box of Junior Mints before the Musical started … and proceeded to throw them up everywhere a third of the way through the show. If you didn’t see the picture of the escalators going down into the amphitheater in my other post, it’s a trek. A seven-story trek, to be exact. Once you’re down there, you’re down there. And you’re in pretty close quarters with the people sitting around you. The Burning Hills Amphitheater is not very puke-friendly.
That was the worst puking incident for a little while, until it was my turn. I was 8 or 9 — far to old to randomly be puking in public. I have no idea what provoked it, (it certainly wasn’t the Pitchfork Fondue because we didn’t start indulging in that until I was a teenager) but mid-Musical, I blew chunks into the giant popcorn bucket I was holding. Only a lot of it splashed onto the neck of the lady in front of me … I still feel bad.
Then there was the rain. The #1 question on the Medora Musical FAQ page is “What if it rains?” Well, if they can get through 60 minutes or more of the production, it’s considered complete and you don’t get a refund. They just skip to the “Come Home to North Dakota” song that they do every year, signalling the end of the Musical. You can hear it in the clip below. This happened to us a few times. They do their best not to have to end early but, of course, since the Rings were there, the only monsoons in North Dakota history would happen.
I poke fun at the Musical and the town but, in all honesty, visiting Medora really is a one-of-a-kind experience. It’s just difficult to see that when it’s so familiar to you. And that’s kind of how the whole state of North Dakota is. It’s easy for us to take for granted what’s in our own backyard.
Have you been to Medora? What’s your experience with it? Are you going this year — The Musical starts tonight!