The Medora-cation

Remember when I said that Medora, ND, was a topic for a new post? This is that post.

"Yay! Medora 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.

Every performance, the Burning Hills Singers invite the kids to come up and sing a song. I still have my Honorary Rough Rider ribbon from when I did it one year.

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:

My family being goofy in Medora in 2007

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.

A saloon on the way to the Burning Hills Amphitheater in Medora, ND

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.

Public relations image of happy, normal family eating at the Pitchfork Fondue

Actual image of my siblings and I waiting in line for the Pitchfork Fondue -- It was raining and about 40 degrees at a generous August.

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.

Medora's Burning Hills Amphitheater -- See? Close quarters.

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!


12 thoughts on “The Medora-cation

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  6. It’s not that I hate musicals or dislike Medora in any way. This “Medora-cation” our family has melded into a pseudo-tradition also brings back many fond memories for me where hysterical laughter and our over analysis of the human condition make me smile at the recollection. During the visit in question I was nursing a ruptured disc and walking the familiar streets of Medora only added to the discomfort. (I preferred my body partially supported on a stool watching Led Zepp with massive support from the local pharmacy.) It hurt like crazy.

    I know I will never forget our visits to Medora and as any parent can attest, sometimes with kids, the time away from home can be challenging. You may not recall but when the rain came (monsoon was the appropriate term) often the escalator was shut down and I always ended up carrying one of you kids up the long and winding path to the parking area. I am surprised I could steer the car out to the main road with noodle arms and hypothermia from the journey. Also the vomitorium, I mean amphetheatre, is not an ideal place for any parent to try to stem the flow of over indulgence from the snack bar. It was a trial at the time but as I see those days in the past I would gladly carry you all out of the bowels of the amphetheatre or ineptly try to wipe vomit from the neck and shoulders of the lady in front of us. It’s the little things that make family memories which last and you will be meeting us in Medora soon. Bring Chris in case you have to carry me out of there. DAD

    • Haha I didn’t mean to make you sound like a Grinch, that was just all I remembered of you from that trip! But now that I think of it, that was the summer you were heavily medicated. I look forward to more Medora-ing. And I’m just happy you found my blog. I don’t know how much more (if any) you’ve gotten through, but let me know what you think. I feel like I get ideas for things in spurts. I was on a roll for a while, and now I’ve got a little writers’ block.

  7. Kaitlin, when I read about your Grandmother visiting Medora, I figured, if it was between 1981 and 1993, she would have seen my husband who was Badlands Bob, the “Old Timer”. He was the host of the musical for 13 years. I was the manager of the Medora Campground and our 4 kids worked around town and at and in the Musical. I drove the van to the show from the campground so maybe your Grandma got to exprience that ride.

    You have described the whole experience with wonderful feelings and wonderful memories. Thank You for posting it.

    Sandy Bergman, Glenwood MN
    (Bob died 3 years ago but there is alot of his memory still featured out there)

    • Hi Sandy!
      I can almost guarantee that at least one of her visits was during that time period. She had nothing but great things to say about her experience. I hope she does come back to do it again sometime soon. I’m glad you don’t mind the light joking tone about my family’s bad luck on a few occasions. Even those moments are funny to look back on — I really do have many of my favorite summer memories in Medora. It’s a beautiful place, and I’m glad people like you and your husband could be a part of what’s such a fond memory for so many visitors! We all appreciate it!
      Thanks for reading!

  8. Reading this really makes me miss the Medoracation every year! We haven’t done it since you went off to college, and God knows going anywhere with Shannon is an ordeal. I think it died after you left…
    I like the picture about the rain, with you and Shannon frowning and me smiling like an idiot? I think that was the last time we went, like 3 years ago when we all inadvertantly dressed like hippies. Good times in Medora, I’ll miss it..
    P.S. Love your blog, it always makes me smile.
    P.P.S I’m a bad brother. I don’t subscribe, but Lexis does!

    • I’m just happy you read. It made me miss it a little too. I couldn’t find the other pictures from the last couple trips — I know I took a whole bunch. But I’m glad you like my blog, even though you’re my brother and you kind of just have to say that. 🙂

      • I just returned from seeing the 2013 version of the Medora Musical and found myself searching the internet to find the “Medora” song. It wasn’t included in this years version and was excited to see your blog included a video of it (sadly, the video says it doesn’t exist). I love that song, I live over in Glendive, MT, an hour away from Medora, but that song always makes me feel like Medora and North Dakota are home, That song is my favorite part of the musical, when they sing it I always take a deep breath and feel at peace. I am afraid to say the reenactment of the battle wasn’t part of this years show either (and I miss the days when they read the letters during the reenactment scene). I guess things change and North Dakota is changing. It was nice to read your blog our family has visited Medora at least once a year for over 30 years and I well remember Badlands Bob.

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