After visiting Theodore Roosevelt National Park, Tom and I decided to splurge and spend the night in Medora. We wanted to see the famous Medora Musical and eat at the Pitchfork Fondue.
The little town of Medora is the gateway for Theodore Roosevelt National park. Since most people only see Theodore Roosevelt from the exit at I-94, they don’t go through Medora. But Tom and I spent the day hiking around Theodore Roosevelt and wanted to be tourists for a change. We booked a room at the Rough Riders Hotel a couple of weeks ahead and bought tickets for the musical and fondue.
Medora only has 120 year-round residents, but in the summer it really comes alive. Think of it like a mini-Branson. Hundreds of seasonal workers pour into town to support all the tourists that only visit between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Instead of 120 residents, there are easily 1500 people staying in town each night. The variety of restaurants, activities, and shows are aimed completely at the tourists who pass through the town.
We checked into our modern hotel room with a historic touch. The original hotel is historic but only has nine rooms. Those rooms are booked far in advance. The modern annex, however, has the look of the historic hotel with a lot more rooms. The rooms aren’t cheap, but, like I said, we decided to splurge a little. We appreciated the air-conditioned luxury of the room.
We still had a couple of hours before our 5:15 (Mountain time) seating at the Pitchfork Fondue so we explored the town a little. There were all the usual tourist places with t-shirts, magnets, shot glasses, and other doodads. A fudge shop and ice cream parlor beckoned, but we were trying not to eat before the Pitchfork Fondue. We spent most of our time in a wonderful bookstore, The Western Edge, that had extensive sections on Theodore Roosevelt and western North Dakota. I try to support small, local shops (especially yarn shops and bookstores) whenever I can, and I found plenty of books to buy at Western Edge.
We drove to the Pitchfork Fondue and Medora Musical site. Both places share a large parking lot although you can buy tickets to one or the other or both. They are located on top of a hill just west of town. At exactly 5:15 we were able to enter the Pitchfork Fondue buffet. We picked up trays, got some food at the buffet, added a steak from the fondue, and found seats at a picnic table in the shade.
The Pitchfork Fondue gets its name from the way they cook the steaks. They feed an average of 1,500 people a night and most people get a 12 oz steak. The cooks stick the raw steaks on pitchforks and then set them in vats of hot oil to fry. I enjoyed watching them cook the steaks, although we didn’t linger because of the number of people coming up to get their steaks. Because of the timed tickets, we didn’t feel rushed or crowded.
Tom said the steak was the best one he had eaten in years. We figured out that he hadn’t had a steak at all in years! My last steak was November of 2019 and he got salmon that night. I thought 12 oz was a little much, but Tom disagreed. We enjoyed all the food: baked beans, baked potato, Texas toast, coleslaw, fresh fruit, and chocolate cake. We were glad we had worked up an appetite hiking during the day and didn’t feel guilty indulging.
After we were done eating, we had plenty of time to wander around the mountain top. We had a great view of the town of Medora below us. We also checked out the large and crowded gift shop. The restrooms at the Fondue were crowded and messy, so we hit the restrooms next to the Medora Musical instead.
The Medora Musical started at 7:30 and we were able to get in to our seats starting at 7. The outdoor amphitheater holds 2,900 people and whoever runs it knows how to handle the crowds. When you consider the number at the Fondue and the musical every night, they are masters at people-moving. There was an escalator down into (and back up out of) the amphitheater, but Tom and I walked up and down the stairs which were much less crowded.
The Medora Musical began in 1965 as a way to revive the town of Medora. Harold and Sheila Schafer donated their fortune (from the Gold Seal Company) and time to bring life back to the amphitheater and create the Medora experience. Today the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation, established by the Schafers, runs most of the events and historic buildings in town.
The Medora Musical is an unabashed salute to North Dakota and the Medora area. The staging was fun and the singing and dancing was good. The costumes were bright and colorful. As the actors and musicians were introduced, their hometown was announced and the biggest rounds of applause came for the young adults from North Dakota. One of the actors was from Cleveland and one of the musicians was from Columbus, so Tom and I cheered extra loud for them.
The production worked its way through the people who were instrumental in founding and reviving Medora: Theodore Roosevelt, the Marquis de Mores, and Harold Schafer. There were lots of song and dance medleys but we found it hard to understand some of the words. The music overpowered the singing just a bit. But the stage band was great! We also enjoyed the manic energy of the balloon master, John Cassidy. The Medora Musical lasted about two hours, including intermission, and then the ushers guided us out of the amphitheater.
Tom and I got back to the hotel about 10 p.m. Mountain time, and we were glad we were staying in Medora instead of driving the two hours back home. It was a wonderful day full of beautiful sights, good food, and fun entertainment. If you visit Theodore Roosevelt National Park, I encourage you to spend the night in Medora. Eat at the Pitchfork Fondue and see the Musical for the full Medora experience.