Tuesday, August 31, 2010

goodbye, medora.

Well folks, the entire Institute has left ND. We had a great last hurrah (below), and are very happy to back in the lovely chicago.

Our last hurrah:
We knew from experience that 21st birthdays are not a big enough milestone to be announced during the portion of the musical where groups, anniversaries and birthdays are shared with audience. When Abby's 21st came around on august 21st, we used our inside connection of Theodore Rooselvelt (aka David Simmons) to inform the people in charge that the North Dakota Institute of Contemporary Art would be in the audience. We arrived on time, took our employee seats in upper level due the crowd of 2000 + and awaited our 15 seconds of fame. Here is a transcript of what procceeded:

"Also here with us the folks from North Dakota Institute of Contempor... (a lot of loud screaming!!!) ...I think that speaks for it's self."

That was a totally legitimizing moment for us. It felt good.

Thanks, TR!

Sunday, August 22, 2010


Here's a great piece by the up and coming collaboration called the North Dakota State Historical Society.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


With Medora being such a small town, the chosen methods of transportation for those who live here tend to be quite interesting. As I sit outside the Badlands Pizza Parlor typing this blog, I have seen a horse drawn buggy go past three times, Lil' Smokey, the tour guide train, is parked just up the street outside the post office and the old three wheeled (2 in the back one in the front) really skinny truck thing with the steering wheel on the left side that maintenance uses to water flowers around town is parked next to the Chuck Wagon.

(carriage and maintenance thing)

As entertaining as those are, the prize goes to the golf cart parked across the street.

This beauty is brand new and owned by the Foundation and boy is this thing is customized. Not only does it have the Flintstones-esque woodgrain design, but the badlands are painted on the back and under the steering wheel, Theodore Roosevelt is painted on the sides, there are wild horses running out of a giant wave and Bully Pulpit (the golf course) is painted on the trunk between the painted on straps.

(Theodore Roosevelt on a horse)

There must be a design your own golf cart website, and I don't think it has an editor.

However, it is precisely these the over-the-top things that make Medora the fantastic, absurd, beautiful tourist destination that it is. Without these moments, it would be just another small town hiding in just about any national park.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

foundation fashion.

Half of this town is owned by the Theodore Rooselvelt Medora Foundation. There are about 300 employees that work for TRMF and we mostly dress the same. The housekeepers and the Rough Rider Hotel/Dining Room folk wear different uniforms, but for the most part, you can spot a foundation employee from miles away. Well, blocks anyway.

The first uniform we had was a blue checked button up, long or short sleeved, tucked into neat blue jeans with a black or brown belt and black or brown shoes, cowboy boots preferred. The shirts were unisex, meaning far too large for many of the females. We were also issued some nice "flair," colorful rectangular buttons asking if you've been to Bully Pulpit golf course, the Medora Musical or Theodore's Dining Room. And name tags, of course.

Next came the lovely red plaid snap front western shirts. These, thankfully, come in both women's and men's sizes and look so much better on everyone. And they more fully embrace our western town.

However, with the arrival of new shirts, the Rough Rider Gift Shop, which is higher end than the rest of the foundation gift shops, had to start wearing black pants in anticipation of the black skirts we would soon receive.

The day the black skirts did come was a sad one. Western? I think not. The silver concha belts, maybe, but the skirts were a bad idea. Even worse when Sarah left the foundation and I was the only person under about 50 wearing this this thing around town.

(sarah is missing her belt, fail)

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Featured Act 2: David Crowe

Stand up comedian David Crowe graced our presence from June 27 to July 23, joining in the Medora fun. He took the place of the Extreme Canine Stunt Dogs, and I hear the backstage crew and cast were more than happy to have silence backstage. 13 dogs can create quite the racket. For those of us in the audience, were were just happy to have one of Buffalo Dales jokes cut out due to the much shorter set up time.

We saw David's progression from his first show to his last one. His first show was his first night in North Dakota, which is a bit of a different place from Seattle. As he spent more time here, he added more jokes about North Dakota and Medora, all of which were spot on.

Something you should know about the Musical: Before the show, they heard 2 elk with giant antlers to the top of the hill behind the stage and bribe them to stay there with feed. It never ceases to amaze the guests. David had a fantastic joke about all the hunters (and hunter is a much better term than sportsman, because if hunting is a sport it's the only one where the other team has no idea they are playing) who sit there and twitch at the sight of those beautiful animals.

The Medora Musical is a family event, and the featured acts must follow suit. As you can imagine, David has plenty of material he can't use during the show, so he so kindly offered to do a club set for employees one night after the musical. I think we all had side aches for a few days afterwards. He had been in town for long enough to know exactly what goes down here, and he delivered a beautiful show that, for the most part, only a Medora employee could fully appreciate.

He's funny, check him out sometime: http://comedians.jokes.com/david-crowe
Or youtube him.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Hidden Messages

This ain't no Last Supper, but Medora hasn't fallen completely off the fresco bandwagon.

And Medora's version of the fresco comes with a not-so-subliminal message:

What exactly is better(n) than bacon? I'm still not sure.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Pitchfork Fondue: the weirdest picnic ever

This was the event that we have been waiting for. That all our friends have been waiting to hear about. That defines the weird town that is Medora, ND.

It is the famous Pitchfork Steak Fondue.

(keep in mind that this happens every night. that is a lot of steak!)

We're talking steak on pitchforks deep fried in 55 gallon drums of sunflower seed oil. You can see all the pitchforks lined up and ready to go before the eating begins, and you can watch the fondue-ing process. It takes about 3-5 minutes. The menu also includes fruit and vegetables, cole slaw, baked potatoes, garlic bread and baked beans.

The evening went as follows:

Guests arrive, claim a picnic table under the pavilion, and when the word is given everyone lines up at the buffet, hands in their ticket in exchange for a color coded plate referring to either a 9 oz new york strip steak, 12 oz rib eye or hot dog. Somewhere near the beginning of the line, it started raining, which quickly turned into an absolute downpour. The pavilion provides shelter, but the rain still blows in from the edges, and the fight for tables in the middle commenced. There were only 4 of us and we were near the front of the line so we managed to score a pretty good location. Live entertainment was provided by Steve Lasiter, the Burning Hills Singer, and members of the Coal Diggers. They did a great job and started playing somewhere over the rainbow when a beautiful one appeared in the sky, the plus side of the rain.

(a few of our fellow diners)

Our take on this event:

It was like a giant picnic with hundreds of strangers. The food was good, the steak was average (abby though it was weird, and well, it was), and the live band was entertaining. The rain and the fact that were hundreds of people there made it a bit of a stressful event. I wish the actual fondue-ing was a more central focus of the event. It happens off on the edge of the pavilion, and you can watch if you want to, but no one really does. Worth the $26 that paying guests spend? I don't know, but it was certainly entertaining!

(notice the pitchfork hole)

Oh and they guy sitting behind us with the shirt that said "I didn't claw my way to the top of the food chain to eat vegetables" was simply priceless.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

extreme canine stunt dogs.

The Medora Musical, which takes place every night from June 2 through September 5 (a review will be coming soon!), has a special act that performs after the intermission every night. Throughout the summer there will be a total of four acts, the first of which was the Extreme Canine Stunt Dog Show.

(the obstacle course)

These extreme canines have appeared on a number of Animal Planet TV shows, Ellen Degeneres show, The Tonight Show, and even Chicago's very own Oprah Winfrey Show. There are a total of 13 dogs who are part of the extreme canine team all of whom have been rescued from shelters and trained to be incredible performers.

(some mad frisbee skills)

With names like Chaps, Jet, Seven and Charlotte, each dog had it's own personality and knew how to work the crowd. The show started with an obstacle course for the dogs (as you can imagine, some nights the dogs were certainly better than others). Gail, the dog's trainer, and her assistant Tom, a butler-looking sort of clown, worked with the dogs through the obstacle course, hula hooped with the dogs, and threw frisbees to the dogs in crazy patterns.

(obstacle course and Tom, because every show needs it's clown)

The crowd loved the dogs, especially the tiny one, Charlotte, who jumped over a collie named Seven. And personally, I loved the dogs. Any time you can have dogs at an outdoor performance, you are setting yourself up for a good situation. On occasion the dogs would get distracted by horse poop on the back of the stage, but once their concentration was back, the show was a hit.

(bff's charlotte and seven)

The last three photos are courtesy of mary egstad, reallyred88.blogspot.com


Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Medora Car Show

This is the weekend when the employee parking lot (which is really just a grassy area) is suddenly transformed into a bustling hub of classic car activity. The weekend wasn't the perfect one for such an event. The thunderstorms lasted a little too long into the morning, and after a few hours of beautiful sun, a brief but powerful storm brought hail to the cringing car owners.

All in all, though, it was a good weekend, Most of the hotels were booked up and the streets were a more interesting place with the sweet cars cruising through town.

Here are a few photos of my quick stroll in the few moments of sunshine.

Friday, June 18, 2010

celebrity catastrophe

The Flag Day all horse parade started out innocently enough.

(some patriotic spectators)

This event showcasing the iconic american cowboy culture covered the distance of about 2 blocks, with each horse and rider announced by the slightly unprepared announcers. Being such a small parade, the audience didn't really know what to do, and the timid applause didn't begin until about 7 horses in. Such is the charm of events in such a small town.

(various rodeo princesses carrying the Medora flag and the Rough Rider flag)

(some cowboys, check out the mini one)

Near the end of the parade, the famous Burning Hills Singers, the cast of the Medora Musical, and the closest thing to celebrity that this town has, came riding down the street in a horse drawn buggy. Things were going just fine until they reached the announcers stand, and one of the horses (who had a broken bridle to begin with) spooked. Buffalo Dale, who was riding a horse next to the buggy, and the driver of the buggy tried to keep the horses under control, but they bolted down the street, making for a much quicker parade than anticipated. At that point a loud noise was heard and the spectators raced to the street to see what happened. The announcers urged everyone back to the curb, reminding us that horses are temperamental and everything was under control. Everything was not, in fact, under control. The horse and buggy crashed into a parked car, and all the burning hills singers jumped ship. The car was damaged and an ambulance was called as 16 year old cast member, Macy Jo, was having a panic attack. Thankfully the cast and and horses came through unharmed, and the show could go on. As you can imagine, this was the talk of the town for days to come.

(Buffalo Dale and some frightened Burning Hills Singers, as the horses begin to make a dash for it)

Sunday, June 13, 2010

photo of today.

Spotted on the corner of third street and third ave.:

There are several things to note in this photo.

1. The event that is occurring is the lowering of the flags which occurs every evening, and they are raised every morning. This is narrated by a loudspeaker which can be heard all through town, and is performed by "troops" weather they be girl scouts or anonymous horse riders, as seen in today's photo.

2. The man in the black jacket and hat is Cowboy Lyle Glass, Medora's resident cowboy. Due to health issues, he isn't riding this year but he oversees the raising and lowering of flags every day. He also has a candy shop named after him.

3. There is a man wearing a nice combination of colors in the foreground.

4. To the right of that man's head is General Custer. He drives a PT Cruiser.

5. You will also notice some horses on the right of the photo, a common sight in the streets of Medora.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Feathers of the West

Nestled in the Western Edge bookstore and art gallery, we stumbled upon what appears to be quite the movement in western art: paint on feathers. The detailed paintings of badlands wildlife were created on feathers of an unidentified bird and mounted with tracks of the painted animal as a border. It seems to be a recent trend, as well, as all paintings were signed and dated by artist F L Knudson from this year or last.
Feathers, who knew?

Wednesday, June 2, 2010


Cattle brands can be found all over the town of Medora, and being the typography nerds that we are, they immediately caught our attention.

They are used as a way to distinguish one rancher’s cattle from another, and need to be registered in the state’s brand book. They function as a kind of logo for the rancher and we have seen them on headstones in the cemetery, in the pizza parlor as a way to mark that the cowboy had been in town, in the cowboy hall of fame as another means of identification, as well as being used for simple decoration.

Although the brands are unique to each rancher, they all follow an organizational system so that they can be read by others. A brand is read from left to right, then top to bottom and finally from outside to inside when the brand has one character that encloses another. Special terms are used when a letter is used in a nontraditional way: crazy for reversed, lazy for turned 90 degrees, flying for a symbol that starts and ends with a long serif or horizontal lines, rocking is a symbol set on top of a quarter circle, bar is a line preceding or following a symbol, box is a symbol with a square or rectangle, etc. There can be combinations of many of these terms within one brand.

branding iron:

We found these brands so fascinating because they are using letters and common symbols in a manner that creates their own language. This system of organization recognizes the visual quality of letters in a way that our written language doesn’t always acknowledge. These symbols become the identity of the rancher in a way that a logo becomes the identity of a company. However, unlike logos, there is a system in place that allows someone in the know to be able to read a brand they have never seen before because it's not just an image, it is a language.

Typography. On cattle. Bam.

And here's a little bonus: Two of Abby's uncles and her Grandpa branding:
We've seen their brands around town, so here's a photo of them in action.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Enchanted Highway: Road of Anticipation

Welcome to the NDICA!
We wanted to start this blog off with a bang, so here is North Dakota’s very own “Enchanted Highway,” one of the most impressive stretches of highway known to humankind. This 32 mile journey is home to eight monumental metal sculptures, wide open plains, a handful of pheasants, three towns and not much else.

Artist Gary Greff created this attraction as a way to bring traffic and business to his hometown of Regent, ND. We for sure wouldn’t have gone without the Enchanted Highway guiding us there! You can check out the full story at www.enchantedhighway.net

We started out in our mini van with no idea of what to expect. The Enchanted Highway is advertised from the interstate with a handful of signs, and the first sculpture looms over the interstate, beckoning you to check it out.

Driving up the gravel road to the first sculpture, Geese in Flight, you are welcomed by a flock of crudely cut black metal geese pointing you up to the parking lot. The sculpture is a massive eye shaped structure (110 feet tall) supporting 10 westward facing geese, the largest with a wingspan of 30 feet. This thing is impressively giant, and fronted by a strange pieced and spray painted sheet metal barricade/mountain range. The support cables became a lovely part of the piece as well.

The next sculpture was three miles down the road, and as with all of them, could be seen from miles away. Deer crossing, although it looked more like a lamb and a reindeer, was also mind blowing in scale (as you can see from the tiny people in the photo). And it came with a freakishly weird and unexpected sheet metal maze somewhat reminiscent of a cattle chute, which was surprisingly fun to interact with, and made this stop worth pulling over for.

Grasshoppers Delight is next in the lineup. This piece made good use of variation in scale and came with a bonus jungle gym and rideable grasshoppers on springs. While some of the giant metal wheat stalks were broken and falling over, the rope lights adorning the baby grasshoppers made it all the more enchanting.

photo for scale:

Five miles down the road, we came across Fishman’s Dream, which looked a bit more like a nightmare to us. I mean, if I caught a fish at least 10 times my size that was also made out of metal, I would be concerned. The surprise activity at this site was a sunken ship that was not so child friendly due to the swarming insects and jagged edges. It did, however serve to add to the feeling of adventure and created more of an experience to include you in the piece. Also there was a killer robin nesting in some seaweed.

Pheasants in the Prairie had a lovely silhouette from miles away. The family of mesh-bodied birds greeted you from the road with wide-eyed surprise, and once again shocked and awed us with massive scale.

Up next is Teddy Rides Again. North Dakota loves its Theodore Roosevelt history, and he shows up just about everywhere. This piece included a horse drawn carriage that could be climbed into, which of course we did. Teddy was essentially a line drawing made from plumbing pipe of some kind.

Next was the Tin Family. This was the first piece created, and also probably a learning experience for the artist. It was creepy, not to mention the crows nesting in it. But it was big!

The last piece was Whirly Gigs, which brought us into the bustling town of Regent. We drove past it before realizing where the grand finale was. Turns out, it was the contraption next to the gift shop which involved moving parts when the green button was pressed. The gift shop was a treat in and of itself. The sign on the door assured us that it was indeed open, all we needed to do was call one of the phone numbers listed below. We took a photo op moment with the couple we met from Ohio instead.

Overall, the experience was not what we expected, but who could expect such an impressive undertaking in the middle of nowhere! Was it weird? Yes. Was it awesome? Yes. Was it worth the gas and time? You betcha.