MEDORA, N.D. (KXNET) — During the previous edition of One-Day ND Destinations, our travel correspondent visited Medora, otherwise known as the biggest little place in North Dakota, to give you an up-close and (almost) personal look at everything the town has to offer in the hopes that you’ll pay it a visit sometime in the future. In last week’s column, we took you through the city itself to showcase the Medora Musical, the Cowboy Hall of Fame, and many of the other businesses and attractions that one can find there — but as anyone familiar with the area can tell you, these are only part of what the area has to offer.
There are plenty of outdoor attractions located right next to Medora, and in this climactic conclusion to One-Day ND Destinations’ first (and presumably only) two-week article series, we stepped outside of Medora to give you an in-depth look at some of the area’s more outdoorsy attractions — as well as the lasting impact of some of the city’s most famous residents.
Chateau de Mores
As we’ve previously mentioned, while Medora’s most famous resident is a former president, he is not the individual responsible for creating the town as we know it today. That honor would go to Antoine de Vallombrosa, better known as the Marquis De Mores — who initially settled in the area in April of 1883. After naming the city in honor of his wife (Medora von Hoffman), he sought to use her family’s financial backing to establish multiple businesses in the town, including a stagecoach line, a hotel, and most importantly, a meat packing plant.
Unfortunately, few if any of these businesses survived for long after their inception, and by the fall of 1886, they had all ended in financial failure, forcing the Marquis to return to France. The most intact part of his legacy now is the home he established outside of the city itself, which has become a tourist attraction in its own right. Before visiting the mansion, however, those who wish to see it must stop by the visitor’s center — where they can not only purchase access to the building via a guided tour, but also watch a short film that explains a little more about the Marquis’s life and his impact on Medora.
The tour fee also includes access to a small museum and exhibition, which provides more in-depth information on Marquis and his settlement. The room features not only replicas and models of the vehicles that the Marquis would have used on his property, but also pieces of hunting equipment, weaponry, and clothing from the period — some of which once belonged to the Marquis’s family themselves. A special focus is also given to the Marquis’s plans for his meat-packing plant, and guests can step inside a refrigerated storage container to learn more about how his method was intended to work. Of particular note is a rare conserved portrait of Meodra Von Hoffman, which is being exhibited for the first time after receiving a restoration and new frame.
The center also hosts a sneak peek at what is soon to be one of Medora’s largest draws — the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library, currently under construction near the site of the Medora Musical. In this temporary exhibit, guests can meet a young Teddy as he showcases some of his favorite animals, plants, and specimens at the Cabinet of Curiosities. The feature also includes a Roosevelt Family Portrait Wall — where the pictures come to life to tell the story of the Roosevelt Family — as well as a replica train car platform.
After exploring the Visitor’s Center, it’s time to tour the main attraction. The Chateau de Mores is located a short distance from the center, and where the things one learns about the Marquis during their time in the exhibit hall can clearly be seen. A tour guide will escort guests throughout the establishment, and explain the history and use of each room and unusual piece of decor. Many of these items — such as the wine bottles in the chilled room, the taxidermied horns above one doorframe, and the dishes on the countertop — are relics taken directly from the site.
In addition to the main dining, leisure, and bath areas, these guided explorations also include visits to the upstairs area, servant’s rooms, and both the Marquis and Medora’s separate bedrooms.
Even once this visit inside the mansion itself ends, however, this does not necessarily have to mark the conclusion of the trip. A short path near the main building takes visitors down to the other buildings on the property, including the stable and a now-closed-off root cellar.
On the subject of Marquis de Mores, those interested in Medora’s history can also visit the ruins of his former meat packing plant. Although the building itself remained even long after the Marquis left North Dakota, it too fell into disrepair, and eventually burned down in 1907. This once proud moment to his dreams has now been reduced to a single smokestack and a set of short stone formations. To this day, however, it still serves as an important part of Medora itself — even if it isn’t exactly in the way that the Marquis would have wished it to be. The ruins of the slaughterhouse are now known as Chimney Park, where visitors can learn more about the history and mechanisms of the plant in addition to enjoying a rest underneath the nearby picnic shelters.
The Marquis’s contributions to North Dakota, while not long-lasting, do serve as important milestones for the community. One way or another, his impact is still highly prevalent throughout Meodra, even if only through these heritage sites. However, much like the Medora Musical was a can’t-miss attraction when discussing the night life of the city, there is an outdoor equivalent that also draws visitors from across the world — and it’s one that takes on the name of one of Medora’s other famous residents.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park
If there’s one name that is synonymous with Medora, it is undoubtedly Theodore Roosevelt, While the Marquis may be responsible for establishing the city as we know it today, Roosevelt’s fond recollection of Medora and his claims that he would not be president without his experiences there have led many to see him as its patron saint and key figure. The same can be said for the area surrounding it, which has since become just as influential in North Dakota — but much like Medora itself, the area underwent a huge number of changes, and suffered many setbacks throughout history before becoming what it is now.
After Teddy Roosevelt died, many felt that it would only be right to celebrate the life of someone often called ‘the conservation president’ by giving him a national park of his own — and shortly after the idea was introduced, Teddy’s former friend and ranching associate Sylvane Ferris established a committee to decide on the perfect location. As one might expect, the badlands of Medora were a perfect fit, and the 40-man adventuring party sent to scope out the area would later go on to form the Roosevelt Memorial National Park Association. Shortly after, a full camping trip by government officials and news groups confirmed interest in the location, with some referring to it as the ‘Grand Canyon of the Little Missouri’.
Even after this widespread approval, however, there was still much work to be done when it came to creating the National Park we see today. An early plan, which asked for 2,030 square miles to be dedicated to the park, was heavily critiqued for taking away important land from local ranchers. Even Roger Toll, the superintendent of Rocky Mountain National Park, said that he would have preferred a smaller monument than a large swath of land, stating that “A national park does not seem to be justified.”
The first major step in creating the park came from a series of crop failures and droughts in the 1930s, which forced many locals to sell their land to the federal government. A portion of this acquired space was set aside to create a park area, and in 1935, a joint effort from the Civilian Conservation Corps, Works Projects Administration, and Emergency Relief Administration resulted in the creation of the North and South Roosevelt Regional Parks — which would later become known as the Roosevelt Recreation Demonstration Area (RDA).
When all of these projects came to an end in 1941, however, it was revealed that North Dakota did not want the land to remain in its current classification. A political battle to establish the RDA as a national park met heavy resistance, and while the park’s ownership was eventually transferred to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, many believed the territory did not possess the qualities needed to become nationally recognized. However, after a series of compromises, Harry Truman signed a bill that officially designated the RDA’s South Unit as Theodore Roosevelt National Memorial Park (the North Unit was added the following year). The area was not actually given official National Park status until November 10, 1978 — when former president Jimmy Carter signed a law to both change the location’s name to Theodore Roosevelt National Park, and place almost 30,000 acres of it under the protection of the National Wilderness Preservation System.
In modern days, the Theodore Roosevelt National Park is not only home to 70,448 acres of sweeping vistas of the badlands, but also plenty of local flora and fauna, and even different environments for guests to explore. Looking at a map of the area presents visitors with not only a long, scenic drive through the badlands, but also trips to petrified forests, nature trails, and small scenic farmhouses. Of particular note in the South Unit is the Maah Daah Hey Trail (which takes visitors directly past the Little Missouri River) and a massive scenic loop around the entire area. The North Unit, in contrast, offers another scenic area as well as the Little Mo Trail and the path to and from Sperati Point.
During the time available to us, KX News traveled down the scenic route of the South Unit, where we encountered all sorts of beautiful views of both the badlands themselves and the surrounding communities. A drive through the area is long, but incredibly rewarding, and the sweeping paths and serene skylines truly give one a sense of scale.
This isn’t to say that every sight worth seeing on the route is natural, though: a stop at Pleasant Valley Farms provides a sense of comfort and homeliness on the trip.
Plants, buildings, and hills aren’t the only attractions scattered throughout the park, either — visitors can see all sorts of wildlife along the trail. Of particular note are the prairie dog mounds dotting the scenic roads, which are constantly full of eager little creatures who are more than happy to pose for photographs (from a distance, of course).
If you’re lucky, you might even be able to happen upon one of the many buffalo herds that call the park their home. In some cases, they may decide to happen upon you — as our travel correspondent learned when a group blocked the road.
With so much to offer, it only stands to reason that one can spend an entire day (perhaps even more) simply exploring the park — but for those in a hurry, there’s still a way to peek at the park without taking up too much of your time. The Painted Canyon Overlook, located just before the entrance to Medora itself, serves as both a rest stop and a way to look out at the badlands on your way in or out of the city.
Theodore Roosevelt, as the stories and history would imply, was a titan of a man — and this is an idea that is perfectly represented in the national park that now inherits his name. It is a place where one can get lost in the beauty of the badlands without ever having to leave society, and serves as a wonderful location for both hikers and those who prefer to get out in nature while still remaining on the road. It’s no wonder that it has become a hallmark of not only visitors to North Dakota, but to nature lovers in general — and something tells us that Teddy himself wouldn’t have it any other way.
Originally, this two-week trip to Medora was meant to serve as the grand finale to our summer series of One-Day ND Destinations — but there’s so much to see and do in North Dakota that we haven’t quite finished yet. There are more columns on the horizon, and we can’t wait to share even more of our findings and photographs with you. If there’s a place you’d like our travel correspondent to visit, feel free to let us know on our Facebook pages. We’ll see you again next week with another story about one of North Dakota’s most famous tourist spots!