Postcard: Toe tappers

Somewhere over the rainbow, dinner is a deep-fried steak washed down with ice-cold cordial to the fiddly strains of live country music.

Whether you're too full to walk or not, an outdoor escalator is the only way down from the sunny hilltop to the set of a frontier town where dancing cowboys dig the costume changes, cowgirls yahoo and yodel and horses gallop across stage.

This is Medora Musical, the icing on the cake as the sun goes down on a day of exploring what is the most digestible Old West town experience in North Dakota, perhaps even the entire US midwest.

"Where y'all from?" the guy at the bottom of the escalator asks everyone, and I hear Texas, Arizona, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Tennessee, Canada. They're people of all ages and when the show's magician - also the former mayor of the state's capital of Bismarck - later asks the audience who's been to the musical more than five times, the majority raises a hand.

I've spent the day walking the old-style wooden sidewalks of Medora out in North Dakota's badlands. Founded in 1883, it's now a tourist town yet understated.

Despite needing to travel 200 highway kilometres to Bismarck by morning for my flight home, I can't help but answer the call of the Pitchfork Steak Fondue and musical. Five steaks at a time are skewered onto a pitchfork and plunged into a vat of boiling oil. North Dakota's version of fondue.

While the crowd gets settled in the amphitheatre, kids are invited onstage by a blonde-wigged Queen of the West. After standing for the Star-Spangled Banner - because, as advertised, "each show pays tribute to American patriotism and the Old West" - it begins.

Twelve Burning Hills Singers dance onto the stage and, for having done the same show every night over summer, sustain a superhuman level of enthusiasm all evening. And boy do those cowpeople know how to play with my emotions, swinging from toe-tapping classics and hard rockin' country to duet ballads and cowboy serenades. The dinner band is now the onstage band, which the audience is far more receptive to now they've eaten.

Along with slapstick comedy, fake shootouts and a Roosevelt impersonation, a leopard-skin-clad troupe from Mali performs contortionism, fire-breathing and balancing acts. But it always comes back to the Burning Hills Singers.

Sitting in the warm desert air, surrounded by proud patriots, I allow myself to get caught up in the nostalgia of the Old West. I even sing along to some of the tunes.

Medora Musical is about to have its 50th year anniversary. On the escalator back up to the car park I meet a woman who's been coming to the show since it began and ask her if it's changed much. "Sure has," she tells me. "We used to have to walk up this hill."

It's late when I head back to Bismarck, but that's OK: "I've got spurs that jingle jangle jingle, as I go riding merrily along ..."

The writer was a guest of North Dakota Tourism.