Gateway to the West – St Louis, Missouri
Our next stop was home to a feature that had long been on our bucket list, and we were able to check it off while in St. Louis. Seeing the 630 ft. tall Gateway Arch come into view for the first time put a smile on our faces, and taking the ride to the top totally made our day. The Arch is located on the banks of the Mississippi River in St. Louis, and it was built as a monument to memorialize the role of St. Louis in the westward expansion of the United States. It is the centerpiece of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, which is located at the base of the Arch.
To learn about the Arch, we first viewed a 40-minute movie that detailed its construction. The documentary was engrossing to watch, as it showed the overwhelming difficulties of building a curved structure from both ends simultaneously. It’s amazing that no lives were lost, considering the complexity and heights involved. The film also revealed the innovative construction techniques that were employed in the 1960’s on this one-of-a-kind project. Click here for more information and a short animation of the Gateway Arch’s construction.
The stainless steel arch is described as a sandwich made of stainless steel on the outside, carbon steel on the inside, with concrete in between them. It is built in the form of an inverted catenary, a shape that a chain or necklace forms when held by the two ends.
But of course, the highlight of our visit was the 4-minute tram ride to the 630 ft. peak of the Arch. Look carefully at the image below – the yellow arrow shows where the 16 small windows are on one side at the top. These windows give a fabulous view of downtown St. Louis and beyond from one side of the Arch, and the 16 on the other side overlook the Mississippi River and many miles beyond it.
We thought it might be an elevator that would take us to the top, but it was actually a small capsule-shaped transporter that seats five. They call it a tram, and there is one on each end of the Arch (although the north tram was closed for construction work while we were there). The trams run on a track inside the hollow curved legs of the Arch, taking folks to the top in four minutes. It felt like we were riding a slow-motion ferris wheel, except that we were closed inside that small capsule. This would not be a fun ride if you tend to be claustrophobic!
The views from the top were astounding! It was a strange sensation looking straight down at the ground 630 feet below with no support in the middle.
After soaking in the views for a while, we rode back down and this time it was one minute faster – thanks to gravity!
Be sure to make advanced reservations to see the Arch if you plan to go during the busy summer season. We had made reservations well in advance, but it turns out that we probably didn’t need to since we were here well after the kids were back in school. It was great to have the viewing area pretty much to ourselves as we moved back and forth between the viewing windows.
Beneath the Arch is the Museum of Westward Expansion, which charts the history of the American West from the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 to the closing of the frontier in the 1890’s. Although it was a very informative display with original artifacts, we just skimmed through it as our main goal had been satisfied and we were getting hungry.
We enjoyed an excellent sushi lunch at the newly-opened Ballpark Village, located right at Busch Stadium and an easy walk from the Arch. Visiting the Arch and eating sushi on the same day? Steve was ecstatic!
Like any other metropolitan city, there is a lot to see and do in St. Louis. But there was a forecast of bad weather ahead and we had only one day to take it all in. So we walked around the city and quickly noticed that art is not just big downtown, but also at Grand Center and Forest Park. We saw several public art displays and sculptures as we meandered through the city’s parks and gardens, below are some that caught our attention:
Missouri State Parks
We have been very happy and impressed while staying at two of Missouri’s state parks – the Dr. Edmund Babler Memorial State Park (our home base while visiting St. Louis, Steve’s review here) and Meramec State Park (review here). With summer over, it’s been a delight once again staying at state parks. Although they still get quite busy on weekends, we have enjoyed being one of the few rigs in the park most of the time. We’re able to use the facilities without running into other people, and the same goes for our hikes on the many nice trails here. And the variety of beautiful birds at Babler State Park! I was happy to refill my feeder every day as we saw so many of our feathered friends fighting for a spot on it.
At Meramic State Park we were parked beneath many tall trees. Except for the birds and the rustling of leaves, the silence was deafening. Perfect!
Our two stops in Missouri were a combination of a visit to a cosmopolitan city, followed by getting back to nature while hitting the trails again. Although we had a couple of days of bad weather during these stops, we have to agree that it was “mission accomplished” during our stay in the “Show Me” state.
Next up: Buffalo River National Park