You’ll want to see the views from the unique Gateway Arch as well as other sites around town in St. Louis Missouri.
My second day of driving through Kentucky to Missouri was almost as long as the previous day’s journey had been. It was late afternoon when I arrived at the Gateway to the West and after discovering a Whole Foods ten miles from the city, my first priority was to eat and make up for the nutrients I had lacked through the fast-food-filled midland states. I filled a salad-bar container with kale, spinach, beets, carrots, tofu, and quinoa salad, bought a fresh fruit cup, and a bottle of pure carrot juice that I ate before leaving the shopping area, and fresh fruit and a locally baked bagel for breakfast in the morning. I was just as excited to see kale as I was the gemstones from gold mining at Cumberland Falls the day before.
After driving across five states (West Virginia, Kentucky, the southern most parts of Indiana and Illinois, and on into Missouri) and covering 948 miles in two days, I was ready for a break before setting out on the highway again. Instead of rushing off into the city, I booked a second night in the hotel and spent time planning the day ahead.
Just as I had at Blackwater State Park, I found a free yoga class offered only on Saturdays (the day I happened to be in town) in St. Louis under the Gateway Arch. The arch was the main reason I was visiting the city as it was one of the attractions my father remembered from his cross country road trip in his twenties. I booked the 9 AM yoga class followed by a free walking tour, and finally a ride up the famous Gateway Arch. I’d be finished with it all before one, which would give me time to see the city from the ground.
Since becoming a certified yoga instructor, I’ve found myself noticing things about others’ yoga classes that I probably would have overlooked before. I can tell the difference between someone who has planned the class and logically sequenced poses to ease open certain parts of the body and someone who leads the class through poses in a completely arbitrary manner without regard for the participants or the physical implications of the postures. Unfortunately, the class under the arch fell into the latter category. I tried to stay with my breath, but I found my mind wandering to the people around me who didn’t seem prepared for the mish-mash of poses and who I feared would end up injured. In addition, I couldn’t stop feeling distracted by the woman in front of me who was loudly chewing gum the entire class. There are sometimes that I hate what yoga has become in America.
The instructors at Yoga Under the Arch vary each week, so don’t let my bad experience deter you as there will be a new teacher next week and each week after for the remainder of the summer.
Even though the class was from 9-10 am, it was already humid and close to 80 degrees in downtown St. Louis. I was thinking that I wanted nothing more than a shower, but had already committed to the free walking tour and going up into the arch and wouldn’t have time to go back to the hotel.
The free walking tour begins daily at the north side of the arch. It is led by a park ranger with a bag of pictures and artifacts that bring the lecture to life. Emphasis being on the lecture. The day I was there they were tearing up a nearby highway and I could barely hear the ranger over the constant jack-hammering. I lasted twenty minutes into the tour before I silently wandered away in search of something more entertaining. The one thing I did learn before my early departure was that the Gateway Arch is not actually called the Gateway Arch. Its real name is the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial after Thomas Jefferson who was responsible for the Louisiana Purchase and lands west of the Mississippi.
I decided to enter the arch early to use the restroom and was happy to see that there was a free museum on the ground floor. I figured it would be a perfect way to pass the time before my trip on the tram at 12:10.
The Museum of Westward Expansion is set up in a semi-circular fashion with attractive photographs and quotations lining the walls of the perimeter and artifacts including giant taxidermy animals, a teepee, and an old covered wagon in the center. I was impressed on first glance, but as I started to look further and read the quotations on the walls I began to have my doubts. It seemed to me that the museum was attempting to make the westward expansion and subsequent eradication of the Native Americans a positive point in history. One quote that stands out in my memory explained how many Native Americans had chosen to leave their land behind. I wondered about the back story and what was making them leave, if the quote were in fact true. From what I understand from history, the settlers didn’t come in to make friends and even trades and to paint it in this light felt wrong to me.
I stopped reading the signs so closely and ventured further into the museum where I was confused by the display and quotes for the Wright brothers and the first moon landing. In a museum entirely of “cowboys and Indians” (these are the names given to the sections) the modern successes seemed completely out of place.
The taxidermy animals and teepee replica were the best part of the museum, in my opinion. As I left, for the third time that morning I thought of the cliché: “you get what you pay for.”
The lower level of the arch also has a gift shop and a candy store with local treats. Restrooms, water fountains, and limited seating are also available. Your best bet is to purchase a ticket for the arch online, although it will mean paying a three dollar internet fee, or arriving early in the morning before the crowds.
I was secretly terrified of going up into the arch, but I figured I’d later regret it if I didn’t take the ride. When it came time to check in at the ticket counter before lining up to take the shuttle, being single paid off. I was ushered past about 60 other people waiting in line and allowed to board the earlier tram because most people travel in pairs and each pod seats five, meaning there’s usually an empty seat. “We’ve got a single here,” one of the workers announced as they directed me to the front of the line.
The car to the top is a series of small metal pods with five chairs—two on each side and one in the back. At just four feet tall, just about everyone has to crouch down to avoid slamming their head off the metal roof. The fourth wall is covered in glass and allows for you to view the inside of the arch on the ride. With the slow climbing and rocking much like a ferris wheel, I was half wishing that I’d been allowed to climb the stairs that I could see through the window even though realistically it would have taken much longer than the four minutes in which we made it to the top.
Once we arrived and climbed the steps to the center of the arch, I was struck by how tiny the windows were. Small rectangular chunks at the end of slanted counter-like structures mean leaning over and fighting for a glimpse among the crowds. I had a better view of the city and the Mississippi on my adjustable camera screen than through the actual window. Despite the crowds and the small windows, the views really are stunning. You see Busch Stadium and downtown St. Louis, including a clear view of the Old Courthouse, on one side and the Mississippi River on the other. I can’t imagine taking a trip through St. Louis without going up into the arch, although I wouldn’t want to do it again.
I was happy to leave the crowds of the arch, but surprised to find that after just a few blocks of walking I was alone on the streets. Maybe it’s just because the last two cities I was in—Philadelphia and Washington D.C.—were so overrun with people, but I felt like I was walking through a ghost town populated only by an occasional homeless man or woman. I planned to walk from the river to 15th street and expected it would take most of the afternoon as it would have been several hours of walking in D.C.. I was shocked when within five minutes I was already at 7th and approaching Citigarden, my first stop along the way.
I’d read about Citigarden the night before—the large sculpture garden and park in the center of the city. What I did not anticipate were the somewhat disturbing sculptures I would encounter. In a family friendly park, I wasn’t expecting what appears to be a naked and struggling body in the center of a body of water, not far from a bandaged head at the front of the garden. Other memorable sculptures include a chicken with human legs, a large headless statue with a bright pink suit, and an overweight rabbit.
From Citigarden I continued down Market Street to Tucker Boulevard and the Soldiers’ Memorial. Though it wasn’t on the map, I was happy to also stumble upon a Firefighters’ Memorial in the same park. Another unexpected surprise: the Soldiers Memorial is more than the awkward monument in the center of the park, but also takes up a one room museum in the building just behind the sculpture. I was surprised to be the only one in the museum on a Saturday afternoon at the height of the tourist season. There wasn’t even a guard on duty or someone working within the museum. I half expected to be startled part-way through my visit and told that I was trespassing, but I remained alone.
The museum itself is filled with display cases and artifacts from each American War. All the objects have a personal touch and connection to the city of St. Louis. You can see pictures of local soldiers killed in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Weapons, Nazi relics, uniforms, and photographs fill the space. If you’re headed to St. Louis it’s definitely worth the short walk from the arch to see.
From the museum, I cut across to Washington Street since it was highlighted in blue on the free city map and promised shopping, cafes, and jazz music. There were plenty of places to eat and a few shops, but I’m guessing the jazz music can only be heard during the night when the bars that line the street come alive. My favorite part of Washington Street and of the day was shopping in MacroSun, a fair trade supplier of clothing, jewelry, home décor, and other items associated with Buddhism. I spent almost an hour talking to Lynn, the employee behind the counter, about my road trip, visiting St. Louis and Sedona, and Buddhism.
Although Lynn gave me several recommendations for places to visit in St. Louis, the temperature was pushing 100 degrees and I was tired of walking in the heat and still needed a shower from the early morning yoga class. I was torn between returning to City Museum, her must see suggestion, and going back to Whole Foods for dinner. I resolved to stop at Lafayette and Franklin Parks, then decide whether or not I’d go back to City Museum.
Driving in downtown St. Louis was almost as bad as driving in Philadelphia had been. There were so many street closures between construction and the Mississippi River flooding, plus I thought it a small miracle that I’d driven over the cobblestone streets without a flat tire on the way in and didn’t want to push my luck any more. I lost patience with trying to get around with the many detours and decided I would leave the city, have dinner, and return to the hotel to do laundry before heading back out on the road the next day.
I think my less-than ideal experience of St. Louis was a combination of several factors. 1. I’d visited two other major cities before St. Louis, one of which was the nation’s capital 2. Both of the free activities I’d started my morning with didn’t live up to expectations 3. The temperature was close to 100 degrees and the humidity was unbearable 4. I developed a sunburn across my chest and shoulders at some point during the morning 5. The only bathroom outside of going into a restaurant or café was in the base of the arch and would mean waiting in line to pass through security a second time.
If you’re going to St. Louis, I’d recommend renting a car if you don’t drive in. Plan to spend the morning by the arch before the crowds set in, then take off to explore other parts of the city such as one of the many museums, the Botanical Gardens, or Forest Park.