St. Louis’ Gateway Arch

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Making use of a late afternoon opportunity, I made it to the St. Louis Arch.  This was opened in 1967, and while not quite a bucket list item, I’ve seen it often enough on TV and its inescapable in the cityscape of St. Louis.

Not surprisingly, it has a park, adjacent to the Mississippi River, and from the path from the parking lot, looks a bit like the Washington Monument.


Of course, it’s a rather literal presentation of St. Louis’ claim to be the gateway to the west.


The Arch, in fact, is 75’ taller than the Washington Monument, peaking at 630’.  Wiki has a pretty interesting on its decades long design and construction.  This, of course, I didn’t read until afterward.

I suppose, at that height, it’s kind of like staring up at the clouds.  Ask the girl below.


No surprise, the Arch is sort of an amateur photographer’s dream – tall, interesting surface, three sides, arch, reflective, etc.


Despite that, seeing the Arch isn’t that a big a deal.  Figuring out how people get to the top... now, that’s another.   If you click the above picture, you’ll note the portal windows.

The first thing is that you have to go down to go up.  The Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, as the facility is more properly called, is accessed via steps at the base of either leg leading to a sizeable underground facility.  This begins with an airport style security screen.  Yippee.  But, I get it.

And underneath is not just a boarding area, but an entire museum about westward expansion, primarily regarding Lewis and Clark.  Below is just the lobby; the museum is larger.


But first, the trip to the top.  It’s not a loop system, and it’s not an elevator. There are two trams, one in each leg.   Each has 8 cars which are tied together and which are mechanically drawn similar to a roller coaster.  Each seat five people comfortably.

Well, not so fast.  Here’s the view inside the door.


Here’s the view when inside:


And here’s the retro graphic art of family comfortably seated.  You’ll note the girl on the left has her head inclined.  Only the person in the middle seat has headroom (depending on height):


That little picture in reality is this.  Maybe the knee picture above makes more sense now.  It’s not for the claustrophobic:


The “ride” takes a minute or two, and it largely feels like an old style rollercoaster as it climbs it’s first hill... a lot of clacking and a few odd movements.  To board the “capsules” (read the marquee above), people are staged in a descending stairwell (and exit similarly at a steeper pitch).


Only the portion of the door where the number of the car is posted opens.  It’s a headknocker for those not paying attention.  Then, up, up, up until:


People are leaning to look out the windows because, as you may have noticed, the structure is triangular, so it’s an unsupported view.  You can see St. Louis or across the river into Illinois.  Not surprisingly, the windows are full of finger smudges and, that’s okay, because there’s really no reason to stay for a long time anyway.  Think Chevy Chase at the Grand Canyon in “National Lampoon’s Vacation”.  The click clack of the tram is just as exciting as it was on the way up... You do see occasional glimpses of stairs and structure through the capsule’s window, at least.

Which brings us back to Lewis and Clark.  Whatever I read about them back in school I had pretty much forgotten, and if I had hours to read all the information provided here, I might think myself very well informed.  It’s pretty well done.

Instructions to Capt. Lewis, 1803

The object of your mission is to explore the Missouri River, and such principal stream of it, as, by its course and communication with the water of the Pacific Ocean may offer the most direct and practicable water communication across this continent for the purposes of commerce. 

Thomas Jefferson

I remembered they went west, but I didn’t recall that they were charged to follow the Missouri River, never mind paid attention that the river flows, roughly, west.  I tend to think of rivers as flowing from north to south, due to a bias of living much closer to the coast.  “Downhill” is certainly the apt perspective... The Illinois joins the Mississippi not far north of downtown St. Louis, fyi.


The museum does well in capturing many of notes taken during the journey, placed with images that are at least representative of what the expedition may have seen – mountains, bluffs, waterfalls, prairies, etc.  There was also this interesting list of the many people along for the ride, not that the history books would tell it.  Sacagawea made her mark, at least.  Click HERE for a short biography of each as well as their contributions.  I thought I had a namesake in the boatmen... but no.


And, in fact, the museum pays some respect to the various Indian nations that were displaced, as well as quite a number of Indian Peace Medals, with which I was unfamiliar... and still largely am as the Park closed at 6:00 p.m.

The facility is free entry, and the tram ride is $10.  It would have been nice to have been there during the summer when the tram is open into the evening hours...  St. Louis by day is kind of blah.

More photos below.

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