There are 63 national parks. If you asked any NPS enthusiast who has been to all 63 to rank them, the Gateway Arch would probably rank 63rd on most people’s list. That isn’t necessarily the fault of the Arch, either. It’s a beautiful piece of architecture in downtown St. Louis with historical significance, and a nice park framing it. But… it’s not exactly an area preserving the natural beauty of America. I think most observers would agree that a national monument or national historic site would have sufficed, but alas: a Missouri Senator slipped national-parkhood into an appropriations bill and nobody stopped him. Therefore, the Gateway Arch stands alongside Yosemite and the Grand Canyon.
Nevertheless, it was the whole raison d’etre of the St. Louis trip, so it would have been silly to carry any of that animosity there. Plus, as I’ve said, the Arch is in fact really cool. This would be Elizabeth’s first time visiting it, and her 8th national park. Despite it being the end of our trip, I woke up Sunday morning refreshed and feeling like there was still something to be excited about that day. It didn’t hurt that once again the Hampton Inn had fun-flavored waffle batter, and even could do us one better – we could drink the water at the hotel again. Thank goodness for small things in life, am I right?
Elizabeth and I planned on leaving for Norman directly from the Arch when we were done – didn’t want to keep our dogsitter waiting when Scipio had already destroyed his carpet. With that in mind, we brought both cars downtown on what promised to be another hot morning in St. Louis.
Rich had everything planned out to a T – because of ongoing covid concerns, the Arch staff were limiting people to only going up if they had a reservation and asking them to wear masks inside of that part of the museum. Easy enough for all of us to handle. After a fully awkward attempt to get our picture taken at the park entrance sign, such as it was, we headed onto Gateway Arch grounds.
The Gateway Arch museum is underground, literally beneath the Arch itself. It has a big, open entrance area with a big floor map of the US that is kind of fun to walk on, then a more traditional historical museum behind it. That of course threatened to open the rift between the “read things” side of the family – Rich – and the “you don’t need to read everything” side of the family – Kris. Fortunately, given that we had a timed entry to the top, we were limited to a certain amount of time wherein those of us who like to read things could read all the signs showing how the Arch was built. My take on the subject is that I could have designed the Gateway Arch and saved somebody a lot of money in hiring architects.
Finally, it was time to head over into the area where the elevators to the top are staged. We masked up and stood in line to get in a waiting area that led to a waiting area if I recall how the system worked. In the defense of the NPS system, they did a really good job of making the wait entertaining and interactive. Projector screens showed lots of fun tidbits about Arch stats and construction, as well as life in the 1960s when it was being built. Good work, Arch people!
There is something to be said for the weirdness and discomfort the elevators that take you to the top can espouse. I know that they work just fine, but the whole process of an elevator going on a ferris-wheel-type track just seems sketchy to me, especially early as the elevator clacks around until it reaches the point where it starts going up. On top of that, it’s sort of cramped in there for the people you have riding up. All in all, I wasn’t too sad to see the top and get out of that car.
The top of the Arch was much smaller than what I remembered from when I was a kid. Also, you had to lean wayyyy over to look out the windows. It was a bit trippy at first, but I quickly got used to it.
We all took our turns wandering the top – putting my hand on the highest part of the Arch, with just 4 inches of steel separating me from being the highest thing in the city of St. Louis. Meanwhile, Elizabeth spent her time talking to the park rangers on duty up top. Classic. We were up there for probably no more than 10 minutes thanks to the reservation system, but to be honest, there is kind of a limitation of how much one can do at the top of the Arch.
We took a considerably faster elevator ride to the bottom and popped out into the gift shop. The Arch had quite a few pins for me to choose for my pin board, as well as a literal present for our literal dog (why):
Back outside, we took the time to call my grandpa and all wish him a happy Father’s Day as a group. Then we wandered along in the big grassy area beneath the arch. I walked up to the structure itself and was disappointed to realize it wasn’t hot, but recovered rapidly enough to pretend to lick the metal and pry an indignant squawk out of Elizabeth. At this point, there was no denying it – we were stalling and it was time to head home. Rich added some sour to the bittersweet by buying lemonades for the group from a street vendor – they were excellent. And just like that, it was time to make the long drive home.
It was the first time I’d seen my family away from home since the pandemic began. Now, looking back on it as covid cases rise again, it seems like a beautiful interlude in the never-ending covid strain. It was a classic Meister trip – packing adventure after adventure into a two-night trip. I personally think Meramec Caverns was both the most pleasant surprise and my favorite activity, although I don’t want to sleep on the complete emptiness of Six Flags on a hot Friday. And Elizabeth got another stamp! It would only be two more months til we’d all meet again at Grand Teton for more stamps.