It was hard to drive away from the Grand Canyon, but we needed to get back on the road. We got back on the 40 and headed east. I made the family stop in Albuquerque, NM because I just couldn’t drive through NM without getting some sopapillas. I had lived in Santa Fe for a summer and was addicted to them. They are impossible to find outside of New Mexico. It was late, so we needed to find something quick. A Google Maps search helped us find a place. It also put us on route 66 again. We had managed to get back on the mother road.
My sopapilla fix destination, Mac’s La Sierra, turnout out to be a small corner diner with a delightful vintage neon sign and a fiberglass cow, doesn’t get much better than that. It turns out Mac’s has been around since 1952 and is famous for it’s “Steak in the Rough” dish that consists of strips of beef that are breaded and fried. I didn’t order the specialty of the house; I ordered half dozen of sopapillas to go. Back at the car, we enjoyed those warm pockets drizzled with the honey they supplied in little packets. On our way out we got a good look at the neon route 66 sign before getting back on the highway. We drove until the Texan panhandle when it was far too late to go any further. We stayed overnight there then drove through Oklahoma to Missouri.
We got to St. Louis after nightfall and decided on a hotel on the north side of town. The next morning we headed to the Gateway to the West. After a bit of confusion that resulted in an unexpected round trip journey across the nearby bridge, we found the parking garage. The whole property and related buildings are known as the Jefferson National Expansion Monument. A walk through the park led us to the concrete base with the Mighty Mississippi to our left. A quick trip through a metal detector and we were inside looking for the counter to get our tickets.
We got our tickets for the trip up, and while we waited for our time slot we checked out the museum. The Museum of Westward Expansion was an informative journey through the history, starting at the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 to the end of expansion in 1890. The displays were amazing; they even had a covered wagon and full-sized tipi. I thought we would only be checking out the view but there is a surprising amount of history to be learned here too. There are also two theaters, the Tucker Theater on the north side of the base and the Odyssey Theater on the south side.
The walk to the tram took us through the history of the arch’s creation. From the early planning and announcement of the architectural contest to pick a design for the monument, all the way through Eero Saarinen’s winning design and construction. The Tram itself was much smaller than I expected. It looked like it the EVA pod from 2001 to me. I would later find there was a reason for this as the film took inspiration from Saarinen’s work. Each of the eight pods has five seats. Once the door shut, we were able to watch our ascent within the arch’s leg. The tram moves in a curve as it goes up and it rocks like being on a Ferris wheel. We got a great view of the emergency steps, but that was about it. We arrived at the top fairly quickly.
Once inside the observatory deck, it reminded me of the Statue of Liberty’s tiny high set windows. Windows are on both sides so you could see out over the Mississippi River into Illinois on one side and the Old Courthouse along with downtown St. Louis on the other. The views are spectacular. It’s also worth mentioning is that the deck is curved since you are at the top of the arch, 630 feet at its apex. After taking our photos and enjoying the view, we headed down the tram on the other leg.
We decided to make a pit stop before returning to the car since we would be driving to Chicago after this. On the way to the restroom, I noticed a display of the pod with a sign showing an illustrated example of the tram in use and an explanation of its history.
We made our way back to the parking structure and headed back on the road. We wanted to get to the new house by dinner, and we had miles of southern Illinois farmland to drive through. Not much happened on the last leg of our drive other than trying to figure out how to say Kankakee (turns out it’s KANkakee and not KanKAkee), looking at barns and silos, and corn… lots of corn.
I did some research while writing this post to make sure I was using the correct name of the arch’s museum. I found out that the museum is going away, along with the Odyssey Theater. They’re building a new entrance so you can enter on the west side of the base and the Theater will become a brand new store. There will be another museum space elsewhere since the new entrance will be where the museum once stood. Seems the kids and I got to see a piece of history that will no longer exist. Considering the arch was opened in 1963 it makes sense to change with the times. We plan to return to check out the new entrance. A great excuse to go back and spend more time in St. Louis.
Here is CT’s take on his visit to the Gateway Arch:
The St. Louis Arch is a really really really tall arch in Missouri that you can go in. When you go inside it, there is some history about it and a video about when the
last piece was going in, which was a big deal because it took forever to build. Then there is an elevator that takes a long time to get to the top. At the top of the arch it wobbles and rocks side to side, and it’s really high. There are windows so if you are afraid of heights do NOT go up there.
(DJ: It only takes 4 minutes to get to the top. Also, the arch does not sway. It is designed to withstand an earthquake and high winds but takes a 50 mph wind to move it an inch and a half.