My uncle used to live in St. Louis and highly recommended that we check out the relatively new Citygarden – a large urban park and sculpture garden located in downtown Saint Louis. We walked to the park after our visit to the Gateway Arch and the sun had begun to warm up the day.
Trey got a kick out of the rain gardens which he could play around (and in) as well as the spray plaza which took all his might to resist getting soaking wet in. Before leaving we ran across a puzzling installation piece of a automatic player piano with a stuffed pink flamingo standing at it (video below).
Located under the Gateway Arch, the Museum of Westward Expansion hosts exhibits dedicated to the exploration done by Lewis and Clark as well as Native American history.
We toured the exhibits but the educational content was well over my 4-year-olds head. He did, however, enjoy the displays of buffalo, canoes, and teepees. Trey also completed a workbook the park rangers gave him and he earned yet another Junior Ranger badge.
Had we more time, I would have watched the “Monument to the Dream” documentary about the Arch’s construction that plays in 70mm film at the Museum’s Tucker Theater.
The Gateway Arch which stands on the west bank of the Mississippi River is one of America’s most famous icons. I was thrilled to get a chance to visit the landmark and take my son up to the top of the arch.
With all our stops at National parks and monuments it was only fitting that I discover that the arch too is a National Park Service site. I had always assumed it was some sort of privately owned building.
The building is stunning to say the least. It is the tallest man-made monument in the United States and its stainless steel siding is blinding in the midday sun. Its grandeur aside, the interior is just as impressive.
You enter the monument underground where the Museum of Western Expansion is held and you board the trams to the observation deck above. The trams are really more half-Ferris wheel and half-elevator. You travel up in egg shaped capsules that reminded me of something from a 70s sci-fi film.
We stayed quite a while at the top. Trey insisted on looking out of each of the 32 small rectangular windows. On the way up we shared our capsule with four other visitors, but we waited to secure one for ourselves on the descent (video below).
Fort Hays was an important frontier outpost used after the Civil War for about 25 years. It’s primary purpose was to protect those traveling the Smoky Hill Trail to Denver. After it was abandoned in 1889, Congress turned the land over to the State of Kansas which established an agricultural college on it. The college later turned into Fort Hays State University.
A good friend of mine grew up in this area and had told me about the fort. Trey and I swung by on our way across Kansas but it was closed. Fortunately the grounds are open and we were able to walk around and see the restored buildings (we just couldn’t go in any of them).
Our first landmark in western Kansas was a bit overhyped. Our second landmark was the famed “Cathedral of the Plains” which turned out not to be a cathedral at all – a designation that requires the church be the seat of a bishop. Nonetheless, the church is especially impressive when you consider that the town has only a population of 1,214 and has only barely doubled in the last century.
Saint Fidelis Catholic Church in Victoria, Kansas was designed by Pittsburg architect John T Comes and completed in 1911 using limestone native to the area (perhaps near Castle Rock?). It was built by the local German population as they outgrew the smaller church buildings in the area. A testament to its German roots is that the town was originally called Herzog but renamed Victoria in 1913.
We’ll have to return to Victoria some time in August to celebrate their annual Herzogfest.
The photo on the right is Castle Rock in 1980 (photo by Dougal McGuire). I include it so you have a reference of the famous landmark’s former glory. In 2001, a thunderstorm broke off the tallest spire of this chalk formation so it no longer stands 70 feet tall – maybe just 55 feet now.
Even at 70 feet, it’s kind of sad that this is one of Kansas’ Eight Wonders. It is out in the middle of nowhere in Gove County and I fell for the billboards praising its marvels and left I-70 to check it out.
We arrived right after the sunset dropped below the horizon. It took a while to find it as it isn’t very well marked and is literally in the middle of a cow pasture.
I was a bit annoyed that I traveled so far only to find out the landmark had been extremely over-hyped. However, being a chalk formation, its days are numbered. Tourists not as respectful as us climb on it and have sped up the natural erosion its mineral is prone to. So it may not be there in another decade or so.
We left Colorado Springs and began the long (and boring) interstate drive from west to east across Kansas. After about two hours we hit the state line and hoped out for our mandatory photo – just as we had done eleven times before on this journey.