Both Justin and I had been to St. Louis before. I had been there three times, the first around age four with my family, where I have a faint memory of taking a pod-like car up into the Arch. I went again in my early twenties to celebrate Mardi Gras and my memories from the that trip are very limited, as most of the weekend was spent partying in the Soulard neighborhood. I don’t recall seeing anything more than the few blocks of bars and apartments we drank in. The third time I visited was in my late twenties to visit a friend, and what I recall from that trip is eating in a Waffle House, catching a game at Busch Stadium and shopping at Dress Barn. So let’s just say that after three trips to St. Louis, I felt that I had experienced nearly zero of what the town is really like. I was very excited to get a flavor for what the city was truly like. We were also excited because my brother was joining us for the weekend as well, and he is always so much fun to travel with.
The June Father’s Day weekend was really hot. The temperatures on Saturday and Sunday reached above one hundred, so we had to be strategic in how we planned our day. We arrived to town around 6pm on Friday night and my brother found a great BBQ restaurant close to the Missouri River in St. Charles called Hendricks. The food and ambience was awesome and they had a live band playing that night in the bar, so the music crept into the dining room and made for a great evening. Highlights from dinner included a Pastrami sandwich, corn casserole and sweet potato casserole, and smoked sausages, brisket and ribs. It was a glorious meat feast!
After dinner we walked just a few minutes along the Missouri River to the Lewis and Clark boathouse. This was the place that Lewis and Clark launched the Corps of Discovery Expedition. After reading Steven Ambrose’s Undaunted Courage a few years ago, I have been super nerdy about Lewis and Clark, so it was a real treat to see the launch site on the Missouri River and the replica of the keelboat and pirogues they used for the first few years of their journey. Last summer we spent about three days camping along the Missouri river in North Dakota, just a few miles from Fort Mandan, where the Corps spent their first winter. So I really enjoyed seeing where the journey had begun for them, and how far it had taken them up the river, feeling the parallels to our own journey of discovery. We explained to the kids that this was the same river we had camped at just last summer, to which Tabatha replied, “I know, it looks just the same.” And that was pretty accurate; the Missouri did not look much different in St. Charles, MO as it did in Washburn, ND.
Our nerdy St. Louis stops continued the next morning when we spent about three hours at the Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site just outside downtown St. Louis. Known as White Haven, the old plantation house, painted in Paris Green to confuse everyone, was the childhood home of Grant’s wife, Julia Dent, and her family. One of our very lofty goals is to visit all 420 National Protected sites, which include National Parks, National Historic Sites, Memorials, etc. The kids enjoyed getting another stamp in our Passport book and both were very serious about completing their packets in order to get their Junior Ranger badges. The U.S. Grant Home did a wonderful job putting together a great set of activities for the kids that we all really enjoyed doing.
Early in his military career, Grant was stationed in St. Louis and his friend from West Point, Frederick Dent, invited him to visit his family’s plantation, where he met and courted Fred’s sister, Julia. Grant proposed to Julia on the front porch of White Haven and their four children were all born at the home. The Grant’s lived here, farming the plantation, for most of the 1850s, and it’s interesting to imagine the personal and political turmoil surrounding the family during this time. Grant essentially moved in with his in-laws, who owned about thirty slaves, and was attempting to be a farmer and raise his young family. It’s strange to think the man who would one day be the Union General and later President, came from these humble beginnings. He spent about ten years at this home, probably one of the most settled times of his life.
We were able to get another stamp for our Passport book that evening when we spent a few hours after dinner walking around the Arch. Technically called the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, we have missed the opening of the new museum by about three weeks. It was still lovely to sit along the steps of the monument and gaze at the Mississippi River and watch the sunset under the silver streak of the Arch. Dinner that evening was spent at The Shaved Duck, a recommendation from a friend (Thank you Ashley!) which was a great meal. Tabatha devoured her two patty adult hamburger and other highlights included smoked meatloaf and duck confit.
The next morning we crossed the river back into Illinois to view the Cahokia Mounds. Cahokia was once the largest city in the world, with estimates that the population of Cahokia was several thousand greater than London during the 11th and 12th centuries. All that is left of this powerful empire are several mound structures sprinkling the Mississippi river area. You can drive past these mounds and never realize these were some of the largest manmade structures of their time. The interpretative center does an amazing job recreating what the village would have looked like and what the challenges of urban living would have been eight hundred years ago. We climbed the largest mound, over four hundred steps, for amazing views of the countryside and St. Louis in the distance.
After dragging the kids to several nerdy historical stops, it was finally time for them to have their own fun, so we spent about six hours on Sunday at the City Museum, which has to be one of the coolest places we’ve ever been. Words cannot really describe what this place is. It’s kind of like Mammoth Cave meets House on the Rock. It’s like a giant indoor playground filled with a modge-podge collection of oddities, Americana, iron works and old construction materials. With tons of hidden passageways, caves, underground tunnels, and intricate slides, you feel like your exploring the inner workings of M.C. Escher’s mind. We love all the re-used and recycled items they used throughout the museum. One of our favorite slides was a three story rainbow slide where you slide under rainbow colored rotators from an old conveyor belt. It was so creative and clever! Outside they have old airplanes suspended in the air and you can climb through metal tunnels connecting the airplanes over five feet above the ground!! This place was absolutely the highlight of the trip.
On Sunday evening we watched the Cubs play the Cardinals at Busch Stadium. Justin and I have a dream to see a ballgame at every major league ballpark, and it was great to spend time in Busch Stadium. I love it when parks offer you a flavor of regional food, and Justin loved his BBQ brisket sandwich. I went for the classic Nathan’s hot dog with sauerkraut and a Budweiser, which has to be one of my favorite meals. Considering the big rivalry that exists between Cubs and Cards fans, it was pretty exciting to see so many Cub fans in attendance, and there were a great deal of nods and high fives amongst the Cub fans. About a third of the stadium was sporting Cubby blue, including Justin and Micah. Showing her true allegiance, Tabatha sported her White Sox shirt that day and ran into a fellow White Sox fan at the game, which made her very happy!! Unfortunately, the game was a pitching challenge and there was not that much to get excited about. In the end, the Cubs lost the game, though they did end up winning the series. There is nothing better than spending the evening under the bright lights, with a cool breeze, watching baseball with a cold beer in your hand and a few peanut shells at your feet. No matter what town I’m in, that’s a little piece of heaven on earth to me.
We left St. Louis on Monday morning to head back to the Chicagoland area. It was time to start preparing “The Big Trip”. It was time to stop “camping” in our condo. It was time to put all our things into storage and start living in the Airstream and we left St. Louis excited to start living in our new home. Our plan had been to continue heading west, so it was a bit sad having to head back east, especially not knowing exactly when we’d be heading back in this direction.