As we continued making our way east, we visited another new-to-us state: Missouri! We had two stops on our itinerary: Kansas City and St. Louis.

Remembering World War I

The National World War I Museum and Memorial, located in Kansas City, was opened in 1926 as the Liberty Memorial. The monument and museum were conceptualized and financed by a group of prominent Kansas City residents who sought to honor the sacrifices of those who served in the war. Over the years, the facility underwent several renovations and continued to increase its collection of artifacts until, in 2004, Congress designated it the country’s official National WWI Memorial.

The Liberty Tower is 217 feet tall:

The subterranean museum, located behind the tower, is large, recently renovated, and does its best to convey what happened, why it happened, and the enormity of it all. The detail of the museum’s exhibits reflect the complexity of the war itself.

The museum contains a massive collection of artifacts from the front lines to the home front, and covered everything from the development and use of of chemical weapons to medical care in war zones to the treatment of prisoners of war to the role of civilians back home.

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There were mock-ups of trenches, interactive displays showing troop movements, and documentaries capturing the words of those who played a part in this cataclysmic event.

Finally, there was a temporary exhibit dedicated to the history and process of collecting artifacts for the museum:

Trying to read or take in everything in a single visit is simply impossible. If we had it to do again, we would have split the visit into multiple days. Either way, though, if you find yourself in Kansas City, make this a priority stop on your itinerary. It is extremely well done.

Kansas City Union Station

Just behind the WWI Museum is Kansas City Union Station.

In my last post I mentioned that there were a number of grand, historic, turn of the century train stations scattered across the country, some of which had been abandoned rather than preserved. Kansas City’s was one of them.

The station was opened in 1914 and saw as many as 670,000 daily passengers in the 1940’s, but its use fell off in the 50’s and 60’s and it was closed completely in 1985.

Over the course of the next eleven years, the abandoned building decayed, suffering serious flooding and other environmental damage. Finally, in 1996, a nonprofit commission proposed restoring the building, funding it, in part, with a bi-state sales tax. Kansas and Missouri taxpayers voted on and passed the novel proposal, agreeing to pay additional local taxes in order to restore this extraordinary structure.

Today, the station is home to stores, restaurants, gallery and exhibit space, and a large, interactive science center for kids. Even better, as of 2002, Amtrak reestablished train service there, so it is, once again, an operational train station. In fact, it is now Missouri’s second busiest train station.

We wandered through the building to check out the architecture, learn about the renovation, and gawk at the ceiling.

I mean, that is a nice ceiling.

Mostly, we were thankful that, once again, some forward thinking people stepped up and made sure a remarkable building was saved for future generations.

One other structure that caught our attention was a parking garage. Yep, a parking garage.

But it wasn’t just any parking garage. It was the parking garage for the Kansas City Public Library.

Neat, eh??

Kansas City Barbecue

Of course, Kansas City is all about barbecue, and we do like barbecue. We sampled some of the city’s finest and most well known purveyors, as well as some newer names in the game.

As for the old school places, we’d give top billing to Gates’ BBQ. Gates has been around since 1946, starting as a single storefront before expanding to six locations and producing its own line of BBQ sauces and seasonings. The buildings themselves are nothing to write home about, and there wasn’t much service to speak of, but the food was extremely good and it’s one of those places where, whatever you order, will be far too much. Had we known how much food they were going to pile in front of is, we would have ordered half what we did, and still needed a to-go box.

The combo plate on the left was enough to feed 4 people.

We also had a fantastic meal at Jack Stack BBQ. This is a more traditional sit-down restaurant where we had lunch out on the patio. It was de-freaken-licious.

Macaroni and cheese topped with pulled pork and a smoky sweet sauce may be the best thing we ate during our entire visit:

Though, the baby back ribs might qualify for that designation as well:

Another worthwhile restaurant was Q39 – think Hipster BBQ – which offered a plate of what they deemed “The Best Wings on the Planet.” We decided to investigate their claim and hell if they weren’t the best wings on the planet!!

These absolutely tasted as good as they looked.

When not living our lives in such a way as to make Kevin’s cardiologist want to punch him in the face, we spent time at our very nice county park, Longview Campground, in Lee’s Summit, Missouri.

The park offers nice spacious sites set around expansive green fields, right next to a very large lake – perfect for Thor to cool off on hot summer days.

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St. Louis

I had big plans for our visit to St. Louis. Our friend, Shannon, had written up a two part post on her blog (Part 1, Part 2) detailing all the interesting things she and her husband, Ken, had done while visiting, and it was my original intention to just copy their itinerary. However, a combination of crappy weather and bad timing derailed some of those plans. In the end, we had a good visit, but there’s a lot we’d like to go back and see.

For example, the city’s historic Old Courthouse is usually open to visitors, however, it is closed for a multi-year renovation, so we couldn’t visit.

And Anheuser Busch’s facilities, which used to offer a free tour – including an opportunity to meet their famous Clydesdale horses – now costs $30 per person. And I don’t care if there are horses or not, I’m not paying $30 to learn how Bud Light is made. Ken and Shannon also visited the city’s beautiful botanical garden, but stormy weather during our visit made that less than appealing.

The upside of those storms, however, was they created a dramatic background for the incredible Gateway Arch the day we visited.

To be clear, the Arch is HUGE. You can see it from miles away and there’s just no way to capture how enormous it is in photos. It is one of those roadtrip bucket list items that is absolutely worth a visit.

In order to go up inside the arch, you buy timed tickets. Before heading up, we watched a 1960’s era documentary about the design and construction of the Arch and it truly added to the experience.

In order to build this thing, not only did they have to attach construction platforms to the arch legs themselves, and build onto them as they were going up, but they built both sides at the same time, leading to one very stressful day in which they found out if they had done everything right.

Source: Time Magazine
Source: Archives.gov

I mean, can you imagine if they were a quarter inch off? You can’t just duct tape that. People will notice.

Fortunately, highly competent planners had run the numbers (probably more than once) and aced the exam. The keystone section was placed in the middle as the two sides were held back, all of which resulted in a perfect fit.

Yay, Math!

As for the trip up, the Arch utilizes a one-of-a-kind, custom made, weirdly high-tech-but-low-tech lift system to transport visitors to the top. Think: roller coaster meets Ferris Wheel. The trek starts underneath the arch on a concourse that was definitely designed and built by whoever designed and built Dulles Airport.

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Once you buy your tickets, you’re assigned a pod which is accessed through what looks like an elevator door.

There’s seating for 5, but we had our own and so did all the other small groups – which is good because the pods are tiny.

The clunky tram then crawls up the inside of the arch for four minutes (it only takes 3 minutes to come down thanks to a helpful assist from gravity.) Once at the top, there are several rectangular windows from which visitors can take in the views of the city on one side…

The dead center view shows the Old Courthouse and the skyline
If you time your visit right, you can take in some baseball

and the Mississippi River on the other:

The reason all of this is here… the Mighty Mississippi.

The Museum at the Gateway Arch

Beneath the Arch is a huge and recently renovated museum that captures westward expansion and the City of St. Louis. It’s another one we could have spent days at.

There are exhibits on everything from the Native Americans who originally occupied the region, to the arrival of various explorers and pioneers, to the Louisiana Purchase, to the development of the city, and the planning and construction of the Gateway Arch.

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It is comprehensive, interactive, and very well done. I feel like a broken record when I say: we wish we’d had more time to see everything. All of these museums are just awesome.

St. Charles

One day, while at our campground (which was located about 30 minutes outside St. Louis), we decided to find some good local BBQ. (Shocking, I know.) We found a well reviewed place called Salt & Smoke in St. Charles, Missouri and decided to head over for lunch. Little did we know, we were heading into a small town with a big history all its own.

We enjoyed lunch on the pretty patio of the restaurant

And then checked out the main street, which was full of centuries old houses and commercial buildings.

Turns out, the city was founded in 1769 by a French fur trader and, at one time, was a significant port city. It was a stop along Louis & Clark’s route, and served as the capital of Missouri from 1821 to 1826.

Who knew? Not us.

Anyway, today, it’s a charming little city and a perfect place to explore on a sunny afternoon.

370 Lakeside Park

Speaking of St. Charles, our campground was closer to it than St. Louis, but it was well located for exploring everything. This is a brand new county park that offers spacious, level sites, and nice amenities next to a pretty reservoir.

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Getting Stickers Stuck

While we spent two weeks in Missouri, we spent just two nights at the very green but very soggy Lincoln Trail State Park in Illinois.

While we basically had this beautiful green campground to ourselves, the rain was relentless which didn’t allow many opportunities to enjoy it.

Fortunately, we’d spent loads of time in Chicago over the years, so I suffered no crisis of conscience when applying the Illinois sticker to our map.

We then zoomed right across Indiana, (which we visited back in 2017)…

before coming face to face with my arch nemesis….

More on that next post.

_____________________________________________________________________

Where we stayed:

Longview Campground, Lee’s Summit, Missouri

370 Lakeside Park, Saint Peters, Missouri

32 COMMENTS

  1. Great post! I love the old train stations. They are so beautiful! It is amazing the attention to detail they all have, especially in the ceiling! Jeremy is drooling over the BBQ and the arch, while an engineering miracle, would be my own personal hell with the tiny pod and the height. 😂🤣😂 St. Charles looks more my speed!

    • Yeah, there is no way on god’s green earth you would get anywhere near that arch. Ha! You would enjoy the rest of it, for sure. St. Charles is very, very much like Old Town Alexandria or the oldest sections of Boston, which I know you guys enjoy.

  2. You have to go back! – you missed the Negro League Baseball Museum. Poor records were kept but many believe Satchel Page was the best pitcher of all time – EVER! Me too! and a short walk away is Arthur Bryant’s, possibly the most famous BBQ is America. Where 25 cents could get you all you can eat of ‘possom, squirrel, or ‘coon with white bread.
    just suggestions for your return, and as always certainly enjoyed your post and suggestions when we return.

    • I know we missed a lot (there’s a jazz museum that’s supposed to be excellent and the Truman Library which would have been interesting. There’s just never enough time). We actually did go to Arthur Bryant’s but had a pretty lousy experience there, so I didn’t recommend it (but I also didn’t want to trash it, since obviously, a lot of businesses are struggling right now with supplies and staff). Ah well, I’m sure we’ll be back some day!

  3. Wow, once again, I am so happy you are city people! It’s incredible it only took 2.5 years to build the Arch. Can you imagine how long a complex project like that would take in today’s world? My nephew calls it “evil Ohio”. Apparently a lot of people feel that way. The parks you stayed at look awesome. They give me hope we may make it there some day!

    • Yeah, whenever I look at how long it takes various construction projects to get done, I think back to our visit to the U.S.S. Yorktown which is a decommissioned air craft carrier that can be toured at Patriot Point in South Carolina. When we visited it, we learned that it was built in just 14 months. WWII was raging and the country needed ships and the ships got built in no time at all. Today, a ship like that would take 10 years to build. Just crazy.

  4. Your pics of the arch are stunning! I want to go! All of the places you explored sounded great. The train station! I’ve always wondered why they made such elaborate structures for a train station. They are truly remarkable. I suppose it was all they hype about train travel back in the day. The WWI museum sounds very interesting also. I’m sure lots of history overload there. Keep up the good work on reporting the neat places!

    • Thanks, Tami! We really enjoyed our visit there because there was just so much to see and do. We’ve been blown away by the train stations too. Grand Central in New York is on everyone’s radar, but for whatever reason, these other ones – that are just as impressive as Grand Central – are less well known. I’m just glad they’ve been preserved and restored. I hope you make it to St. Louis at some point. The Arch by itself is worth the visit, and there’s a lot of other great stuff in town.

  5. Your post really highlights that most places are worth a return visit because opportunities change. When we visited St. Louis, the museum under the arch was being renovated and there was nothing to see other than the film. It sounds like the renovation was a huge success! I am sure the courthouse will end up being equally engaging. And I don’t know how we missed the National WWI Memorial in Kansas City (though we did manage to see the Truman Library in nearby Independence). Sigh. Just one more thing to add to the list for future travels.

    • You’re totally right. I can’t think of many places we’ve been that we wouldn’t want to return to. It’s not just what’s open or closed, but also the weather and various seasonal events. Hell, we’ve been to places like New Orleans and Nashville multiple times and, each time, had a completely different experience, depending on when we were there, who we were with, and what was going on in town during our visits.

      We were bummed about the Old Courthouse, but I remembered you making a comment about the museum being closed when you visited. It appears they are just updating all the attractions one after another. Speaking of which, I looked into the Truman Library, but it had ALSO been closed for a multiyear renovation and was just opening the week we were there. I decided it would be a bad idea to go since lots of people would want to visit and see the updates. Better to leave it for a quieter time.

  6. What a great recap of Kansas City and St. Louis. You saw some things we did not get around to seeing, so now we have to some how make plans to go back some day. 😊 Our focus in Kansas City was BBQ, so we ate out every night for 7 nights at a different place. Loved it, but it will be months before we eat BBQ again. You can get too much of a good thing! We did eat at Jacks, Gates, and Q39, plus a several others and will hopefully give a detailed analysis at some point in the future. Thanks for sharing this part of your travels! Jim

    • Thanks, Jim. I concur… too much of anything can be too much! We, too, had to take a BBQ break after our Midwest visit, and after gorging ourselves on all the great Vietnamese food in the DC area (which we just visited), we are taking a break from that as well. 🙂 I have no doubt, we’ll make our way back to this region at some point. There are just too many things to see (and eat) for one week. In the meantime, though, onward!!

  7. No. Just no. I am never riding in one of those pods to the top of the arch. Especially now that you told me they didn’t use duct tape to secure that keystone!! But I’m glad you went up to show me the views. It’s such a stunning piece of architecture. And your photos of it are spectacular! St. Louis is in our resurrected 2020 plans for next summer, so this is really helpful. And St. Charles is now on our list.

    I’m looking forward to your Ohio post, haha. We’ve been to Ohio twice, on purpose! We haven’t made it to Glacier, but we’ve been to Ohio, LOL.

    • I mean, really, how can you stand it when you’ve been to Ohio and not Glacier? I feel like it might be time to reassess your priorities in life. LOL.

      As for the Arch, you really don’t need to go up in it to appreciate it. It’s just such a cool landmark and you can take so many fun photos from the ground. Don’t miss the museum below, though. That is an absolute must-see! And yes, St. Charles should definitely be on your list as well. You’ll love the cobblestone streets, tiny shops, and old restored homes. Plus, that Salt & Smoke restaurant was great!

  8. Me either, Laurel! We were in St. Louis on business years ago and everyone went up in the arch but my feet absolutely would not carry me into that pod, so I visited the museum below while everyone else was brave. Thanks for showing me what I missed! The dramatic skies behind the arch made for perfect photos. While I enjoyed seeing all your pictures, my favorite (burp) was the beef covered macaroni and cheese…what does that say about me?

    St. Charles looks like a sweet place to wander but I doubt we’ll be back in that neck of the woods. And, Ohio?

    • Haha. I love how no one ever defends Ohio. Is it because I am onto something? Is it, truly, indefensible? LOLOLOL!

      To be honest, I was bummed about our less than stellar weather for so much of our visit, but we really did show up at the Arch at the exact right time. Sometimes storm clouds can really add to an experience. And I’m right there with you on the food. That mac and cheese dish was out of this world!

    • Thanks, Lydia! We really enjoyed it and would love to go back and see all the stuff we missed. There’s a lot of interesting history, beautiful public spaces, and incredible food. We shall return!

  9. Oh how I had read this while we were staying near STL. We have been there before but I could never get Bill to go into the Arch! Now I want to….although, I may just have to accept the fact, I will only every enjoy it from this blog post!!! Great job all around!

    • Thanks, Debbie! It sounds like a lot of people are pretty freaked out by the idea of going up inside the arch. For some reason, that stuff just doesn’t bother me. The existence of alligators on planet Earth, on the other hand…. 🙂 Anyway, maybe you’ll get back there one day. If you’re running around in a smaller RV, it’ll be a lot easier to camp nearby, that’s for sure!

  10. You are doing this RV thing so right… Staying in a decent campground for a while and then city tripping, enjoying restaurants and sights, and not feeling too rushed. But, apparently there is always more to see, even traveling this way. Nice stops and good food… That pod experience to go up the arch sounds and looks amazing. Hopefully, it was worth the money, unlike that Busch tour, which we would have skipped as well. Congratulations on filling in the map of the USA. Almost done! What an accomplished year, despite the pandemic! 🙂

    • We’ve long been of the opinion that food is an important part of any culture or locale, so when we travel to various places, eating the local foods is a big part of our experience. We almost never go to chain restaurants, but we think finding little local places, or sampling whatever the local specialty is, is an integral part of our visit. Same goes with learning about a place’s history through its museums or cultural exhibits or events. Of course, no one can do everything or visit every place, but we try to find a representative sample. Even then, though, there is always more to see and do. Of course, our version of ideal travel is not for everyone. Plenty of people hate cities and don’t care much about food. Others aren’t particularly interested in history or various aspects of culture. They just want to be outside, enjoying the great outdoors. And that’s great too! There’s no right or wrong way to travel. Just what works for you and what makes you happy. Everyone has to find the right path for themselves.

      All that being said, we were happy to be able to really explore a couple of these places as we were heading back east. In addition to the all important sticker project, they were well worth a visit – at least to us.

  11. So glad you are getting more states checked off. We didn’t have much time when we went through Missouri, but will have to check out some of your recommendations when we make it back there someday. I am also definitely adding train stations to our list of things to look for! That BBQ is making my mouth water–maybe we will head that way sooner than later😀. Safe travels!

    • Fortunately, Missouri is conveniently located right in the middle of everything, so chances are, you’ll cross through again one of these days. When you do, it’ll absolutely be worth the time to make some detours and go spend time in both Kansas City and St. Louis. There’s just a ton to see and do!

      And yeah, train stations… who knew?? 🙂

  12. It’s weird when we full-time RVers look at the US map and see states in the middle of the country missing from the list, yet Missouri is one of those for us. Good thing we have your great narrative and photos to take us there virtually! The decorative train station is so pretty, and the BBQ made me drool on my phone screen. I think I would’ve been opposite you and paid to see the Clydesdales but not the claustro-acrophobia-inducing Arch Pod. 😆

    • It surprised me too that we hadn’t been through Missouri, given its central location, but weather can definitely be a factor in these big crossings, and Missouri weather can be a bear. All that being said, there’s a lot of good stuff to check out – not least of which is the amazeballs BBQ. That alone, in our humble opinion, is worth a stop next time you find yourself within 1,000 miles. 🙂

  13. All those BBQ photos and descriptions are making craving some. Good thing it is too late to get any. Those wings look amazing. I saw some char which is perfect. Yum! As for St Louis…not my frined! This is a city I never need to see ever again. And that arch…my #1 worst visit ever! It is that small pod without windows that has caused me years of anxiety. We entered the pod, three of us, with another couple. All five hunched over. As I sat there I told John I didn’t think I could do this. Then that solid metal door began to close with NO windows anywhere. I sprang from my seat and pushed that door open and flew out. Off went John and Jessica…haha!! After that episode I became extremely claustrophobic. I never suffered prior. It took years before I could even ride in an elevator. I couldn’t sit in the center of an aisle in an auditorium. I couldn’t ride in my friend’s Miata. I needed meds to fly. Crazy!!! My chest ached for hours. It was scary. Glad you enjoyed it, though!! The film on the building of it is amazing.

    • Oh my god, Pam! That sounds terrible and I’m sorry I brought back all those awful memories! You answered my question about whether they used to send those pods up full of people and I can absolutely understand how traumatic that would be. I guess Covid is good for a couple things – namely – half full pods. Ugh. I’m really sorry it was such a bad experience and I can totally understand why it stayed with you all these years. The good news is, all that barbecue was in Kansas City, so you don’t even have to go back to the house of horrors city in order to get great wings!

  14. I loved reading these adventures, it almost makes it sound like things are back to pre-2020 (although the mask photos inject the needed note of reality). Such fun things you see! Now I have to add “old train stations” to my list of things to check out in different citiees! I love good architecture and restorations. Favorite photo? That library parking garage. Epic. And I spent exactly 1 night in Illinois and claimed my sticker, so two nights, you’re doing 100% better than me. But since there were vultures staring down at my campsite all afternoon and evening, it felt like much longer than just one night.

    • Interestingly enough, this whole period of time was when the CDC had announced that people who were vaccinated could go without masks, so we had a couple weeks where we were much more comfortable being around other people and doing this kind of stuff. Soon enough, though, Delta showed up and we were right back to the pandemic. But yes, some of these experiences felt positively ‘normal.’ As for Illinois, I don’t think I would sleep well in that situation either!

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