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.
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.
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.
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!!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
and the Mississippi River on the other:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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