Family, Historical sites, history, midwest, national parks, outdoors, Style, Travel, Uncategorized, writing

Gateway Arch National Park

Gateway Arch in December

On the last day of our recent Missouri trips, we had a some time to kill before heading back to the St. Louis Lambert Airport. As it was only about 15 minutes from the rental car company and a quick hop to the airport, we made a stop at the Gateway Arch for my seventh visit to a national park this year. Sami especially wanted to get an updated junior ranger badge.

This post will contain a bit of a trek down memory lane, along with some updates from our December 2022 visit with the kids, as this was not the first time we visited the arch. We actually earned our first junior ranger badges there years ago, when it was still the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. The arch was also known as the ‘Gateway to the West,’ a reference to the history of westward expansion. The construction of the arch was completed in 1965 and stands at 630 feet tall. In addition to the arch itself and the Museum of Westward Expansion, the Old Courthouse is also part of the park. The courthouse is one of the oldest buildings in St. Louis, and is where the pivotal Dred Scott case was heard in 1847 and 1850. We visited all three components on our first tour of St. Louis back in 2011. I recall that the museum contained many artifacts and much information on the idea of Manifest Destiny and its political history as well as the exploration and subsequent settling in what would later become the states west of the Mississippi. The older kids were particularly interested on that visit in 2011; Jacob and Emily were learning about the western movement in school and the museum at the Jefferson Expansion Memorial reinforced the concepts they had been learning.

The Jefferson National Expansion Memorial became Gateway Arch National Park in 2018 under President Trump. In addition to the new designation, the museum was renovated and modernized in a partnership between the National Parks Service and private foundations. While there were some elements that looked similar to what we saw in 2011, there were some things in the museum that looked different. There was also a new western entrance that was really pretty, and made it easier to find as we walked from a parking garage off site to the visitor center entrance.

After snapping many photos, we headed inside, out of the cold and into the brightness of the visitor center. There, we picked up our junior ranger books and got to work, checking out the exhibits as we wrote up our responses. The museum definitely had a more streamlined look as compared to back in 2011. It was also more spacious, or at least felt so. I remember it feeling much more crammed in.

Update: The new Gateway Arch books were released in the space between our September and December visits. These new books are really nice, with details to help guide the junior ranger to a richer view of the historical contexts. That said, these took longer to complete, even with the kids being older. I did appreciate that they were interactive with the exhibits, but it did take us two trips to complete everything in the books.

We finished our junior ranger books very quickly. The books themselves were significantly shorter than they were before; I think it also helped that we were not helping four young children fill out their books in addition to our own. After turning our books and being ‘sworn in’ as junior rangers, we headed to the gift shop. There I bought a few stickers along with a sterling silver charm for my travel bracelet.

We elected not to take the tram up to the arch on either trip. We did that on our first expedition out, and while the tram was not as claustrophobic as folks had described it to me prior to our trip, I was not a huge fan. But more pressingly, we had a limited amount of time before we had to turn in the rental car and head back to the airport to catch our flight back to Southern California. But I do still have photos from 2011 that show the view from the top of the arch. Unfortunately, they’re not the best since they were taken on a BlackBerry.

We were also unable to visit the Old Courthouse. At time of writing, it is currently closed for renovations as part of the CityArchRiver project. We did however learn about its history and significance when we went in 2011. The photos below show what it looked like then. I wonder how it will look after the new galleries are completed.

The exterior of the Old Courthouse in 2022

While this trip to Missouri was a bit of a whirlwind, it was a great time of exploring and learning. I loved being able to visit some new places with Jacob, as well as revisit the Gateway Arch and the familiar sights of St. Louis. I look forward to returning with the kids, now not-so-little, in less than a month, when Lord-willing we will celebrate Jacob’s completion of his advance training together as a family. After all, life is an adventure meant to be shared, and love makes it all the richer. Happy trails!

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This post was first published in October 2022. It has been updated in December 2022 to include photos and updated information.


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