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Mitch's Blog


Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Day 9 Summary

Day Nine – August 11, 2003
St. Louis, MO to Waterloo, IA

Since I was in St. Louis, naturally the place I absolutely had to see was the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, otherwise known as the site of the St. Louis Arch. We were about to go there at 8 AM, but after being informed upon checking out from our hotel that nothing at the arch opened until 9 – and that traffic would be bad until about 8:45 – we opted to kill some time at the local Target.

This was the first urban – we were within the city limits of St. Louis – Target I had gone to, and it was definitely a bit different from the ones I was used to, but mostly just because it was old and still had the look of a Target from the late 1980s.

After spending a good 45 minutes at Target, we left and got on the road into St. Louis. Traffic was pretty good; much better than it had been earlier. Unfortunately, the exits to the arch were not marked very well, and we ended up crossing the Mississippi River into Illinois. Interestingly, I had never planned to go to Illinois at all during this trip, but, here I was, in Illinois for the second day in a row.

We turned around in East St. Louis, IL, and got back on the tricky road system crossing the Mississippi. We eventually found a downtown exit near the arch, and in time found ourselves at the nearest parking lot to the arch.

The Arch is located is what can only be called a very large city park. There are walking/bike trails that go all around it, as well as a lot of green space. The main attraction, though, was the Arch. It was amazing to be able to stare right up at it. It was much larger than I had ever pictured it, and a lot of fun to just sit outside and look around.

We did, however, go underneath the Arch, where the trams that go up to the observation deck on top of the Arch are located, along with the Museum of Westward Expansion, movie theater, and gift shop. We made the obligatory stop at the gift shop, but did not view the museum or purchase tickets to the ride to the top. We really didn’t have that much time to spare, and, even though I would have loved to have been able to ride to the top of the arch, I felt content with just being able to walk around the arch from the ground. Besides, Brainerd isn’t that far away from St. Louis, and I can, hopefully, go back sometime to see what I missed.

Since the goal of seeing the Arch was fulfilled, we got on I-70 out of St. Louis. Since we had to go to Waterloo, Iowa, we turned off on the 4-laned U.S. highway 61.

We passed Troy, MO, an extreme northern suburb of St. Louis, and later came to the Missouri Welcome Center near Hannibal, MO. Hannibal, of course, is the hometown of Samuel Clemens, otherwise known as Mark Twain, and his boyhood home is available for tours in the middle of town. I didn’t get to see anything in Hannibal, but, like I said, it wouldn’t be that hard to drive from Brainerd to spend some time, say next summer, in this part of Missouri.

After unsuccessfully playing the Texas Lottery in Dallas and the Kansas Lottery in Topeka, we somehow got lucky by winning $7 on the Missouri Lottery in Alexandria, MO. We were only a mile away from the border – the gas station we stopped at advertised that it was my last chance to play the Missouri Lottery – so we had to cash the scratch-off there.

Sure enough, less than a minute later we crossed the Des Moines River and came to the lovely town of Keokuk, Iowa, located at the southernmost point in Iowa.

We then got on U.S. highway 218 to make the very long trip through some very rural parts of Iowa. We went more than 80 miles on this road before coming to the city of Iowa City, along interstate 80.

Herbert Hoover was born in Iowa, and since we had already made it to the Truman and Eisenhower memorials, I felt it was in order to visit Hoover’s as well. West Branch is the name of the small town he was born in, and it was only a short 15 mile drive on I-80 from Iowa City.

There was one problem, however, it was 4:30 PM when we got the Hoover Museum. All of the information I had received about the place said that the grounds closed at 5 PM. We would have to be quick if we were going to see anything while here.

Well, it turned out we were in luck. Upon getting to the museum, the person working there told us that during the summer, Wednesdays are family nights, and everything is open until 8 PM. What a deal!

So, we got to see the extremely interesting Hoover Museum, as well as walk around the park it is situated on to see the small farm house he was born in, a schoolhouse like the one he attended, the blacksmith shop his father operated, a Quaker meeting place like he and his parents attended, as well as various other things. Many century-old houses have been moved from around the West Branch area and brought into the park to recreate exactly what the area looked like when Hoover was born, as well.

Everything culminated in visiting the graves of both President and Mrs. Hoover. As a man who was very simple in life, so is Hoover in death, as well. His final resting place is rather simple by presidential standards, and, upon his request, nothing but his name, birth, and death year was inscribed on his gravestone. Check out the pictures below.

Hoover loved being able to say he was born in the prairie, and part of the Hoover Park includes a recreated, traditional Iowa prairie. The prairie, located behind Hoover’s final resting place, has a very elaborate system of mowed walking trails and is open to the public to walk through. I walked along some of it, and had a really fun time doing so.

By the time we left the Hoover Park, it was already 7 PM. We needed to hustle in order to get to Waterloo before the sun set. Nevertheless, we made it just in time, passing through the rather-large city of Cedar Rapids on the way. I’ll say very simply that I was surprised to see there was a nice skyline developing in this city, and that downtown smelled like oatmeal because of the Quaker Oats plant right in the middle of town.

My first shot of the arch, complete with birds flying around it
The sign of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial
Looking up at the arch
The Mississippi River adjacent to the arch - Illinois is on the other side
The old courthouse (part of the Jefferson Nat'l Expansion Memorial) and some of the St. Louis skyline
The other part of the rather wimpy (when the arch is taken out of the picture) St. Louis skyline
The sun shining on the arch
The windows at the observation deck on the top of the arch
The tree-lined paths going around the base of the arch
The view from standing right next to the arch
More of the park green
More birds flying around the arch
At the bottom of the stairs leading up to the arch
One final shot of the entire arch
The parking lot to view the arch was very strange, it was at quite a big horizontal angle
Notice how slanted the vehicles in the parking lot are in this photo
The spawl of Troy, MO
Missouri Welcome Center sign
The Quaker Meeting House on the Hoover Park Grounds
The visitor's center to the Hoover National Historic Site
The front of the farmhouse Hoover was born in
The back of the farmhouse
Hoover's father's blacksmith shop
Inside the old schoolhouse like the one Hoover went to
The site of Hoover's grave
The place where Hoover was born is purposely visible from the spot he is buried
Hoover's grave along with his wife's
A large flower growing on the prarie behind Hoover's grave
Scenery near Hannibal, MO
An interesting sign at the gas station in Alexandria, MO
The Iowa Welcome Sign

Note: to see full-sized versions of any of the photos above, select the download feature above the picture. The photo will then be downloaded to your computer, and you can view the full resolution version of the picture (800 pixels in width).

The St. Louis Arch
The Old Schoolhouse at the Hoover Park
Herbert Hoover's grave


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Mitch's Blog began on December 23, 2001