Our epic cross-country adventure began in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where we headed northwest through Nashville toward St. Louis, Missouri. When planning the route, we were aiming for as many national parks as we could hit on our way to San Diego and back, plus a few national monuments, state parks, and other sights along the way.
The first of these encounters was the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri. Completed in 1965, this national monument is the world’s tallest arch as well as the tallest manmade monument in the Western Hemisphere. According to Wikipedia, it was “built as a monument to the westward expansion of the United States” and is the centerpiece of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. Plus, it’s space-age cool.
Designed by architect Eero Saarinen of mid-century modern furniture fame, it cost $13 million USD to build, which is just under $200 million in modern American dollars. Saarinen wasn’t commissioned to design the project; he won a design competition for the job and beat out his famous architect father in the process. When Eero and his design team were named as finalists in the first round of the competition, “The secretary who sent out the telegrams informing finalists of their advancement mistakenly sent one to [father] Eliel rather than Eero. The family celebrated with champagne, and two hours later, a competition representative called to correct the mistake. Eliel broke out a second bottle of champagne to toast his son.” What a great dad!
Speaking of great dads, Mike was the world’s best father and husband when it came to this cross-country road trip. In addition to planning the entire adventure and driving every single mile of the journey, he was also endlessly patient with the boys and me when we wanted to see and do all of the “touristy” things at each stop.
No sweet-talking was necessary to get Mike to ride to the top of the arch. We purchased tickets for the tram and got our National Parks Passport stamped. [Note: Current monument construction and renovation efforts have changed this process a bit over the past five years, so check the Gateway Arch website for current details before you visit.]
To keep visitors entertained while they wait for their seat in one of the elevator-style trams, the National Park Service put together some cool videos and displays describing the history of the westward expansion, the development of St. Louis, and the construction of the arch.
As we made our way to the front of the line, there was no way in the world we could’ve anticipated what we saw next.
The tram doors opened to reveal two dozen Amish who’d just descended from the top of the arch.
It was completely surreal to see people looking as they might have in the 1800s emerge from the futuristic Jetsons-style pods. But when you think about it, they were just other American families on vacation, exactly like us.
The view they saw from the top of this amazing structure was the exact same view we saw. And it was spectacular.
Our epic American adventure was off to a spectacular start, and we’d definitely worked up an appetite for more cross-country wonders … and some barbecue. On to Kansas City!