National Park Road Trip 2010: Return to the Beginning

This statue of President Jefferson signing the treaty for the purchase of the Louisiana Territory can be seen near the capitol at Jefferson City, Missouri. Photo by David and Kay Scott.

Editor's note: David and Kay Scott this summer are living what many of us wish we could do: they're following a meandering path across the country to visit units of the National Park System. This installment of their trek comes from the end of the road in St. Louis, where the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail starts.

Greetings from St. Louis, Missouri. It is Wednesday morning and we are at Union Station, which at one time was the busiest train station in the world. This wonderful station has been preserved and now serves as an indoor shopping mall. An upscale Marriott serves the role once occupied by the Terminal Hotel that operated here during the station’s glory days. It appears that from half to two-thirds of the stores in the station are currently occupied.

St. Louis has long served as Gateway to the West, and it is generally recognized as the starting point for much of our country’s westward expansion. Pioneers on the Oregon, California, and Santa Fe Trails, and the men of the Lewis & Clark expedition, passed through here on their way west. It was just outside St. Louis where the Corps of Discovery spent the winter of 1803-04 in preparation for its great journey up the Missouri River.

During Tuesday’s drive to St. Louis we visited St. Charles, a splendid river town where the Lewis and Clark Boathouse and Nature Center houses a keelboat and pirogues that are replicas of those used by the Corps of Discovery. Next we drove across the river into Illinois to the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. This is the terminus of the Missouri River that we have been following from its Montana headwaters at Three Forks.

The Lewis & Clark visitor center is closed on Monday and Tuesday, so we weren’t able to visit. In any case it was hot and humid, almost 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and we were in a rush to get back to St. Louis and check in at the hotel.

Tuesday evening we visited the Gateway Arch that serves as the iconic symbol of the St. Louis riverfront. The Gateway Arch is part of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, a unit of the National Park Service that includes an extensive underground hall filled with exhibits, theatres, and access to a tram that takes visitors to the top of the arch. The museum is extremely well done with exhibits covering the opening of the West. A large section is devoted to the journey of Lewis & Clark. Entrance to the museum is free, but a fee is charged to view the films or ride to the top of the arch.

Our last email was from Council Bluffs, Iowa. The following morning we visited the Western Historic Trails Interpretive Center operated by the National Park Service. The visitor center with exhibits for each of the trails including Lewis & Clark is excellent. Unfortunately, a trail that leads to the Missouri River was closed due to flooding.

Following our visit to the Park Service facility we drove across the Missouri River to see Omaha’s Union Station, one of America's great remaining Art Deco train stations. This magnificent building that opened in 1931 proved to be even better than we anticipated. The building is currently utilized as an art museum, but the interior is just magnificent. The waiting room has been restored to what it must have looked like during its glory years. Across the tracks is the deteriorating Burlington Station, that had once been equally elegant. Unfortunately, the interior has been stripped and the exterior appears to be beyond repair.

Driving south along the Nebraska side of the Missouri, we stopped in Nebraska City at the Missouri River Basin Lewis & Clark Interpretive Trail and Visitor Center. Perhaps a long name, but the exhibits made for a worthwhile visit. Especially interesting was a replica keel boat just outside the visitor center.

It was a hot day, but we decided to camp at a Missouri state park about 20 miles east of Kansas City. Not surprisingly, we were nearly by ourselves in the campground that night. The temperature had been in the high 90s, so it wasn’t surprising that others had more sense than to spend a miserably hot night in a tent. The next night we spent in a motel in Jefferson City, Missouri’s capital. An impressive statute of Lewis & Clark is near the state capitol.

So, that’s it for this trip. We are now heading home and should be to South Georgia in a couple of days. It is mostly interstate, the type of road we have avoided for the last 8,000 miles. It has been a good trip, perhaps one of our best. We learned a lot and met some wonderful people. We visited a number of new places and enjoyed generally good weather. After getting some rest, we will try to put together a summary of our trip, including a comparison of following the Oregon Trail with our return along the route taken by the Corps of Discovery.

David and Kay Scott are regular contributors to the Traveler. Their book, The Complete Guide to the National Park Lodges was first published by the Globe Pequot Press in 1997 and is now in its sixth edition.

Comments

Thanks. It has been fun following your trip. Since I have lived close to some of the places you mentioned, I was eager to hear what you had to say about them. Never know how your hometown stuff comes across to strangers. Thanks again.

I have really enjoyed reading about your adventures. I hope you document another trip like you did this one. I've always wanted to do a trip like this but usually when the weather is nice I am busy at work so I can't. Thanks again.

I grew up in the inner city of St Louis and I remember the ARCH being built! All of our family gradually started moving into St Charles in the 1980's and I LOVE historic Main Street! I had been planning a trip home for this past June and was going to play "tourist"; going back up in the ARCH, Old Cathedral, etc. My Mom was diagnosed with cancer a couple of days before my departure and so my 2 weeks back home was anything but a vacation. I will get plenty of opportunities to be a tourist once again but who knows how many opportunities to love on my Mom. Thanks for sharing my hometown with everyone. The St Louis area has SUCH a rich History with wonderful museums, architecture and family friendly attractions!!

Thank you for the entertaining and informative stories from your trip. I enjoyed them tremendously and envy you for the experience. Keep on traveling and I hope to read about your future trips here. Thanks again.

Each gallon of gasoline burned contributes 19.6 pounds of CO2 to the atmosphere. The national average MPG for a passenger car is about 25 mpg, which means you generated about 6,272 pounds of CO2 on your trip.

My question is: What, if anything, are you doing to offset your carbon pollution from your pleasure trip?

Our RAV4 actually got over 35 mpg during our trip, so our carbon footprint was substantially below your estimate. Plus, at home we upped the thermostat, cut off the water heater, and turned off all the lights prior to leaving on the trip. This should have helped the environment some. By the way, the average monthly energy bill for our all-electric home is less than $100, substantially below any of our neighbors.

At home we use a push mower to mow our grass. This should help a little. We are both retired so we don't drive to work any longer, and we're glad of it. We ride bicycles to the grocery stores that are nearby our home, so this should count for something.

And lastly, my wife can vouch for the fact that I spend very little money on new clothes, so this should cut down on any CO2 that is emitted during the manufacturing process, not to mention that it helps America's cronic deficits in the balance of trade since nearly all clothing is made overseas.

So there.

You go David!!