Gateway Arch and Westward Expansion Museum
In June 2009 I vacationed in St. Louis and visited the Gateway Arch and Western Expansion Museum again. The Gateway Arch complex is part of the National Park Services. There was plenty of affordable parking and walking to the arch was pleasant. The grounds were very well maintained. There are plenty of benches to sit on while viewing the Mighty Mississippi River and enjoying the vast green lawns. When the Arch comes into full view it is quite an amazing sight.
I hadn't visited the Arch since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 so I wasn't prepared for the long lines and wait to get inside the underground portions. Entry can only be obtained by going through airport type security. Leave pistols, knives, or any other kind of self defense hardware in your vehicle. The National Park Service website says plan for a thirty minute delay. I don't believe it took that long, more like fifteen minutes on a Saturday morning. Admission to the inside is free. All of the Rangers and park employees I encountered were exceptionally friendly, helpful, and courteous.
Once inside you'll have plenty of viewing options not limited to the Gateway Arch itself. There's a movie theatre, the Westward Expansion Museum, exhibits, and a gift shop. There is a fee to ride to the top of the Arch and to view the movie. There is no cafeteria, so eat before you go if you plan to stay a while. The trip to the top of the Arch is always busy. If you are troubled by heights or claustrophobic you may want to reconsider going up. Two teen girls freaked out while my son and his girlfriend were up there. Also be warned that to get up there takes some walking. Portions of the walk may strike some as a bit steep. I'm 6'1" and over 250 pounds so anyone much larger than me will feel a bit cramped during the walk but you'll fit, plus the view is worth it!
The Westward Expansion Museum is laid out in a different manner than most museums. There is a time line that runs along the outer wall inside the museum that is informative and easy to read. I followed it around and then went back to the museum entrance. When you look up at the entrance, there is a decade by decade time line on the ceiling. You get closer to our time the deeper you walk. I really don't care for that portion of the layout. Some of the exhibits are difficult to take in and keep the time line intact. I'm sure it's a matter of taste, it just doesn't suit mine. Don't let that deter you from wanting to visit.
The gift shop has a LOT of Arch items. There is a decent selection of books and movies dealing with the United States westward expansion from both an Indian and White perspective. I added three more softback books to my collection.
Outside, along the Mighty Mississippi, you can take a helicopter tour, riverboat rides, and rent bicycles which I recommend. Across the street from the parking garage is an outstanding selection of restaurants, many have outdoor patios or street side seating. There's even a casino if you are feeling lucky!
In December 2009 competition was opened to reenvision the Arch and it's surroundings. The plans are to make ticketing available throughout the grounds, skylights in the museum, stages on the river for movies and live performances, and to add more restaurants and vendors on the edges of the park. Plans also include acquiring land on the other side of the river. The Parks Service wants to make the Arch a model for urban national parks. You can read all about it in the Winter 2011 issue of the National Parks Conservation Association magazine or on their website.