We cruised into St. Louis in the late morning. At this point, US-50 has merged with the Interstate.
We only had a few hours to spend, so of course, the first matter of business was to see the Arch. We were about to Google Map it on my iPhone when we realized it actually wasn’t going to be that hard to find…
We parked the car in a nearby lot and walked to the base. And hey – it’s an arch!
The Gateway Arch (a symbolic gateway to the west) was built between 1963 and 1965, and opened to the public in 1967. At 630 feet, it’s the tallest monument in the United States. Its exterior is covered in a stainless steel skin, and a pod-shaped tram brings visitors to an observation deck at its peak.
Unfortunately, the line for the elevator was ridiculously long, so we had to be content admiring it from the ground. Also, we were excited to note that we had finally arrived at the Mississippi River! Unfortunately, it had apparently flooded, and fences prevented us from getting close to it to do the out-of-towner hand-in-the-new-body-of-water ritual.
Riding along the riverfront, we stumbled on the Union Electric Light & Power Company building, which is one of the most beautiful industrial buildings I’ve ever seen.
It seemed deserted when we were there, but at least one website claims parts of it are still functional. Sort of reminds me of the Joker’s lair in the first Tim Burton Batman film.
I love the writing under the roof peaks:
From downtown, we then made our way to the Benton Park neighborhood, home to a number of now abandoned breweries/factory buildings and the grand residences of their former owners. Walking down a typical street, it’s not unusual to see a factory smokestack in the distance…
…then turn a corner and stumble on a beautiful house like the Chantillon De-Menil Mansion.
One in particular we were interested in visiting was the Lemp Mansion, now operating as a restaurant and occasional hotel:
The Lemp family, owners of a now vacant brewery just down the street (below picture), had a strange number of suicides in their history, one of which occurred in the mansion. It’s now said to be one of the most haunted sites in America, and large numbers of tourists flock to it to eat full fried chicken dinners and perhaps see a ghost.
I’d love to show you pictures of the interior and recommend it for future trips to St. Louis, but unfortunately, we never had the chance to go inside. We were sitting in our car eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in the parking lot when an employee came out and told us the manager had wanted us to leave. So we did.
Next, we headed north-west and saw one of my favorite stops on the trip thus far: this enormous pile of rocks in the back of a parking lot.
This isn’t just any ordinary 3-story pile of rocks, however; buried beneath it are untold amounts of nuclear waste.
Formerly on this site was the US Atomic Energy Commission Uranium Feed Materials Plant, which processed uranium and thorium ore from 1955 – 1966. Of course, there was a lot of waste, which I gather was essentially thrown out the window. Decontamination efforts began in the mid-80′s (a drinking water reservoir servicing 70,000 residents is located very close by), culminating in the “disposal cell” pictured below:
The entire cell is covered by this mountain of rocks, which is apparently safe to walk on. At least, I hope it is…
As we approached, I noticed a number of what I imagine are testing devices scattered throughout the foliage:
An enormous staircase takes you up to the top…
Along the way, we noticed a TON of these spiders crawling all over the place. Radioactive spiders? Could my dreams of becoming Spider-man be so easily realized?? Alas, I decided not let it bite me.
The stairs don’t bring you to the top, however – you still have to walk an additional 100 feet or so on this path:
You only fully comprehend how large the mound is at the top, when you realize you’re at the highest points in sight:
Four plaques describing the history of the site are at the top, along with two park benches for anyone who cares to relax on top of a pile of hot radioactive waste.
I want to believe the EPA when they claim the whole thing is safe and radiation-free…But it really started to creep me out when I noticed that my hair was mysterious standing on end (seriously – there was no wind the day we went up):
We left the toxic waste dump site (what a vacation!) and continued on the road to rejoin US-50. An abandoned building of some sort we passed:
Curious if it was a former garage:
We drove through more small towns…
One of my favorite abandoned properties we’ve seen on the trip is this shack, completely overtaken by foliage:
I especially like the front porch, the roof of which is held up by a carved post and a tree trunk:
Passing by a somewhat impoverished looking farm, we noticed their one horse had a really severe dip in its back. Does anyone know if this is common for riding horses, or a sign of ill treatment?
Though the landscape was still mostly farms…
…we were beginning to see some changes as we made our way toward Kansas.
We finally rejoined US-50, which runs alongside a railroad track. There’s something magical about racing a train on a two-lane highway:
We stopped for dinner in Sedalia, Missouri, known in the 1800′s as the “Sodom and Gomorrah of the West” for its gambling and prostitution. Today, it’s a crossroads for US-50 and US-65, and has the usual array of gas stations and fast food joints. One interesting service station:
We ate at a fantastic BBQ place called Kehde’s:
The main restaurant is attached to a dining car, which our waitress told me was featured in the Matthew Broderick movie Biloxi Blues, of all things.
Inside the dining car:
Unfortunately, the train car was closed for the night, so we ate in the main building. The few customers appeared to be locals (they knew the waitresses by name) – always a good sign for roadtrip eating.
Our waitress was charming, down-homey, and warm, chatting with us at length about our trip, Sedalia, and the menu – and my New York City paranoia immediately kicked into full gear. Was this all an act she put on for out-of-towners? What was her motivation? Was she guilting us into leaving a bigger tip? Was she trying to sucker us into buying more food? Why was a waitress in a town we’d never been to talking to us like we were old friends?!?!
But no – as far as I can tell, it was absolutely genuine. When my girlfriend asked about what pies they had, for example, she actually whispered to us not to bother, as all they had left were store-bought and not as good as the ones they make themselves.
The ribs I had were really good, dripping in homemade BBQ sauce and falling off the bone – and does it get any better than foamy root beer served in freezer-chilled glasses?
I’m exhausted here after a full day of driving (and possible radiation poisoning), but places like Kehde’s really make the trip worth it.
Kansas up next!