Bill and I had not been to Missouri before, so when I saw the Mid-States Cactus and Succulent Conference was to be held in St. Louis this past June, it seemed like a good way to see that part of the world and make a cactus meeting at the same time. So we went and took some interesting side trips along the way.
The first of those extra excursions was in Edmond, Oklahoma, where we looked to see if the Wide-A-Wake Café was still in existence. It just so happened I had been reading a book titled Tales of the Wide-A-Wake Café by Curt Munson, and since we were traveling on I-40, which took us through Oklahoma City, it was not hard to take a detour through Edmond where this real café had been a popular stop for truckers and others from the years of the Great Depression through World War II and later. The address is mentioned in the book and we found it without much trouble, but the building at the address is now a State Farm office.
So we went in, and when I started telling the receptionist what we were looking for, she smiled and waved her hand at the wall we had passed coming in. And there it was!
She said every now and then someone will stop and ask about the little café , which had made her an old hand at reliving its history. I’m not sure how many people stopped because they had read the book; most were sons or grandsons of an old truck driver who told stories about stopping there back in the day. So that was a neat little trip back in time when the café’s address would have been at an intersection of Route 66.
After a couple of other side trips looking for memories connected to when Bill worked for his Uncle Stanley Barber building bridges in Oklahoma, we made it to Joplin, Missouri, for the night. We would make it to St. Louis the next day.
Ha Ha Tonka State Park is touted to be a really pretty state park in Missouri and it was sort of on our way to St. Louis, so the next morning finding that park became our next adventure. And I don’t use that term loosely; Missouri doesn’t seem to spend a whole lot of money of their road signs, and when you finally find one, it’s like looking at a foreign language. Like this one:
We saw a confusion of inconsistent-to us-letters identifying roads that in Texas would be named with numbers, and between the lack of signs and others that weren’t easy to follow, it turned into a treasure hunt to find the blasted park. But we did. And it was pretty; lots of trees, next to a lake, but its main drawing point was the ruins of an old castle begun in 1905 and finished in 1922 as a dream home for Robert McClure Synder. The castle had burned in 1942 and was never restored. Bill wasn’t impressed and napped while I walked around and enjoyed the quiet woodland landscape.
And then it was on to St. Louis, which we hit, of course, in time for 5 o’clock traffic. But we found the hotel, ate, and drove around a little before turning in for the night.
The next day was sightseeing for both of us since the cactus meetings would start the following day. We decided to do the tourist thing and take a tour bus around the city, which we enjoyed but suffered from information overload by its end. Tours, however, do have the advantage of giving an overview of the city and an idea of places you want to investigate more. The city is old, founded in 1764 and became a part of the United States with the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. The architecture and elaborate, ornate masonry decorating the buildings reflected this age and were enchanting. I enjoyed looking at all the buildings and houses as much as anything else we saw.
We passed block after block of what looked like shotgun houses, you know, the ones named that because you can stand at the front door and take a shot and hit nothing because the bullet will just go right through the back door. I finally had to quit taking pictures of houses and just enjoy looking at them.
Forest Park, St. Louis’ version of Central Park, was lovely. I believe I remember from the information overload that it was built for the 1904 Summer Olympics held there. It was big and busy. This was just one of the easy shots to take, but there is much more going on in the park than a pretty reflection pool.
The tour began and ended in walking distance of the Gateway Arch, so we walked and enjoyed the park that has been built around it.
And here it is.
We bought tickets for the tram to go up to the top, walked over for a snack at the nearby Hyatt-Regency, spent about 45 minutes in the security line and tram line before boarding the tram. We were told the trams, the rather small oval containers for passengers, were invented by combining escalator, elevator, and Ferris wheel technology. It takes three minutes to go up and four minutes to get down. I wanted to take a picture showing the inside of the tram, but we were warned repeatedly not to do that, to hurry up and get in and out because the door shuts very quickly and impatient people are waiting their turn behind you. I did take this shot inside the tram; it doesn’t show much, but you get the idea.
Once we made it to the top we could stay as long as we wanted before lining up to get back down. The windows were rather small rectangles with sort of a slanted, carpeted bench under them that we had to lean over or climb up on to see out. Kids had no trouble; adults looked a bit awkward, but did it anyway.
And because we were, after all, right on the top of the curve of the arch, standing up without loosing your balance was a challenge! Look at the ceiling and you can see the curve of the arch.
But the view was worth it. Busch Stadium is the red-seated arena you see here, of course, along with a panoramic view of the city.
This is the view looking down at the new entrance to the arch and an old court house that is not used as a court house any more but is a museum.
St. Louis sits on one side of the Mississippi River and on the other side is the state of Illinois. Our tour guide told us about their version of a Galveston-type sea wall on the Missouri side for when the Mississippi floods and water levels are ridiculously high.
This is looking down on the park on the side of the arch. The same patterned park and pool is on the other side of the arch as well.
We stayed a while and then got in line to ride the tram down. I took this picture quickly as we were leaving. This is also what it looks like when you board to go up; you stand in a group of five in front of the door way and when it opens, you rush in and sit down. When you go down, you simply exit those doors and get out of the way.
The arch is made of stainless steel sections and the story goes that as they neared completion, the metal had expanded in the heat of the sun. The only way they could get the two ends to match up for the final connection was to have the fire department come down and spray cold water on the bases making the metal contract until they could line up the ends just right and finish the arch. You can see the metal sections in this close-up, and if you look carefully at the top you can see the line of windows we were all looking through.
Busch Stadium was our next stop after leaving the arch. It wasn’t open, but we could see into the stadium and walked around to the front where they have statues of noteworthy St. Louis Cardinals, like Stan Musial.
We managed to take a few wrong turns downtown where they still don’t have very good directional road signs and made our way to what is called the Loop. It reminded me of a smaller version of 6th Street in Austin, but they did have a music walk of fame and a nice statue of Chuck Berry. Blues and blues-infused rock and roll are important to St. Louis culture and they play it up on the Loop. We ate blueberry pie and traditional St. Louis butter cake at the Blueberry Café and shopped Vintage Vinyl.
The outside of the Blueberry Café was not very impressive, but the inside was full of rock and roll memorabilia, like these juke boxes and tons of other stuff, including ducks commemorating Chuck Berry’s duck walk.
Friday was when the cactus conference started, so Bill went on his own sightseeing tour while I learned about cactus. He looked for information about Lewis and Clark and found the Budweiser Brewery. That afternoon when my meetings were over, we had another adventure in reading street signs to find the Budweiser Clydesdales. By the time we got there it was nearly closing time, so we admired the one horse they had in a stall for people to see close up, which wasn’t very satisfying, and a couple of horses in a small pen, and drove around their white-fenced pasture to see others grazing. I waded through the grass in the ditch and took better pictures of the horses there than I got of the one in the stall.
The next day’s cactus activities included a tour of the St. Louis Botanical Gardens, so that afternoon we both took that in. And again had trouble with their lame city map. But we found it, and it was, of course, lovely.
We drove around the city after the visit to the arboretum and again saw houses that look different to what we generally see in Texas.
Sunday afternoon was the last day of the conference, which, by the way, I will talk about in a separate story. This story is already way too long, and I wanted it to focus on St. Louis. We went home through Ft. Smith, Arkansas, where we spent the night and ran some errands the next day before heading back to Texas.
We had a good trip, enjoyed seeing Missouri and visiting St. Louis, the Gateway Arch and other attractions, and I even learned more about cactus. But it’s always good to be home.