June 20: The Arch! But no botanical garden, alas. And also a good friend.

It was 90dF when I climbed into Merlin at 10 am just west of St. Louis, and the humidity was oppressive. And by oppressive I mean I felt like I had a coating of boiling lead all over my body, weighing me down [wry g]. This kind of weather is why I don’t visit my mother in Texas between Easter and Halloween.

But I made the best of it. I drove into downtown St. Louis, and wound up doing a sort of “Big Ben Parliament” thing (the reference is to the movie National Lampoon’s European Vacation, BTW) trying to find it. I kept seeing it, but trying to get close enough to it to actually walk up to it was – challenging. I never did get directly under it, even walking, because they’ve got the ground underneath it torn up while they redo the Museum of Westward Expansion, which is underground there and won’t be open again until 2017. But, after accidentally crossing over into Illinois and back again, I did manage to get close and find a parking place right next to the Old Courthouse, which is right across the street from the park leading to the Arch.

It’s every bit as impressive as I thought it would be. I thought it was going to be copper-colored, but I think that’s because the only other time I’ve ever seen it was from Amtrak’s Texas Eagle on the Illinois side of the Mississippi, right at sunset (which was admittedly pretty cool), years and years ago. It’s not coppery, it’s silver-colored. It shimmers. And it looks like a tornado would blow it right over. I kept thinking, where are the guywires?

The Arch from the steps of the Old Courthouse.
The Arch from the steps of the Old Courthouse.
As close as I could get to the Arch without going up in it (not a chance -- I saw the thing you ride up in -- they had a mockup where they sold the tickets -- it made the Gemini capsule back in Kansas look ginormous.
As close as I could get to the Arch without going up in it (not a chance — I saw the thing you ride up in — they had a mockup where they sold the tickets — it made the Gemini capsule back in Kansas look ginormous).

The Old Courthouse across the street reminds me of the historic buildings in Boston and Philadelphia, dwarfed by the skyscrapers that surround them. This is where Dred Scott and his wife first sued for their freedom from slavery, and it was determined that they were not U.S. citizens, and so would not be freed.

One of the exhibits in the Old Courhouse, about the Oregon Trail.
One of the exhibits in the Old Courhouse, about the Oregon Trail.
Remnants of one of the earliest buildings in St. Louis, a fur trader's warehouse.
Remnants of one of the earliest buildings in St. Louis, a fur trader’s warehouse.
An interesting reflection of the Old Courthouse in one of the nearby skyscrapers.  The statue is of Dred Scott and his wife.
An interesting reflection of the Old Courthouse in one of the nearby skyscrapers. The statue is of Dred Scott and his wife.

There’s a nice museum inside the courthouse, mostly temporary, I gather, while the other museum is closed. It was interesting, but nothing I wasn’t already familiar with. The exhibits were well done, though.

After I staggered back to Merlin through the heat, I knew the Missouri Botanic Gardens were a no-go. After barely a block I was just miserable. So I decided to head on out of St. Louis. I was really disappointed about that. I probably would have stuck around if I’d known the weather would have cooled off in a day or two, but it’s supposed to be in the 90s the rest of this week, alas.

I crossed the Mississippi into Illinois on a bridge that looks like what the 21st Street bridge in Tacoma wants to be when it grows up, and saw a sign for the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site. Hoping for an air-conditioned visitor center, I took the offramp only to discover it’s closed on Mondays. But I did take a brief look around, and then called my Bujold listee friend Jim Parish, who lives in a small college town just northeast of St. Louis.

One of the mounds at Cahokia, which is the largest pre-Columbian ruin north of Mexico.  Including Mesa Verde, apparently.
One of the mounds at Cahokia, which is the largest pre-Columbian ruin north of Mexico. Including Mesa Verde, apparently.

I found his house just fine, and we went out to lunch. A long, lovely lunch, where we talked about everything from Bujold to family to history. I’m not really sure there was a subject we didn’t cover [g]. Jim’s the first person I’ve stopped to see on this trip, and it was so nice to see a friendly familiar face and talk with someone I’ve known (albeit mostly online) for years.

I didn’t leave until after 3:30, and I stopped at the local AAA office for my next round of maps and guidebooks (I ran out after Missouri), then headed out of town looking for a place to stay. Oh, and for a place to get Merlin’s oil changed for the first time.

I saw this while I was looking for a motel tonight.  I've never seen a water tower painted to look like a bottle of ketchup before...
I saw this while I was looking for a motel tonight. I’ve never seen a water tower painted to look like a bottle of ketchup before…

I found the former, but not the latter, so I’ll have to do that tomorrow. Merlin now officially has 5000 miles on him. I’ve driven a bit over 4000 miles since I left home.

I then dithered about whether to go southeast, to Paducah, Kentucky, home of a nationally-recognized quilt museum, or northeast to Springfield, Illinois, where there’s a bunch of interesting Lincoln stuff. I could double back and do both, but for now I’m headed to Springfield tomorrow. There’s supposed to be some storms coming through tonight. I’m glad I’m indoors.