There’s something I left out of the story of our time in Land Between the Lakes — it was brutally hot and humid. More humid than I’ve ever experienced, including Angkor Wat, Cambodia. It put us in the mood for something, well, cooler. Or at least less humid. So we headed to St. Louis. Because we’re not that bright.
Actually it was strange, we drove north, up through Kentucky, and the minute we crossed the state line the humidity dropped about 50 percent and it was actually tolerable again. I didn’t look it up, but I know what earth.nullschool.net would have told me — we’d just crossed into a mass of air moving down from the north. It was short-lived, but welcome nonetheless.
We stopped off at a mounds site on the way, and went through the somewhat creepy town of Cairo, which has more or less been abandoned. It’s about five miles of abandoned buildings slowly being taken over by vegetation.
We stopped for one night at the Trail of Tears State Park, which had a campground right on the Mississippi River. We ate an early dinner and spent the evening down by the shore, watching the tugboats pushing their loads up and down the river. I managed to refrain from any Clarke Griswold impersonations.
And there was a train, you can’t go wrong with kids and trains (which fortunately did not go by in the middle of the night, because you can go wrong with grownups and trains).
By the time we made it to St. Louis it was back to being hot and humid, doubly so because it’s a city and cities are always 10 degrees hotter than anything else.
We came to St. Louis pretty much for one reason — the City Museum. Everyone who said we had to go there, and there were half a dozen of you, became real vague when we asked what it was like. And now it’s my turn to be real vague — I can’t really say what the City Museum is exactly.
It’s like Antoni Gaudí and Jules Verne got together and built an amusement park.
It’s sort of for kids. There are definitely things only kids were small enough to do, but then there’s plenty for adults too, enough that every evening it becomes 18+ and stays open until midnight. Normally I’d say that a picture is worth a thousand words and insert of few here, but it’s also a really difficult place to photograph, it’s massive, full of dark areas with hidden passageways and tunnels.
There’s a bunch of slides and wire scaffolding stretching up about five stories on the outside, with an old fire engine, a wire rocket, an old cutaway airplane and a few other odds and ends mounted near the top. It’s all connected by narrow scaffolds and slides. It’s full of sharp edges, metal stairways and a good old fashioned modicum of danger you don’t usually find in the United States of Safe and Boring.
Then there’s the inside. The City Museum occupies a 13 story building, though only about four of those stories are currently open to the public, others are open, but still in the process of being built. There was even an art gallery of some sort that was blocked off behind drapes and locked doors, no idea if it even had anything to do with the City Museum. It’s a very open space meant for exploring.
The best part of the inside part is a kind of dark, cave-like labyrinth, that extends for at least two, possibly three floors, with connecting tunnels you have to crawl through made of rebar and driftwood, cement, plastic, metal ribs, you name it. They sell knee pads near the ticket windows at the entrance.
Then there’s the roof, which costs a little extra, but is worth it. There’s a full size bus mounted on the corner of the roof, 13 stories up, with a door that opens into a sheer drop off (blocked off, but you can look straight down). The roof also has a Ferris wheel and a giant praying mantis.
The roof is also the place to catch the 10 story high spiral slide. It’s long, but not actually as much fun as some of the other slides, especially the slides so steep you briefly free-fall or the others so narrow you spend your time really hoping you don’t get stuck.
Then there’s also random things, like a 19th century-style natural history specimen collection, a barbecue joint on the patio (it is St. Louis), and a place you can train to be a circus performer.
The City Museum is unlike anywhere I’ve ever been anywhere in the world and it’s pretty damn amazing. If you’re ever in St. Louis you should go, even if you don’t have kids. Maybe especially if you don’t have kids.