the remarkable bridges near Gateway Arch National Park
Part 2 in a series on National Parks
If you live in Georgia, and you’re headed to The Badlands of South Dakota, you must cross the Mississippi River. St. Louis was our route of choice to cross that mighty stream that drains half our country’s water into the Gulf of Mexico. With a camper, two teens and a dog in tow, we made it to St. Louis at midnight of our 3rd day. Although we’d been driving for 9 straight hours, I was giddy as we approached this monumental juncture. The Mississippi and these bridges were our Gateway to the West.
The Stan Musial Veteran’s Memorial Bridge was our crossing point. We hit it at exactly 11:58 pm. My phone picture looks a lot like this one from a website, except there weren’t people walking across. Blazing like rays of silver moonshine, the bridge was seen at enough distance that I was able to thump my 18 year old awake to see it in time. The lit bridge was vibrant and bustling. I wanted to cross it again, but my hubby shook his head with the camper in tow.
In the morning, we awoke to extreme heat and a crow calling from a nearby tree. We had about four hours to see the Gateway Arch National Park, take a boat tour of the Mississippi and eat lunch before hitting the road again. After a shower and a brief breakfast, we shoved off for the historic downtown river area that houses the Arch, the baseball stadium, and numerous large and historic buildings.
I loved the Arch, its curves and its magnitude and found myself mesmerized by this large engineering feat. It is ubiquitous in the downtown area visible from seemingly every angle and street. The park was crowded with visitors, pilgrims and characters of all sorts. A man was out there playing a guitar and talking to passersby about his campaign for the Senate. He asked me if I was a Missouri voter.
“I’m a Georgia voter,” I told him. He frowned and then played a tune on his hollow body guitar, the Mississippi at his back. Mark Twain would’ve taken notice of this classic scene.
Yet, it was the bridges that captured my imagination the most. The arched stone and steel bridge in the photo above is the Eads Bridge. It sits there humbly in the shadow of the Arch, but this 1874 bridge is a magnificent engineering feat in its own right. According to historicbridges.org, the Eads is “one of the most important historic bridges in the country, (and) this bridge has national and even global historic significance on many different levels. It was the first large-scale bridge over the Mississippi River. It is one of the oldest large-scale bridges surviving in the United States. It was the first large bridge in the country to use substantial quantities of steel (as opposed to cast or wrought iron). Its arch spans were the longest in the world when completed. Even today, steel deck arch spans are rarely this long, especially with a comparatively shallow rise. The span length to arch rise ratio which produces these graceful, shallow-looking arches brings to mind the proportions of smaller multi-span concrete arch spans built in the 1920s.”
Just beyond the Eads is the Martin Luther King Bridge, a cantilever truss built in 1951. This structure is significant not only because of its beautiful lines, but also because of the length of the main cantilever span at 962 feet. Historicbridges.org claims that the structure is “highly significant” because this type of bridge is increasingly rare due to demolition.
Just beyond the politician, I saw a shirtless man at the river’s edge attempting to swim. Perhaps he was as entranced as I was by the sheer volume of the river surrounded by those historic engineering marvels of the last century.
He asked, “do you know of a good place around here to swim?”
I looked past him to the vast chunks of debris and logs flowing swiftly above the brown swirls and ripping current. Beyond, a small boat was struggling to inch slowly upstream.
“I wouldn’t swim here if you paid me,” I blurted out.
Thankfully, he took my hint and walked away.
We saw a lot of downtown in four hours and ate a tasty BBQ lunch at Sugarfire Smokehouse. Get the beef brisket! When you go, spend some time down at the river’s edge seeing the bridges of St. Louis.