California/Oregon Trail

The Gateway to the West

Day 2: Manifest Destiny. The thing that started it all. The pioneers, the settlers, the explorers, pushing further and further west in search of the elusive better life.

Today, we officially began our trip! I mean, technically, we officially started yesterday, as you know, but today was the first day with relevant stops. We started at the Gateway to the West, St. Louis, and more specifically, the Gateway Arch–a monument designed specifically to celebrate expansion.

I have to confess, I didn’t realize that St. Louis was considered the Gateway to the West until Julie Fanselow’s book Traveling the Oregon Trail said it was. Does that make me terribly undereducated? Whatever the case, I feel more educated now!

Daniel and I have passed the Gateway Arch innumerable times in our years of driving to Minnesota and Oklahoma for holidays, and there was something inexpressibly satisfying about finally actually seeing it instead of just trying to survive the roller coaster ride that is St. Louis roadways.

It’s technically the tallest monument in the nation, taller even than the Washington Monument! And I was so glad that I booked our tickets to go to the top way ahead of time, because they were definitely sold out and one of the workers mentioned we were among the lucky few who had managed to snag a ticket.

Walking up and standing outside those metal doors, waiting for them to open, and then stepping into that little metal capsule totally felt like we were about to go into outer space. Once at the top, due to COVID, we were restricted to our specific spaces, but that was all right because we could still see super far and no one else could intrude on our little space, which made this introvert happy!

Following that epic experience, we went to what was once called The Museum of Westward Expansion, but now it is just called…well, a museum. Somehow that seems so much more boring. But the museum itself was still really cool. The display talked a lot about Lewis and Clark and Westward Expansion and how manifest destiny drove everything, and a little about the settlers, but concentrated mostly on how it all affected Native Americans.

I didn’t feel like I necessarily learned anything new, other than realizing how much of the “Oregon” trail traffic really went to California, but there were a lot of fun displays to see.

We then swung by The Old Courthouse, which is famous for the 1857 Dred Scott decision which, tragically, determined that slaves were not entitled to freedom even in free states and were not entitled to sue in court since they were not, and never could be, citizens. Lesser known (I think, unless, again, I am simply undereducated), is that Dred Scott was set free by his owners three months later, according to

Sadly, the courthouse itself was closed, but we were still able to walk around the outside and admire it!

Now, Arrow Rock, our next (and final) stop, I had never heard of before despite my extensive research on the Oregon/California Trail, but it was a stopping place for at least some of the emigrants on the Overland Trails, especially the Santa Fe trail. I love this passage from Traveling the Oregon Trail:

The town got its current name when two men were vying for the love of a local Indian chief’s daughter. The chief said whichever man could shoot an arrow the farthest could marry the young woman. One arrow shot from a sandbar in the Missouri River stuck in the crevice of a bluff above the river, and thus the town was named Arrow Rock.

Traveling the Oregon Trail by Julie Fanselow

While Arrow Rock was once home for hundreds of people, it is now a tiny little town, and I fell in love with it at first sight. We started at the Visitor’s Center, walked through its small museum, admired the scenery, and then meandered through the adorable teeny eensy boardwalk with stores that my mom and sisters would die for.

Our initial plan was to get an appetizer and drink in town to celebrate our first night on the trail itself, but it turns out the only tavern in town had a fire a couple years ago and, since it belongs to the State, they are taking their sweet time about fixing it. So instead we bought a Lone Trail soda and a piece of chocolate pizza and enjoyed that after playing pinball in their little hangout area!

We checked into our camping site at, um, I guess 6:30ish? and everything went surprisingly well during setup, other than realizing we forgot the little metal piece that makes our water pump work. And our dishwashing soap officially broke open (earlier, technically), and had to be thrown away so we had to make do with some other soap for washing dishes. Speaking of which, I have a new respect for the emigrants. I mean, first, they had to build a fire and do a complete meal, and then clean up. All we had to do was turn on a propane stove and heat up soup, and by the time we were done cleaning that up, I was tired! Also, how come no one ever complains about the SMOKE? Yes, that’s right! The campfire smoke. I was so tired of it blowing in my face as I tried to build the fire that I moved around the ring, and it kept following me! I feel like more diaries should having complained about smoke. I think my book family will.

I’ll let you know tomorrow how the rest of the night goes!

4 thoughts on “The Gateway to the West

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