Kirkwood by rail

Last Tuesday we took our first day off since late May. We were too tired to even take one of our normal road trips, and just wanted a good context to do & see something different while mostly relaxing and escaping the heat. So after getting up early to do milking & animal chores, we drove down to Jefferson City, and caught the morning train to Kirkwood (a suburb of St Louis), so we could indulge in our love of train travel while enjoying unique views of the Missouri River. Researching online, Kirkwood seemed like it had a nice downtown, worth spending a few hours in before heading back, so we went for it. This turned out to be a great, unusual, memorable day exploring interesting parts of Missouri, the type of day trip we love.

Jeff City, about an hour south of us, on its own is a fun day trip for those who haven’t been. We spent part of the morning exploring the state capitol, which is quite public-accessible. There’s a well-done museum on the lower level, lots of interesting historical murals and information, and we simply had fun prowling the halls, looking out of high windows at views of the Missouri River, and examining portraits of legislatures past. Someone whom I think I recognized as an Important Person saw us multiple times wandering down different corridors on different floors, eventually asked if we needed help finding anything, and when told we were just enjoying exploring the capitol, beamed a happy smile that some citizens actually cared enough to do that. Or maybe I’m reading too much into that.

The city also has a historic quarter along the waterfront railroad tracks, featuring several well-preserved buildings from the steamboat era. We’ve been down here multiple times, but I never get tired of examining this period’s architecture. The ex-hotel on the left is the current Amtrak station, along with hosting a museum (as does the warehouse on the right). Lots of good stuff here for history buffs like us. Food-oriented people should beware, downtown Jeff City is the real definition of food desert. Bring your own if you’re staying here for lunch, in our experience. The train arrived on time, mid-morning, and we settled in for a couple comfortable hours of watching scenery go past. The line’s route along the Missouri River gives views you just can’t get any other way, one of the many things we love about rail travel, and we were quite happy seeing the Missouri landscape from a new perspective while expending no personal energy. The only other way to experience something like this is to bike the Katy Trail, fun in theory but not an option for exhausted farmers on a 100-degree day.Here’s the Gasconade River just before its mouth, one of several large waterways draining the northern Ozarks, and a fun river to canoe farther upstream.Kirkwood has a fantastic, well-preserved Missouri Pacific Railroad station, still in active use. From our perspective, it’s really cool to arrive somewhere that has been hosting trains for over 150 years. And, of course, we had to enjoy the activity still going on along this busy line:It was just too hot to walk around the town as much as we’d hoped, though there looked to be a lot of interesting architecture. For a suburb locked in the St. Louis sprawl, it’s definitely managed to preserve a decent downtown business district, even including a hardware store and garden center within a block of city center. We even found an excellent kitchen store, stocking lots of worthwhile items. This concentration of useful stores is something Columbia could learn from.

We ate lunch at a Syrian restaurant, which was a nice culinary change though not mind-blowing. We could tell they were using standard food-service ingredients, but the flavorings & preparations seemed homemade and we got none of the chemical/preservative aftertaste too common in cheaper restaurants. The menu carried two major pluses: it was loaded with clearly marked vegetarian items, and didn’t have the usual obscure-ethnic-restaurant sops to American tastes, sticking to its own cuisine. We happily spent a long time working our way through their diverse offerings. For travel food it was quite acceptable, and didn’t give us a stomach-ache as previous attempts to eat around St Louis have done.

We killed some more time relaxing in the nice downtown public library, reading magazines in the A/C, before drifting back to the train station in time to head back west. Oh yes, it was so hot we made the mistake of ordering custard from a small stand near the station, which turned out to be the standard nasty fake oversweet mush we should have known it would be. It tasted like nothing but corn syrup and chemicals to our tastes, honed on farm-fresh milk & homemade ice cream, and reminded us why we have higher standards for food. Oh well, it was a good learning experience that reinforced our commitment to our own methods of food production & consumption.

The return journey was just as nice, a different angle on the same scenery, seeing new things in different ways, such as this crossing of the Meramec River. We don’t know what this interesting collection of old buildings along the Gasconade River is (below), and couldn’t find any information on Google. Anyone know?We got back to Jeff City at a reasonable time, making the hour’s drive home in more than enough time to do evening animal chores without rushing. This is the kind of trip we love; using unusual routes & methods to maximize the enjoyment of the entire day. We could certainly have driven I-70 to St. Louis more quickly, but that would have meant 5 hours of our precious day off stressing out about speeding trucks, distracted & tailgating drivers, and obnoxious billboards. Instead we spent only 2 hours on US-63, not quite as bad, and a lot more time relaxing, reading, and enjoying ourselves. The total budget was less than a full-immersion day at an amusement park or sporting event, and was much more focused on supporting things we approve of (good restaurants, rail transportation) than things we don’t (parking fees, overpriced refreshments). We got to see and do a lot of different things, and thoroughly enjoyed the break.

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