The Metaverse Has Come to the Arch!

Gateway Arch National Park has added a new attraction to its already-full list of activities…and it just might blow your mind.  It’s a virtual reality (VR) experience that transports visitors to a 360⁰ depiction of the 1850s St. Louis riverfront.  And it all takes place in a newly designed area on the lower level of the Arch visitor center.

When you put on a special 3D headset, you’ll be immersed in the sights and sounds of the St. Louis levee in the 1850s, an era when the city was an important crossroads for America’s westward migration. Watch as steamboats deliver travelers and goods from around the world. And hear the stories of courage, struggle, and hopes of some of the real people who crossed paths there.  The VR program aligns with one of the historic eras that visitors can also learn about in the Arch museum, though it brings it to life in a very unique way.

Jefferson National Parks Association and park staff have teamed up to bring this production – titled Cobblestones & Courage – to park visitors. JNPA funded the work and selected TimeLooper – a pioneering interpretive design firm – to develop the programming.

“Gateway Arch National Park is constantly seeking new and engaging ways to share the story of America’s westward expansion with visitors,” says David Grove, President and CEO of JNPA. “As a park partner, we’re thrilled to bring this unique experience to visitors. Cobblestones & Courage brings history to life in a tangible way using 3D technology to diversify the park’s storytelling methods.”

The new Virtual Reality Theater is located in the lower Gateway Arch lobby, right outside The Arch Store, which JNPA also operates. Tickets are $10 for adults, $8 children (ages 5-15). Reservations are encouraged and tickets can be pre-purchased here

If you’ve ever wanted to travel back in time, this is the way to do it.  Check it out!  And also take a look at a preview video of the production.

Don’t “Pass” This Up!

Now that summer is in full swing, you’re probably making vacation plans. If a national park is on your travel agenda, we have a suggestion you won’t want to pass up:  buy an America the Beautiful Pass

This $80 annual pass entitles you and three guests to free access to more than 2,000 public sites managed by five federal agencies for an unlimited number of visits during the year.  And since some national parks charge up to $20 per person or $35 per vehicle, these savings can add up.  What’s more, the proceeds from the purchase of each pass are dedicated to improving and enhancing visitor experiences at these federal recreation sites.

Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site. Credit: NPS/David Newmann

Beyond the regular annual park pass, there are other options for certain groups: 

  • Members of the military and their dependents qualify for a free annual Military Pass;
  • Gold Star families and Veterans can receive a free lifetime Military Pass;
  • Those who are ages 62 and up can purchase a $20 annual Senior Pass or an $80 lifetime Senior Pass;
  • Those who have a permanent disability can qualify for a free lifetime Access Pass, regardless of their age.
  • Children in 4th grade and their educators can take advantage of a free Every Kid Outdoors Annual 4th Grade Pass.
  • Those who volunteer for a federal recreation site for more than 250 hours are entitled to a one-year Volunteer Pass.

Where can you get one of these park passes?  If your vacation is more than two weeks away, you’ll have time to order your passes online and have them mailed to you (there’s a $10 processing fee for online orders).  But if you’re travelling sooner, you’ll want to buy your passes at one of more than 1,000 recreation sites managed by the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  To find one near you, go here.

Clinton Birthplace Home National Historic Site

A number of JNPA partner parks sell passes at their visitor centers:  Gateway Arch National Park, Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site, Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site, Clinton Birthplace Home National Historic Site, and Lewis & Clark Visitor Center.

Enjoy your summer travels!

The Unique History of St. Louis’ First Church

When you visit Gateway Arch National Park, you may not expect to see a Catholic Church perched on the edge of the Arch grounds.  Nor is just any church – it’s the first cathedral west of the Mississippi River.

Depiction of the original log church c. 1770

This handsome stone building is formally known as the Basilica of Saint Louis, King of France, but St. Louisans refer to it as simply the Old Cathedral.  In 1764, St. Louis was established as a French fur trading post. Since then, the city has fallen under the control of three different countries (France, Spain, and the United States) and the church served a wide variety of purposes. One thing, however, has remained the same since 1770: the ownership of the land where the Old Cathedral sits. Although the building has been changed several times, for the last 253 years the property has been home to a Catholic church.

Old Cathedral c. 1834. Credit: Missouri Historical Society

Beginning as a simple log building, the Catholic church was the only house of worship in the area of any denomination until the early 1800s. Over the years, it was renovated and expanded, until construction of the “new” cathedral began in 1831. As the social hub of the region, the church played host to many significant people and stood witness to a number of historic events. Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, the son of Sacagawea, was baptized at the church, as were explorer William Clark’s children. The church survived war, cholera, fire, influenza, tornados, and many other tragedies that befell the St. Louis region.

Old Cathedral c. 1965. Credit: Basilica of Saint Louis, King of France

Because of its historical significance, Pope John XXIII designated the Old Cathedral as “The Basilica of Saint Louis, King of France” in 1961. However, at that time, the building was in disrepair, and much of the riverfront had been cleared to make room for the future Jefferson National Expansion Memorial (now Gateway Arch National Park). The cathedral was one of only two buildings on the future park grounds that was spared from demolition (the other being the Old Courthouse). The archbishop of St. Louis, Cardinal Joseph Ritter, decided to keep the designation a secret when he launched a restoration project of the Old Cathedral. The news of its elevated title was not announced until the project was completed in 1963, right before the St. Louis Bicentennial in 1964 and the completion of the Arch in 1965.

Credit: Basilica of Saint Louis, King of France

Now, the Old Cathedral stands next to the Gateway Arch as a testament to the beginnings of the Village of St. Louis and how far our city has come.  It invites visitors to attend Mass and offers free tours on the first Sunday of each month following the noon Mass. 

Three Trip Ideas for Your Three-Day Weekend

Feel like hitting the road?  Check out our suggestions for a few fun weekend adventures.

Trip 1- St. Louis

Day 1– Let’s start this trip with St. Louis’ own iconic Gateway Arch! Your first stop will be the museum at Gateway Arch National Park, where you will learn all about the history of St. Louis, westward expansion, and the unique architecture contest which resulted in the construction of the Arch. Next, catch a showing of the documentary film Monument to the Dream followed by a tram ride to the top of the Arch. At 630 feet high, you can’t beat those views! For lunch, you can grab a bite at the Arch Café, have a picnic on the beautiful park grounds, or go check out the restaurants downtown. (St. Louis is known for its diverse food offerings.) In the afternoon, take a riverboat tour of the Mighty Mississippi before you  do some exploring of Downtown St. Louis. Catch a Cardinals baseball game, go for a stroll through Citygarden Sculpture Park, or take a tour of the National Blues Museum. For dinner, check out the restaurants and nightlife at Ballpark Village.

Day 2– Your main attraction for today will be Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site in south St. Louis County. Check out the orientation film and take a self-guided tour of the park’s museum, housed in the historic 1872 horse stable that Grant himself designed.  Then embark on a guided tour of White Haven, the home where Ulysses S. Grant and his wife, Julia, fell in love and made their life together. Next, head to brunch or lunch at The Barn restaurant before taking a tour of the Thomas Sappington House Museum next door. When you’re done, make sure to take a stroll through Father Dickson Cemetery, one of the first public cemeteries for African Americans in St. Louis. For dinner, take your pick from the many wonderful restaurants in nearby Crestwood, Kirkwood, or Webster Groves.

Day 3– On the final day of your weekend trip, you are going to head an hour south along the Mississippi to the beautiful Ste. Genevieve National Historical Park. This unique park is spread out across multiple buildings in the 18th century town of Ste. Genevieve. You can take ranger-led tours of the historic Green Tree Tavern and the Jean Baptiste Valle House. Next, you can wander through this picturesque small town and visit the multitude of shops, museums, and restaurants.  For dinner, visit one of the six wineries on the Route du Vin Wine Trail.

Trip 2- Arkansas

Day 1– Every good trip begins with a little hope, and for this trip, we are taking that literally! Your first stop is the President William Jefferson Clinton Birthplace Home National Historic Site in the quaint town of Hope, Arkansas. Stop by the park’s visitor center before taking a ranger-led tour of the home where our 42nd President was born. Next, head down the road for lunch at Tailgaters Burger Co. or one of the other local restaurants. In the afternoon, you can check out the Hope Visitor Center and Museum or the quirky Klipsch Museum of Audio History.

Credit: NPS/Calvin Smith

Day 2– About a 90-minute drive from Hope is the unique town of Hot Springs. One of the first “spa towns,” Hot Springs has a mix of historic architecture and natural beauty. Though Hot Springs National Park is not one of JNPA’s partner parks, we still don’t want you to miss this gem! Your first stop is the Fordyce Bathhouse Museum and Visitor Center to talk to a ranger and learn more about the history of the area. Next, you can check out historic Bathhouse Row or go for a hike on one of the park’s many miles of trails. For lunch, stop by the Superior Bathhouse Brewery, the only brewery located in a national park! In the afternoon and evening, go for a soak at one of the bathhouses, take another hike, or check out Downtown Hot Springs.

Day 3– Continuing northeast for an hour, this trip ends at the capital of Arkansas, the bustling city of Little Rock. At Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site, you will learn about the bravery of the Little Rock Nine and the rocky beginnings of the desegregation of America’s schools. Stop by the park’s visitor center first to view the exhibits and watch the interpretive film. Then, take a ranger-led tour of the school, which is still in use today. Ask the park rangers for a lunch recommendation before heading into the city to check out one of the many other cultural institutions.  Don’t forget to visit the State Capitol Building, which offers free guided tours. Animal enthusiasts may want to see the Little Rock Zoo, or art aficionados may enjoy the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts. For an outstanding ending to your Arkansas vacation, check out one of the many local restaurants for dinner.

Trip 3- Northern Minnesota

Day 1– At over 200,000 acres, Voyageurs National Park will take up all three days of this getaway. Your first stop will be one of the three visitor centers. The largest, Rainy Lake Visitor Center, offers exhibits, an orientation film about the park, and a bookstore (operated by you-know-who). Next, head out on one of the park’s many hiking trails to take in the scenery. Bring a picnic lunch to enjoy along the trail, but make sure to pack out what you pack in. End your day by getting settled into your lodgings. You could opt for the Kettle Falls Hotel or get a bit more adventurous:  there are a variety of camping options at Voyageurs or you could even rent a houseboat!

Credit: NPS

Day 2– For your only full day at the park, take the opportunity to participate in a guided tour or two. In the Rainy Lake district, you can take a boat tour aboard the Voyageur, or in the Namakan district, you can voyage on the park’s newest tour boat, the Ne-zho-dain. If you are feeling extra adventurous, sign up for one of the park’s North Canoe Voyages, where you can paddle a replica of a north canoe while being immersed in an on-the-water living history lesson!

Day 3– For your final day at Voyageurs, take time to check out the Ellsworth Rock Gardens and the Harry Oveson Fish Camp, or do a bit of birdwatching. Then on your way out of the park, stop by one of the gateway communities, such as International Falls, to see the sights and restaurants they have to offer.

Happy traveling!

 It’s For the Birds

When you think of National Parks that support wildlife conservation, you may think of Yellowstone, Voyageurs, or Great Smoky Mountains. However, urban parks like Gateway Arch National Park can also have a big impact on wildlife conservation. That’s why the park is snuffing out the lights that illuminate the Arch this month. 

Wait, what?

Let us explain.  The Mississippi River, with its wide banks and flowing waters, cuts a path through the heart of our continent that is free from mountains or ridges. This provides a perfect path for over 300 species of migrating birds, known as the Mississippi Flyway. During the months of May and September, songbirds and waterfowl use the over 2,500-mile-long route to move between their summer breeding grounds in Canada and their wintering grounds in Mexico.  However, bright lights from buildings, including the Arch, can confuse these long-distance flyers, most of which migrate at night.

Gateway Arch National Park is doing its part to help the migrating birds by partnering with Lights Out Heartland to reduce light pollution. Throughout the month of May, the National Park Service will not illuminate the Gateway Arch at night.

“St. Louis sits right beneath the Mississippi Flyway, a major migration highway,” said Jeremy Sweat, Superintendent of Gateway Arch National Park. “For over a decade Gateway Arch’s exterior lights have been turned off for two weeks each May and September to help minimize the possible disorienting effect the lights may have on birds that migrate at night. As migration patterns have changed, this year the park will extend the lights off for the entire month of May.”

Least Tern chicks. Credit-NPS

Many of the species traveling along the flyway have been impacted by environmental disasters such as oil spills and habitat loss, meaning that they require more protection to ensure their species’ survival. The Audubon Society has identified several “priority birds” that frequent the Mississippi Flyway, such as Brown Pelican, Little Blue Heron, Least Tern, and Seaside Sparrow.

Brown Pelican. Credit-NPS

You can do your part to help migrating birds like these.  During migration season, turn off decorative lights outside your home between the hours of 11 PM and 6 AM and use window coverings to reduce the impact of interior lighting.  You can also ask owners of office buildings and apartment complexes to dim all unnecessary lights in May and September (and many are voluntarily doing that already). After all, it’s for the birds!

No Tears Project – St. Louis

When examining the complex history of civil rights in St. Louis, and the country as a whole, you may turn to books, documentaries, the internet, or… music? Yes! Thanks to one unique program, many of our nation’s civil rights stories have been interpreted through jazz music. This month, Gateway Arch National Park has partnered with Oxford American and Jazz St. Louis to develop the No Tears Project – St. Louis, “a multi-day residency of free events that will use music and conversation to engage communities in civil rights education and storytelling.”

The No Tears Project began in 2019 by interpreting the story of the Little Rock Nine in Little Rock, Arkansas, and has since gone on to develop programs in New Orleans, Louisiana; Fayetteville, Arkansas; and Tulsa, Oklahoma.

No Tears Suite – Little Rock

Throughout the month of April, the project is using youth education events, panel discussions, and community concerts to interpret St. Louis’ role in the broader American civil rights story. Many notable guests will be featured during the project events, including Lynne Jackson, great-great granddaughter of Dred and Harriett Scott and founder of the Dred Scott Heritage Foundation; Percy Green, civil rights activist; and Elizabeth Eckford, a member of the Little Rock Nine.

“It’s an honor to work with these people and organizations to present an arts-based civil rights program like No Tears Project in St. Louis—a city so rich in cultural and musical heritage,” said Ryan Harris, No Tears Project Director and consultant to Oxford American. “Like all communities, St. Louis can become a better place through continued dialogue that honestly addresses its past, forging a deeper understanding of each other to move forward together, and create a better future. The fact that two of the city’s major cultural institutions, Gateway Arch National Park and Jazz St. Louis, are creating the space for these programs and this music reiterates their own commitment to the work and the importance of these conversations.”

“We’re excited to be working with Oxford American, Jazz St. Louis, local partners and community leaders on No Tears Project,” said Tarona Armstrong, Deputy Superintendent of Gateway Arch National Park. “The events will foster relevant and constructive conversations through education workshops and live performances, while connecting and engaging diverse audiences and youth to the history of our park and the civil rights movement.”

This week, the project is culminating in a panel discussion at the Arch on Wednesday, April 26, followed by live concerts at Jazz St. Louis on Friday, April 28 and Saturday, April 29. All of the events are free to the public, but registration is required. Details can be found here.

The No Tears Project – St. Louis residency is made possible by a consortium of generous funders led by Jefferson National Parks Association with additional support from Gateway Arch Park Foundation and the Stella Boyle Smith Trust.

Honoring Those Who Honored Ulysses S. Grant

We congratulate our friends at Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site for their recent award from the Organization of American Historians.  At the OAH conference in California last month, the park was recognized for Excellence in National Park Service History because of the many public events and programs honoring last year’s 200th anniversary of Ulysses Grant’s birth.

Park staff members used the occasion of the Grant Bicentennial year as a “hook” to connect park visitors to many aspects of the former president’s life, both public and private.  Rangers offered more than 100 in-person education programs, six special events (one with horses!), 26 off-site programs, and 16 virtual programs in 2022.  They also created online exhibits, videos, and articles on the park’s website to reach audiences that couldn’t attend on-site programs.

Among the Grant-related events held at the park was an extravagant dinner recognizing benefit the Grant bicentennial, held in partnership with the Campbell House Museum, where Grant sometimes dined.  The September event featured local chefs who offered historically inspired recipes from the 1800s. More than 400 guests attended the occasion, which JNPA was proud to host.

For a more complete list of the programs and events that earned the park its recent award, click here.

Don’t Miss the Arch Museum!!

When you visit Gateway Arch National Park, you’re no doubt wowed by seeing the height and majesty of America’s tallest monument.  And you probably also can’t wait to take a tram ride to the top.  But there are plenty of cool things to experience down below on the ground level of the visitor center, like the Museum at the Gateway Arch.  That’s where you can learn what America’s westward expansion was like through the eyes of explorers and pioneers, Native Americans and enslaved individuals, and women and children.  You can also learn the stories of the founding of St. Louis and see unique artifacts and displays that commemorate the pioneering spirit.

In 2018, the Museum at the Gateway Arch underwent a major renovation. A key factor in this renovation was increased inclusivity in how visitors physically interact with the galleries and with the stories told in the exhibits. The galleries within the museum now tell the city’s history through the eyes of the various cultures involved, encouraging visitors to think about other perspectives.

Credit: Gateway Arch Park Foundation

The museum is composed of six interactive galleries that detail more than 200 years of American history.  Early St. Louis history will come alive in the Colonial St. Louis gallery as you take in artifacts from the region’s early French colonial inhabitants, including a full-sized vertical log house.  You’ll also learn about the Indigenous and Creole cultures of St. Louis before the Louisiana Purchase.

Credit: Gateway Arch Park Foundation

Jefferson’s Vision focuses on the Lewis and Clark expedition, which set the stage for the opening of the American West to settlers from all parts of 19th century society.  Examine the discoveries from the explorers’ adventures, see the tools they used, and learn about the ongoing struggle among nations for supremacy in North America.

Credit: Gateway Arch Park Foundation

By the mid-1800s, many Americans believed their country had a God-given right to expand its borders throughout the continent.  In Manifest Destiny you can examine the clash of cultures as settlers moved west, including the Indigenous inhabitants and the Mexican government. 

Credit: Gateway Arch Park Foundation

The Riverfront Era gallery traces the evolution of St. Louis as steamboats began to arrive on its riverbanks. By the mid-19th century, the city had truly earned its title as Gateway to the West as the levee bustled with dozens of riverboats carrying goods and people to other parts of the United States.  The highlight of this gallery is an intricate scale model of the St. Louis riverfront that changes from day to night before your eyes.

In New Frontiers you can explore what it was like to live in the American West. See an authentic buffalo-hide tipi as you learn about the very different lifestyles of European settlers and Native Americans.

Credit: Gateway Arch Park Foundation

If you’re wowed by the design of the Gateway Arch, you’ll want to spend time in the Building the Dream gallery.  There you can examine the various concepts that architects submitted to anchor the new national monument to westward expansion and see the details of Eero Saarinen’s award-winning design.  Also discover the innovative builders who constructed the Arch.

Credit: Gateway Arch Park Foundation

The new Arch Museum is only part of park partners’ plans for restoring, maintaining and enhancing the national park.  There is also a new entrance to the Arch, improvements to the 90-acre grounds, and new interior amenities like The Arch Store and the Arch Café.   Additional renovations have begun at the Old Courthouse and are expected to be completed in the next few years.   

Be sure to visit to see all that’s new at the Arch!

Featured Image Credit: Gateway Arch Park Foundation

Coming Up Roses

Want to help beautify a national park this weekend?  Don your gardening clothes and head out to Ste. Geneviève National Historical Park.  The park needs your help to keep an historic rose garden smelling sweet!

On Saturday April 1 from 8:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m., the park is hosting a volunteer event in the side garden of the Jean Baptiste Vallé house, where staff members will put you to work pruning and weeding the rose garden.  Volunteers must be at least 13 years old, though no experience is necessary.  Tools and gloves will be provided.

The Jean Baptiste Vallé House dates from 1794; it served as a private home until 2010.  Over the past 200 years the home and community shifted as the territory transformed from Spanish to French to American. The house reflects some of these transformations through renovations, additions, and restoration projects that allowed the home to better suit the families that resided there. The Vallé family who first resided in the house played an important role in guiding Ste. Genevieve through its many transitions.  The interior of the home is available for free public tours as part of the park’s regularly scheduled programs.

To sign up for the April 1 rose garden event, you’ll need to fill out an application form here.  For more information, call 573-880-7302 or email

The Doll Test – Exposing the Impacts of Racial Segregation

In the mid-twentieth century, researchers started examining African American children’s sense of racial identity, including how they perceived themselves relative to white children.  Husband and wife psychologists, Drs. Kenneth and Mamie Phipps Clark, conducted what is now known as the landmark “doll test” on students.  Their innovative research showed discouraging results, yet it played an influential role in American civil rights legislation. 

You’re invited to learn more about the legacy of the Clarks’ pioneering work at a special presentation at Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site on Wednesday March 22. 

Drs. Kenneth and Mamie Phipps Clark

Journalist Tim Spofford will discuss his new book What the Children Told Us, an account of the life and legacy of the Clarks.   In 1940, the Harlem psychologists received a grant to study African American pupils’ dawning sense of racial identity in the nominally integrated North (Springfield, Massachusetts) and in the strictly segregated South (Mamie’s hometown of Hot Springs, Arkansas). They used four similar baby dolls in their testing:  two brown dolls with hair painted black and two white dolls with hair painted yellow.   

The researchers found that two-thirds of the 250+ African American pupils tested preferred a white doll to a brown doll.  Some children even denied their race. “I look brown because I got a suntan,” said Edward D., nearly age 8, who preferred a white doll.  “I’m a white boy.” To the Clarks, these African American children had internalized the low opinion of their race in a segregated nation.   

The shocking test results quickly caught hold throughout America’s scientific and educational community.  The doll test eventually played a key role in the Brown v. Board of Education decision (1954), the U.S. Supreme Court case that desegregated public schools in America.  

During tomorrow’s presentation at the park visitor center, Spofford will highlight how the Clarks were directly linked to the 1957 desegregation crisis at Little Rock’s Central High School.  The researchers first got to know Daisy Bates, one of the nine African American teenagers seeking to attend the formerly all-white school.  Later, the couple “adopted” Minnijean Brown, the Black student expelled from Central High during the crisis. That allowed Minnijean to live with them and study for two years in a private school in Harlem and earn her diploma.  
Today, the Clark dolls are on exhibit at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. and at Brown v. Board of Education National Historical Park in Topeka, Kansas. The Clarks’ experiment is still conducted today by students and scholars around the world.