Saint Louis has a remarkable number of institutions dedicated to plants and animals, and they are all free to the public (except the Missouri Botanical Garden, which is free during certain evenings in the summer). Of course, the most impressive institution is not listed; I’ll write a separate post for the Saint Louis Zoo.
The first place that we visited in Saint Louis was the World Bird Sanctuary, located west of the city off I-44. There, we found probably more than one hundred rehabilitating birds from all over the world. I was impressed by the secluded park setting of the sanctuary, which allows the birds to feel somewhat closer to home. The sanctuary had several bald eagles; I’ve never seen so many in one place before. The only displeasing thing about my experience was that I had no quarters to buy feed for the fancy chickens. Poor chickens.
My favorite bird was the sweet mottled owl in the smaller of the two nature centers. She looked like a creature from a children’s book with her lovely little eyes and blue eyelids. She cooed and batted her eyes when I past her cage. The naturalist said that such was a warning, but it could not have seemed more endearing.
To support the sanctuary’s good work, my mother decided to go on a small shopping spree in their gift shop, which featured other animals than just birds, including rabbits and snakes of various kinds. I encourage you to visit the World Bird Sanctuary—and to leave a donation for our winged friends
The sanctuary is located in Lone Elk Park. I have never seen such a neat local park. It is large, and it has various sections that enclose free roaming deer, elk, and bison. You can drive through each of these areas, and you can even leave your car in the elk and deer sections. We looped around the park grounds a couple of times to see all of the herds. Saint Louisians are lucky, indeed, to have such opportunities for animal encounters.
After we left Lone Elk Park, we stopped at the Laumeier Sculpture Park. It does not have a nature focus, but the sculptures are located on green grounds. I liked the frog pond in the birder area the best, though the sculptures were fascinating, too—especially the massive eye.
At the end of that first day, we enjoyed dinner at Hodak’s, where my mother feasted on chicken. I enjoyed their sides; it is definitely worth the hype, and it is well priced, too.
The second day, we paid homage to Budweiser.
On our third day, we visited Purina Farms out in the country west of Saint Louis. I do not know how far one must travel to see the foothills of the Ozarks, but the land by Purina Farms fit my image of them. Purina Farms is a public visitors’ center and dog show / competition facility run by Purina. As soon as we arrived, we jumped on a departing tractor ride for a short tour around the grounds. When we returned to the center, we visited the various buildings that showcased Purina’s history, the animal food making process, and dog sports in general. Then, we visited the petting zoo. Purina had several varieties of horses, sheep, goats, rabbits, pigs, cows, ducks, and geese for you to enjoy and to touch (well, the birds did not allow that). I had never before met sheep that allowed you to pet them, but the sheep at Purina Farms were quite friendly. We then visited the dog and cat shelter known as the Pet House. The cats stay in a towering cat house that allows the felines to live in style. Lastly, we watched the dog show, which featured some impressive dog diving. Evidently, the sport of dog diving started at Purina Farms in the 90’s. If you love cats and dogs, you’ll enjoy a few hours at Purina Farms.
On the way back to Saint Louis, we stopped at the Route 66 State Park, as my mother harbors a fascination for Route 66. Her generation grew up with Route 66’s becoming part of the national psyche, and she really enjoyed the modest museum at the state park. I liked the various roadside signs of yesterday’s Americana.
Once we arrived back in Saint Louis, we decided to continue the Route 66 theme by eating dinner at an old styled cafeteria called Garavelli’s on Chippewa Street. It was seriously old school, run by Greeks, it seems, though the name looks Italian. We had a large meal, selected in line, for little money. We intentionally saved room for dessert at Ted Drewes Frozen Custard a little down the street. I discovered why they call them “concretes” at Ted Drewes—the frozen custard stays in the bowl when they flip it upside down. I wonder if it ever falls onto customers’ feet. Anyway, Ted Drewes is very tasty. I ordered my concrete mixed with Tedads Scotch Oatmeal Cookie—so good and so cheap! After we satiated our sweet tooth, we stopped in a 50’s style doughnut shop across the street from Garavelli’s to buy doughnuts for the following morning—the Donut Drive-In. We could not have spent the afternoon in a more retro way unless we had been able to drive around in an old Chevy.
Not wanting to lose a minute even after a long day, we then visited The Missouri Botanical Garden, as it was free in the evening. We could have easily spent the whole day there; it is quite a gem. There are so many subsections of the garden that it should be called the Missouri Botanical Gardens. It is huge, with lovely rose gardens, an Arab garden court, azalea gardens, hosta gardens, rock gardens, Japanese gardens, Victorian gardens, herb gardens—you name it, and it was there. Unfortunately, the space age looking Climatron was closed for the evening, but its exterior reminded me of the Mitchell Park Domes in Milwaukee. I also enjoyed the hedge maze and the many fountains and statues that beautify the garden. Saint Louisians should be proud of their fine institutions.
The fourth day, we visited the superb Saint Louis Zoo.
On our fifth and final day, we visited The Columbia Bottom Conservation Area on our way out of town. I always have to touch famous bodies of water when I travel, and I knew that I wanted to stop by the confluence of the Missouri River into the Mississippi River. As I was not sure where the Missouri ended, I made sure to immerse my hands in both rivers where they were far apart and in the rivers at the confluence. The Columbia Bottom Conservation Area is not as well known as the Edward “Ted” and Pat Jones Confluence Point State Park on the northern shore of the Missouri River or the Lewis and Clark State Memorial Park on the Illinois side, but it was enjoyable nonetheless. The visitors’ center was located in a handsomely refurbished barn. Outside the barn, there were hummingbird feeders hanging near a flower garden. I had never seen so many wild hummers together in one place before; there must have been two dozen of them swarming around. The Desert Museum near Tucson had a hummingbird house that we saw, but these were free hummers. We watched them for some time, and we also chatted to the cordial lady who worked the information counter. It was clear that she was very proud of her city, and she was overjoyed to have out-of-towners visiting. The expansive park had many interesting points to visit, including a boardwalk through a marsh, but the highlight, of course, was the confluence point. At the point, one could read many poetic homages to the rivers.
Visiting the confluence was a fitting end to our visit. Afterward, we went into Illinois and left the Show Me State behind. It was a good trip.