Named after the Native Americans who inhabited the fertile lands around the Mississippi and Missouri tributaries, the state became part of the USA after a long colonial tussle between French and Spanish forces.
European settlers drove the original tribes out, founding the two fur trading centres of St Louis and Kansas City. The state's central location on the Mississippi River's north-south trade route and east-west railroad made it an important crossroads for trade and transport.
Both cities established themselves as major gateway to the western frontier during the 19th century. Today, Missouri is associated with historical figures like Mark Twain, the gun-slinging outlaw Jesse James, pioneers Lewis and Clark, and the former president Harry Truman.
Images representative of the state include its small river towns, the stockyards of Kansas City, and the jazz and blues clubs of St Louis. The waters of the great Mississippi River flow by, dotted with iconic paddle steamers.
St Louis is the dominant city, recognisable for its Gateway Arch and is the home of the blues. Kansas City is the only other significant metropolis, famous for its steaks and barbecues and its hearty jazz.
In contrast, the south of Missouri features the beautiful hillsides and lakes of the Ozark Mountains, providing great recreational areas and the conservative country-and-western tourist town of Branson.
Within the riverside park known as the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, the Gateway Arch is a soaring landmark above the city's skyline. The thin stainless steel arc reaches to twice the height of the Statue of Liberty, at 630 feet (192m) tall. It symbolises the role of St Louis as the 'Gateway to the West' for the pioneers who journeyed along the Oregon and Santa Fe Trails towards the western frontier. It is also dedicated to the US president who was responsible for opening up the West. An observation deck reached by a tram system provides magnificent views over the city, the Mississippi and the spreading plains. Also on the site with the Arch is the Old Courthouse Museum, the venue for the hearing of several momentous cases during the 19th century. At the base of the monument is the excellent Museum of Westward Expansion, with exhibits covering exploration of the West and its honoured pioneers, including Lewis and Clark, the Plains Indians, and buffalo soldiers. The Odyssey IMAX Theatre shows big-screen films about the region and its history.
Larger than New York's Central Park, the beautifully landscaped Forest Park is filled with attractions. The acclaimed St Louis Art Museum has a magnificent international collection of art covering works from the prehistoric to the contemporary, housing one of the most extensive collections of German Expressionism worldwide. The Saint Louis Science Center features life-size dinosaurs along with displays and interactive exhibits on the environment, aviation, technology and more. There is also an OMNIMAX Theatre and Planetarium. Thousands of animals roam the beautiful grounds of the Saint Louis Zoo, with indoor and outdoor displays, and a Living World Exhibition features an animated robotic figure of Charles Darwin who summarises his theories on evolution. The Missouri History Museum documents life in St Louis with old photographs and displays on river life, local music, and western expansion. Forest Park is brimming with natural beauty and fun diversions for the whole family and can easily occupy visitors for hours.
Laumeier Sculpture Park is an open-air museum containing more than 70 outdoor sculptures dotted along a 1.4 mile (about 2.3km) walking trail. The mission statement is to enrich lives and inspire creativity by expanding the context of contemporary sculpture, allowing people to see it in a natural setting. Visitors to the Laumeier Sculpture Park are unanimous in their approval of this goal, with well over 300,000 people visiting the park every year. Laumeier also boasts outdoor movie screenings and a more traditional indoor gallery housed in an 1816 Tudor mansion. Over and above being a wonderful picnic site, it offers visitors a fresh and exciting way to engage with the arts. The park is open year-round and entry is free, but admission to special exhibitions usually requires tickets.
One of the most popular attractions for kids in St Louis, the St Louis City Museum isn't a stuffy hall with dusty dioramas. It boasts attractions like a ten-storey slide, a rooftop Ferris wheel, treehouses, enchanted caves, a 200-year-old frontier cabin, an aquarium, and much more. There are also educational exhibits on natural history and architecture, and special play areas for toddlers. There is a gift shop on the ground floor and several cafes throughout the building. With a reasonable admission charge and so much on offer, the St Louis City Museum is definitely a must for those travelling with kids in St Louis.
The Missouri climate is generally continental, but there are regional variations. For instance, the southeast tends to be warmer than the northwest. Summers are long and hot and winters are long and cold, with spring and autumn brief but pleasant transitional seasons.
Kansas City has an average temperature range of between 26°F (-3°C) in January and 79°F (26°C) in July. There have been recorded extremes of heat and cold in the state, with the lowest ever temperature plunging to -40°F (-40°C) and the highest ever temperature reaching 118°F (48°C).
Snow falls throughout Missouri in winter, with the most occurring in the north, while the southeast experiencing the heaviest precipitation. Tornadoes are common in spring. Rainfall is possible year-round.
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