Saint Charles
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A Modern Quest
A Modern Quest in Saint Charles, Missouri

A Modern Quest

Discovering Saint Charles Missouri

By Elizabeth A. Smith

Boone's and downtown in historic Saint Charles, Missouri
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Curiosity is in our DNA—I think it’s why the stories of famous explorers, such as Lewis and Clark, endure to this day. That same passion is what fuels my husband and me when we travel to new destinations, because traveling gives us a chance to discover. This time, we picked the launching point of Lewis and Clark themselves: Saint Charles, Missouri. And we were going on an adventure of our own.

On the hunt

Bridge across the Missouri River in Saint Charles, Missouri
Bridge across the Missouri River in Saint Charles, Missouri

Geocaching is a type of covert scavenger hunt—a game that uses GPS coordinates to take you to caches (typically a small box, or tiny trinket) through hints and clues. There are millions of geocaches hidden all over the world just waiting to be discovered, and it’s a great way for John and me to explore a new city by foot. From our experience, it’s usually a guarantee that we’ll find geocaches in public spaces such as parks, national monuments and tourist attractions.

After getting acquainted with Saint Charles, we pulled out our smartphones to see what kind of geocaching quests were nearby. One of the first caches we saw was located quite close to us on historic Main Street, near the First Missouri State Capitol State Historic Site.

John and I navigated our way to the coordinates, which led us to the front of the historic site, a long, two-story red brick building with windows outlined in denim blue trim. But this was no ordinary geocache—it was a virtual cache, meaning there wasn’t a physical object for us to find.

The instructions told us to go inside the center and search for the answer to a question. Now, as geocachers, we don’t believe in spoiling the fun for others, so I can’t tell you exactly what we were looking for. But I will say that we needed to search for a specific document on display to identify a name, date and some of the words in the order they were written.

As John and I hunted, we examined photos, maps and documents while looking for the answers to the geocache question. Restored rooms inside gave a sense of what life was like back in the 1800s, including the Peck Brothers Dry Good & Hardware Store that sold supplies such as flour, tobacco, candles, cloth and more. John and I were surprised to learn that, back in the day, fur pelts were traded as a form of currency, so it wasn’t uncommon to trade one for some soap and cooking tools. A few fur belts used as barter are on display in the First Missouri State Capitol State Historic Site.

The Western House in Saint Charles, Missouri
A woman dressed in period clothing in Saint Charles, Missouri
Biking along an outdoor trail in Saint Charles, Missouri

a The Western House marked the start of the trail toward the West

b Period dressed guides make it easy to picture the past

c Explore the Katy Trail on a sunny Saint Charles Day

Discovering history

Biking along the Katy Trail in Saint Charles, Missouri
Biking along the Katy Trail in Saint Charles, Missouri

Renewed with the energy of our first find, we continued to Jean Baptiste Point DuSable Park. Situated along the banks of the Missouri River on the north side of Saint Charles, the park is full of large grassy areas and meandering trails that connect to the larger Katy Trail.

John and I decided to take a walk down the trail, which appeared to cut in a winding pattern through the vibrant green grass, like the winding Missouri River itself. Just off the trail, trees with fresh, young leaves dotted the landscape. On this day, the park was full of families enjoying the beautiful spring weather and we could see a friendly game of football taking place on the bright green grass, as well as some young kids running with kites.

After a while, the trail led us into more of a dense tree area, not far from the riverbank. Suddenly we heard a beeping, the sound of our GPS indicating that we were close to a geocache. John pulled out his phone to open the app, which let us know that “Zoey’s Birthday Cache” wasn’t far off. Placed by a family who loves to go on “treasure hunts” together, we read that we needed to look for a medium-sized cache (about the size of Tupperware), and that it was at eye level for most adults. It took some effort, but after a few minutes we signed the geocache’s log and marked it found on our app.

As the afternoon faded, we decided to make our way over to Boone’s Lick Park for another geocache opportunity along a historic trail. What else would we find? The Boone’s Lick Road GeoTrail consists of 25-caches all the way from Saint Charles to Franklin, Missouri along the Katy Trail. This was a significant road in history because it was essentially the start of the long trail to westward expansion for pioneers. We knew we didn’t have time to do the entire trail, but a geocache a little way in would take us just far enough.

As we approached the park, we could see history all around us, including The Western House at the start of Boone’s Lick Road, a red-brick building with a white balcony jutting out from the second story that was once a hotel and saloon for those travelers heading west. John and I continued on our quest, imagining what it must have been like so long ago, to depart Saint Charles and follow the road, heading off into the wild of the unknown.

Bike Stop Café in Saint Charles, Missouri

Soaking up the sun

Downtown Saint Charles, Missouri along the Missouri River
Downtown Saint Charles, Missouri along the Missouri River

Bike Stop Café in Saint Charles, Missouri

We woke up the next morning to a bright and sunny day, perfect for our plans to continue exploring Saint Charles through geocaching. Our first stop of the day was breakfast down at the Bike Stop Café, which we’d passed during yesterday’s geocache adventures. Located across from the Lewis and Clark statue in Frontier Park and along the Katy Trail, the cafe is a popular stop for many locals and visitors.

John and I ordered a tasty breakfast and sipped our coffee outside on the patio, under the trees where we felt invigorated by the morning breeze and warm sun on our faces. We watched as some diners arrived via the trail, and others headed off on it after breakfast.

We walked a few steps to Frontier Park, which is nestled alongside the Missouri River in the heart of Saint Charles. Stopping for a moment to read a plaque mounted onto one of the boulders, we are surprised to learn that not far from here is where Lewis and Clark camped before setting off on their journey up the Missouri River.

After admiring the giant Lewis and Clark statue in the park and taking a few photos of ourselves next to them (demonstrating our best explorer pose), it was time for us to hunt for the first geocache of the day. Pulling out our GPS, we see that a cache called “Homage to the Beer or Root Part III” isn’t far from us. And with a name like that, we simply had to go find it!

Reading the description of the cache in our smartphone app, we can see that it was right on the Katy Trail itself, toward the Lewis and Clark Boathouse—perfect! The Katy Trail cuts right through the park alongside the old railroad tracks, parallel to the river, but there are other walking trails that wind around within the park and connect the trail to the river.

We walked south, past the lovely old Train Depot, which was important to travel and business here in Saint Charles long ago. The trail was abuzz with walkers, runners and bikers, so when our GPS finally beeped, we knew we needed to be super stealthy not to draw attention to ourselves while playing this secret game.

Throughout the morning, we continued our journey along the Katy Trail, making stops at numerous geocaches, including some off-the-beaten-path, which required us to do a bit of bushwhacking along the riverbank through the dense trees and brush. It’s okay, getting a little dirty never bothered us.

The Lewis and Clark statue includes their Newfoundland, Seaman
The First Missouri State Capitol State Historic Site, the first capitol of Missouri

a The Lewis and Clark statue includes their Newfoundland, Seaman

b The First Missouri State Capitol State Historic Site

The explorer in all of us

Spending the evening back on Main Street, we headed out to a local restaurant for dinner and drinks. Over dinner we reflected on our experience here in this charming town that we previously knew so little about.

And while discovering geocaches may not sound as adventurous as what Lewis and Clark discovered on their journey, it gave us an opportunity to appreciate Saint Charles in a different way than most visitors. When I recall standing in Frontier Park staring up at that statue of those two famous explorers, I can’t help but think that we shared the same enthusiasm for doing something different, and discovering something new around every bend.

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