The ‘Travels With Charley’ Timeline — Days 54 – 59
Tuesday, Nov. 15 to Sunday, Nov. 20, 1960 – Monterey to Amarillo
Steinbeck leaves the Monterey Peninsula on Tuesday, Nov. 15, bound for Amarillo, Texas, which is 1,333 miles away. Elaine flies on ahead. With his boyhood friend and lawyer Toby Street riding with him in Rocinante, Steinbeck goes through Los Banos, Fresno and Bakersfield. He crosses the Mojave Desert and picks up Route 66 at Barstow, California. After four days, Street leaves him in Flagstaff, Arizona. Steinbeck writes in “Travels With Charley” that he drove the last 600 miles to Amarillo on Route 66 as fast as he could. Dejected, he admitted to himself that he was “pounding out the miles because I was no longer hearing or seeing. I had passed my limit of taking in or, like a man who goes on stuffing in food after he is filled, I felt helpless to assimilate what was fed in through my eyes.” He says he camped alone in a canyon near the Continental Divide east of Gallup, New Mexico. To start at Day 1 of Steinbeck’s trip, go here.
Riding the ‘Mother Road’ to Texas
Like Steinbeck 50 years before, I slipped out the back door of the Monterey Peninsula. East into the dry gut of central California I sped along state routes 156 and 99. They were the same roads Steinbeck took on his way east to a Thanksgiving holiday at a cattle ranch near Amarillo, Texas, only my asphalt – per usual – was smoother, wider and safer.
By Saturday night, I had made it past Fresno and Tulare to a $62 motel in Bakersfield. The next morning I breezed south through flat, arid, dead valleys on Route 58. Dodging grassy tan mountains, passing beneath a forest of wind turbines stretched across several ridge tops, I skirted the town of Mojave, slipped by the edge of Edwards Air Force Base and drove through the bleak Mojave Desert to the crossroads town of Barstow.
At Barstow, Steinbeck met U.S. Highway 66, his “Mother Road” from “The Grapes of Wrath,” and followed it all the way to Texas. I-40 has replaced, covered or bypassed Route 66, which no longer officially exists. But long, desolate stretches of the historic and culturally powerful road still parallel the interstate. Old Route 66 comes back to life when it becomes the main street of traveler-centric desert towns like Gallup, Winslow, Kingman and Winona. Jazzman Bobby Troup made those dusty places hip & famous forever with the lyrics of his swinging 1946 hit “Route 66,” which Nat King Cole sang first and the Rolling Stones, John Mayer and dozens of others have covered.
If any road in America deserved to be worshipped, it was old Route 66. Starting in the 1930s, and until the western interstates were completed in the 1970s, it was the only practical east-west route by car from Chicago to L.A. Route 66 made it possible for migrants of every socioeconomic class to reach for the golden promises of California, not just the desperate migrants in the “The Grapes of Wrath.”
— Excerpted from “Dogging Steinbeck”