Travels With Steinbeck

“Niagara Falls is very nice.”*

Old Fort Niagara Light House.  "First Light on the Great Lakes."

Old Fort Niagara Light House. "First Light on the Great Lakes."

Come and ride along with me as I follow the Steinbeck route from Travels with Charley around the U.S. and “rediscover this monster land.

Itinerary: I angled up Vermont on State 15 (Grand Army of Republic Highway) and then went north on State 104.  I traversed northeastern New York from Rouses Point, on Lake Champlain to the vicinity of Watertown, New York, on U.S.11.

Bridge to Rouses Point, New York across Lake Champlain

Bridge to Rouses Point, New York across Lake Champlain

Steinbeck’s route: My ’59 Rand McNally leads me to believe that the same route is the only logical way Steinbeck could have traveled from Northern Vermont to Lake Ontario as described in the book. On the next leg to Niagara Falls, Steinbeck stayed closer to Lake Ontario on U.S. 104. I gave in to my insistent GPS lady who adores interstates, and my road weariness on my 6th straight day of driving, and took U.S. 81 and U.S. 90 to Niagara Falls.

The Landscape: Northern New York is not New England, even considering the few maple syrup places. New York is simply not as quaint, tree-covered or colorful. Nor is the topography as interesting. The Empire State’s north is flat by comparison, and as a result, is cleared and developed. The towns were more “anywhere USA,” however the roads were in much better condition than the rugged winter-stressed roads of Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.

Nice falls.

Nice falls.

The Steinbeck Connection: There have been many, many times while reading Steinbeck that I have marveled at how very far ahead of his time he was in his thinking. Here are two examples from Travels with Charley.

“It occurs to me…we Americans bring in mercenaries to do our hard and humble work. I hope we may not be overwhelmed one day by peoples not to proud or too lazy or too soft to bend to the earth and pick up the things we eat.”

“…I do wonder whether there will come a time when we can no longer afford our wastefulness—chemical wastes in the river, metal wastes everywhere, and atomic wastes buried deep in the earth or sunk in the sea.”

Commentary: Dimmie and I visited an organic farm near Santa Barbara a few years ago.  It was a very impressive operation on relatively few acres.  When I asked the farm manager if college kids interned on the farm, he said, “You can’t get white people to do this kind of work anymore.”

I went to Niagara Falls today expecting, indeed planning, to be cynical, but a) that doesn’t come easily to me, and b) I was impressed. I’ve often said to friends who ask if Yellowstone is worth the trip because of the crush of people, that, yes, it’s well worth the effort. One of the reasons there are so many people from around the world visiting Yellowstone is because Yellowstone is extraordinary. Yellowstone is, and, until it blows up again, will remain, one of the most amazing places on this planet. I now feel that way about Niagara Falls (except the falls probably won’t blow up—they will simply erode away). Indeed, just about everything surrounding the falls is tacky and ostentatious. But stand close to the absolute power of the water surging around Goat Island and blasting over the Niagara Escarpment and block out all that is around you. Imagine you are seeing the falls for the first time 300 hundred years ago, and you will be impressed and perhaps even moved, as was I.  Steinbeck’s question (above) about chemical waste in rivers, was, of course, prophetic. According to an EPA website entitled Toxic Management in the Niagara River, until recently the river was laced with mercury, PCBs and pesticides. Fortunately, a management plan between the U.S. and Canada formed in 1987 has resulted in an 80% reduction in pollution. Evidence of the recovery can be seen in the Lake Sturgeon’s return to the upper reaches of The Niagara River. The Niagara River is still considered one of the Great Lakes Areas of Concern.

The Dog: I should know better than to ever take even a short walk with Max without my camera because he is such a character. At Bishop Farm I caught him (on my iphone) chasing a hen and trying to sneak into the henhouse.

Maxie caught sneaking into the henhouse.

Maxie caught sneaking into the henhouse.

Sweet Notes: I have been remiss in not mentioning my long-time friends Sharon and Shep who helped prep the Bambi last summer and encouraged me to learn to blog. I know they are riding along. And my long-time friend, and sometime critic and editor Ruth Ann has pledged to ride along.

Thank you for riding along. Let’s talk again soon, shall we?

Greg Zeigler

Travels with Steinbeck: In Search of America Fifty Years Later

Copyright © 2009

* Thus began a three-line paragraph about Niagara Falls in Travels with Charley.”  What do you think—tongue in cheek?


Trackbacks & Pingbacks


  1. * Ruth Ann says:

    Glad the falls experience was a rewarding one… as a Canadian, I will say that the falls look much more impressive from our side!
    Hope you and Max have fun as you head toward Chicago.


    | Reply Posted 8 years, 7 months ago
  2. * Dave Hall says:

    Greg — Spent the long weekend in Ennis and it was cold and windy. Spent a good portion of the time on the couch reading Travels With Charley. –D

    | Reply Posted 8 years, 7 months ago

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